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The Top Historical Sites in the Northeast

When it comes to history, no region of the country compares to the Northeast.

old state house

Boston's Old State House

From the pilgrims landing in Plymouth to the signing of Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, the United States’ origin story is centered in the Northeast. The region, therefore, is innately historical and thus naturally filled with locations teeming with historical significance.

But the area’s historical pedigree goes far beyond the political realm. Some of the country’s most brilliant and creative minds, including inventors, artists and authors, lived and worked in the Northeast.

With such a storied past, there may be no better place to travel through if you’re on the lookout for historical sites than the Northeast. Here are just a few of the locations that should be on your list.

Note: Due to the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 crisis, please see official websites before visiting to check for restrictions or closures.

Old State House and Old South Meeting House

The entire city of Boston is one big historical site, so formulating a list of notable locations can be a task. But few buildings in the city hold as much historical significance as the Old State House. Throughout the 1770s, this building was home to a merchants’ exchange, the seat of colonial and later state government, and the highest court of the Massachusetts colony.

The Old State House is most famous, however, as being the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre. This event would go on to be known as the first bloodshed of the American Revolution. The building is now a museum and Boston National Historical Park.

Just down the street from the Old State House sits the Old South Meeting House. This historical site, the largest building in colonial Boston, served as a church as well as the most notable meeting place in Revolutionary Boston. It was here where Boston citizens gathered for protests against the British.

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Old North Church

Few events in America’s existence hold as much historical significance as Paul Revere’s midnight ride, a journey that culminated in two lanterns being lit in the Old North Church’s steeple. The lanterns were a signal that the British were traveling to Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land.

The Old North Church still stands in the same spot on Salem Street, making it Boston’s oldest surviving church. The building remains an active place of worship but is also open for tours.

Plymouth Rock

In many ways, the history of America began when the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, making Plymouth Rock one of the most significant historic sites in the Northeast –  and the country. Although there is no evidence that the particular rock was, in fact, the pilgrims’ steppingstone, several Mayflower passengers are said to claimed it so. In some ways, it’s a moot point, as Plymouth Rock serves more as a symbol than a marker.

The rock is part of Pilgrim Memorial State Park, which also includes the Mayflower II museum and attracts more than one million visitors each year.

9/11 Memorial & Museum

The newest, and most somber, location on this list is lower Manhattan’s 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Through artifacts, personal stories, and interactive experiences encompassing 110,000 square feet of space, the museum gives visitors an unparalleled look at the events of both the attacks of 9/11 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, all at the site where the Twin Towers once stood.

Outside, the memorial remembers the 2,977 people killed on 9/11 and six in the 1993 bombing. All of their names are inscribed in bronze parapets surrounding the twin memorial pools, which feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.

The Susan B. Anthony Museum & House

Susan B. Anthony, mother of the country’s modern women’s rights movement, did much of her work in her red brick house in Rochester, N.Y. The home was the site of her famous arrest for voting in 1872, the National American Woman Suffrage Association headquarters, and where Anthony passed away in 1906.

The Susan B. Anthony Museum & House houses artifacts of her life and work, which included the pursuit of suffrage, abolition, and education and labor reform.

Sagamore Hill

Sagamore Hill

No list of the country’s top historical sites is complete without a spot remembering presidents past. Located on the north shore of Long Island, Sagamore Hill was Theodore Roosevelt’s summer house. It’s most notable for being a site where Roosevelt hosted luminaries from around the world while serving as president in the early 1900s. The National Historic Site contains parts of Roosevelt’s extensive art collection, many personal items, as well as letters and other artifacts.

