Anybody who is even marginally interested in American history has probably had the experience of setting out optimistically to visit a historic site and, after a forty-minute drive, being confronted by a forlorn and obscure huddle of earthworks. There may or may not be a rusted iron plaque explaining the works; if there is, it most likely reads something like “Fort Walworth, built in 1810, was the scene of severe fighting during Pierce’s expedition of 1813. This marker erected and dedicated by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Newcomb Chapter, 1912.” Armed with this meager information, the visitor can do little but prowl bleakly through a scattering of masonry and return, highly unsatisfied, to his hotel.
On the other hand, in a city such as Philadelphia the tourist can find himself facing such a baffling variety of historic monuments that he spends a confusing and unrewarding day battling for parking spaces and running through crowded restorations.
Recently the American Heritage Society, in hopes of giving its members better access to the American past, established a series of tours of historic America. The tours were an immediate success and are now beginning their fourth season. Each of the tours is a seven-day excursion through a historically interesting region of the country. The tour groups are kept small—twenty-five people at most—and the society has gone to great pains to ensure the finest special attention, meals, and accommodations available along the way. The groups are met by historians who conduct them through museums, restorations, and battlefields, as well as homes and private collections that are not open to the general public. Here is a list and brief description of the tours we are offering during 1974. They all begin on a Saturday and end where they started on Saturday a week later, with the exception of the Pennsylvania tour, which ends in Wilmington, Delaware.
We cover the formidable amount of history in this state with a tour that includes the twice-disputed battlefield at Bull Run; Jefferson’s estate, Monticello; the city of Richmond; the scrupulously restored colonial city of Williamsburg; the city of Fredericksburg; and Gunsten Hall Plantation.
This journey through the northern part of the state begins in San Francisco and includes the once-notorious Barbary Coast; Muir Woods with its towering redwood trees; the Sonoma wine country; Sutler’s Mill, where gold was discovered in 1848; Carmel-bythe-Sea; and San Simeon, the astonishing pleasure dome of the late William Randolph Hearst.
Starting in Philadelphia, the tour covers Independence Square and Fairmount Park; Valley Forge, where Washington held his army together for a miserable winter; the rich Amish country; the magnificently preserved battlefield at Gettysburg; Brandywine River Museum, with its fine collection of Wyeth paintings; and the Winterthur Museum, with the finest collection of American furniture and decorations extant.
From Boston the tour heads north to take in the splendid Federal-style shipowners’ homes in Newburyport and goes on to visit the site of the original Portsmouth settlement at Strawbery Banke; the White Mountains, with their flaming fall foliage; Dartmouth College; the forty-five-acre Shelburne Museum; F’ort Ticonderoga; the battlefield at Bennington; and the Hancock Shaker Village.
After a reception in New York City the tour heads up along the Hudson, stopping at the restored Adam-style mansion Boscobel; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home at Hyde Park; Olana, artist Frederick Church’s Moorish fantasy of a house; Cooperstown, on Lake Otsego, James Fenimore Cooper’s “Lake Glimmerglass”; Schenectady’s eighteenthcentury Village-Stockade; the fortress and military academy West Point; and Sleepy Hollow, made part of history and legend by Washington Irving.
The tour leaves from Boston and includes stops at the Old North Church; Lexington and Concord, where the Revolution began; Sturbridge Village; the lovely restored colonial town of Old Deerfield; the Connecticut River Valley; Mystic Seaport whaling village; Newport, with its opulent “summer cottages”; New Bedford; and the meticulously reconstructed Plimoth Plantation.
For those who want to trace American history back to its British wellsprings, the society is offering three-week tours of England and Scotland. The tour of Scotland, which starts on June 5, will travel the highlands and lowlands of that kingdom. Included among the sights are castles and ruined abbeys; Loch Lomond; Culloden Moor, where English troops under “Butcher Cumberland” crushed the rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie; the Glen Grant distillery, where the tour will have a chance to taste thirtyyear-old whisky straight from the wood; Inverness; Forres heath, where Macbeth met three witches; a textile mill; the beautiful Isle of Skye; Glasgow; and Edinburgh.
The tour of southern England starts at Winchester on October 3 and goes on to cover a vast amount of the Sceptered Isle. Included in the itinerary are stops at rustic inns and great houses; the ancient Roman city of Bath; the rugged Cornwall coast; the famous sea wall at Lyme Regis; the Royal Yacht Squadron; H.M.S. Victory , the mammoth three decker that Nelson commanded at Cape Trafalgar; Brighton, with its fantastic Royal Pavilion and its Victorian amusement piers; Canterbury; and, of course, London.
We are pleased to announce that some of our society members have returned to take as many as a half dozen tours. If you are interested in accompanying one of the above tours and want further information, please write Mrs. Audre Proctor, Reservations Manager, American Heritage, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020, or telephone (212) 997-4789.