Mark Twain House & Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

The Northeast has more than its fair share of literature-themed historical sites. Sleepy Hollow and Walden Pond come to mind. But in Hartford, Conn., you get two for the price of one. Mark Twain, the famous Missourian, lived in the Connecticut city for several years, during which time he penned classics like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Amazingly, just around the corner lived Harriet Beach Stowe, author of arguably the most famous American novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Both Twain’s and Stowe’s houses are now museums dedicated to their respective former owners, filled with galleries, books and artifacts.

thomas edison national park

Thomas Edison National Historical Park

The home and laboratory of the country’s most famed inventor, Thomas Edison, sits in our own backyard. Now a museum and National Historical Park, the complex is open to visitors. A visit to the site, located West Orange, N.J., just 30 minutes outside New York City, allows guests to stand in the same place where Edison devised inventions that would forever alter our lives.

The museum’s collection is estimated to include more than 300,000 items, making it the third-largest museum collection in the National Park Service. Some of these artifacts include electrical lighting equipment, phonographs, family photos and decorative art.

The Newport Mansions

Take a trip back in time to the extravagant gilded age with a trip to the mansions of Newport, R.I. These homes, built in the late 1800s, served as summer “cottages” to the wealthiest families in the country.

The grandest of them all is The Breakers, first owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. In 1893, he hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa. Hunt commissioned an international team of craftsmen and artisans to create the 70-room Italian Renaissance-style mansion. In 1972, the Preservation Society of Newport County purchased the home from the Vanderbilt heirs. Along with the other mansions, the Breakers now serves as a historical and architectural, allowing guests to see first-hand how well the other half lived a century ago.

Need a ride as you tour the historic sites in the Northeast? AAA members can save up to 20% on Hertz rentals. And up to four additional drivers (who are AAA members) can drive for free, so everyone can take in the scenery.

Comments
  • Burt C.

    I have always been interested in a tour of Lexington and Concord sites of battles. Do you know of any tours of those sites?

    Reply
    • Donald H.

      Limited tours are available at the Lexington Green (first battle of the 1775 war) also historic houses are open. Contact the Lexington visitors center for times and info. Concord museum is open. Timed tickets are required. Enjoy

      Reply
  • George G.

    You forgot to include the historic site in the Northeast at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY.

    Reply
  • DAVID S.

    The Lexington Green is public land and you can visit anytime. It was not designated as a national landmark until 1935 and some of the original houses that surround it are gone. Each year on April 19 there is a reenactment of the battle and a rehearsal of the reenactment usually occurs the Saturday before. Nearby is the Hancock-Clarke House museum where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were hiding from the British until they were warned by Paul Revere.

    Reply
  • Mary L.

    Do you have any motor trips planned for these sights. This article is much appreciated.

    Reply
  • Been to Newport, RI twice and saw many of the mansions. Historical, inspirational, majestic, enjoyable. Definitely a grand trip and fun for anyone interested in history, architecture, and uniquely American lifestyles.

    Reply
  • James T.

    This is a great list! Would have just added Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park… and more specifically Slater Mill National Historic Landmark in Pawtucket, RI. The site is the birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution and has a fascinating story

    Reply
  • Bob B.

    Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park aka Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Get there!
    It’s the beginning of America’s Industrialization and Economic Freedom! A must see in New England!

    Reply
  • Sandra P.

    It would be easiest to suggest when in Boston to follow the Freedom Trail and make your way through a host of historic sites. However, the must see in Boston, is the USS CONSTITUTION, the oldest warship still afloat. You can find her at the Charlestown/Boston Navy Yard. Active duty Navy sailors provide historical tours. Also in this section of the Boston National Historical Park is the USS Constitution Museum and the Bunker Hill Museum and Monument.

    Reply
  • Patti M.

    This seems an arbitrary list, though much appreciated, as I have not visited some of the sites mentioned. However, if you were really listing top historic sites, I believe you missed quite a few of them Lowell National Historical Park, Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park at Slater Mill (both important to our economic freedom though with some ramification to the rivers that provided the waterpower), Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site and Roger Williams National Memorial in RI. Salem, MA.

    As far as Plymouth Rock may be the important to colonization of America. However, there is not much of it left due to erosion and overuse.

    Reply
  • Marc R.

    Sagamore Hill, but not Hyde Park?
    Boston, but not Philadelphia?
    No mention of West Point, Saratoga, or Fort Ticonderoga?

    Reply

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