EPIC US ROAD TRIP 2017DAYS 2-5 - MIDDLE COLONIES - PENNSYLVANIA, NEW JERSEY, DELAWARE, MARYLAND & WASHINGTON D.C.
Image || Through sunglasses. The US Capitol, Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.
Epic US Road Trip 2017 – Middle Colonies
The ruefulness of the tragedy that was the infamous Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil. Stepping back in time among the Amish of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. Reliving the birth of the nation in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. Stepping out on the iconic boardwalk of New Jersey’s brassy Atlantic City, the eastern seaboard’s Vegas. Quaint little Delaware. The nautical niceties of Maryland’s Annapolis. And the instantly-recognisable monuments, those venerated altars to democracy, in Washington D.C., the nation’s showpiece & tourist-heavy capital. The 450-plus miles we drove over the course of four days and through as many states – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware & Maryland – threw up an abundance of tasty road-trippin’ treats. The Middle Colonies. They were busy, they were fun, but most of all they were educational.
The Original Thirteen Colonies & The Birth of The US
Populated for at least 15 millennia, Europeans first arrived in North America in the 1500s with the country as we know today emerging from the so-called Thirteen Colonies, the 13 British colonies of the North American East Coast settled by the British between 1607 (with the founding of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, the first colony) and 1732 (with the founding of the Province of Georgia, the 13th). The combination of grievances with the British government – the primary one being the infamous “No Taxation Without Representation” grudge born out of the perceived non-representation of the colonists in the distant British Parliament – and numerous disputes between Great Britain and the colonies following the 1756-1763 Seven Years’ War ultimately led to the 1775-1783 American Revolution, the seminal war ending with Great Britain formally recognising the independence of the United States via the Treaty of Paris in what was to be the very first successful war of independence against a mighty European power. On July 4, 1776, in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, and during the course of the Revolutionary War, the 13 colonies declared their independence by ratifying the US Declaration of Independence, composed largely by Thomas Jefferson and unanimously passed two days’ earlier on July 2nd.
– Thomas Jefferson in a letter to his wife dated July 2, 1776.
Day 2 || September 28 2017
Route || New Haven, Connecticut to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 312 (502)
Day 2. We took a look around New Haven, Connecticut, this morning, America’s oldest planned city & the home to the Ivy League Yale University. After that we hit the road to cover the 300+ miles to Gettysburg. It was an eventful drive. Slow at times, but eventful nonetheless. This is a road trip and we were road-trippin’.
AN ORIGINAL THIRTEEN || One of the original Thirteen Colonies. Founded as a proprietary colony by Quaker William Penn in 1681.
State Nicknames – Keystone State, Quaker State. State Motto – Virtue, Liberty and Independence. Admitted To The Union – December 12, 1787 (2nd state). Population – 12.8 million (6th most populous state). Area – 46,000 sq miles (33rd largest state). Capital – Harrisburg. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 2/1. Famous For – History (Philadelphia is home to the US Constitution & the Liberty Bell and Gettysburg home to the bloodiest battle ever fought on US soil); steel; Heinz; religious tolerance & the Amish; snack food; firsts (daily newspaper (1784), zoo (1874), auto service station (1913) and computer (1946)). State Highlights – All that history. Pennsylvania Titbits – Pennsylvania is one of only 4 states – the others being Kentucky, Virginia & Massachusetts – to designate itself as a commonwealth in its full official state name (the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania); the state has been known as the Keystone State since 1802 in part due to its central location among the Thirteen Colonies, the original British Colonies of the North American east coast that collectively declared independence from Great Britain to form the US, and also in part because of the number of ground-breaking documents signed in the state, the Declaration of Independence the obvious example; a largely rural & agricultural-based state (milk is the official state beverage), Pennsylvania ranks number 1 in the land in the production of mushrooms; while gambling is legal in state casinos, sports gambling is outlawed (strange for a state with a professional franchise in each of the country’s professional, top-tier leagues (with two teams in each of MLB, the NHL & the NFL)); a snack food haven, Pennsylvania produces the most potato chips & pretzels in the US while the US chocolate industry is centred on Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Highlights – Gettysburg, Amish Country & Philadelphia
The Province of Pennsylvania was founded as a proprietary colony in 1681 by Quaker William Penn – the name Pennsylvania, which roughly translates as ‘Penn’s Woods’, was created by combining the Penn surname (in honor of William’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn) with the Latin word sylvania, meaning ‘forest land’. Once the richest and most populous of all the British colonies in North America, not to mention one of its most industrial, Pennsylvania for us was always going to be about its history & its simple-livin’ Amish inhabitants.
– A rather bold claim by VisitPA.com
Day 3 || September 29 2017
Route || Gettysburg to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 98 (158)
Today’s Highlight || Gettysburg National Military Park
Day 3. It started in a bright & sunny Gettysburg & ended in a dark and chilly Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The 98 miles we clocked on the odometer in between were leisurely, educational and sobering.
Make no mistake, a visit to Gettysburg will be a schooling. Founded in 1780 and named after a James Gettys, one of the town’s first settlers, this sleepy little town of less than 8,000 inhabitants is something of a history heavy-hitter, playing host as it did to two defining periods in American history – the Battle of Gettysburg (1863), the biggest and bloodiest battle to ever be fought on American soil, and President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Historic Downtown Gettysburg
You’re probably going to stay downtown, and you’ll definitely have to pass through it in getting to the main event, Gettysburg National Military Park on the town’s fringes, but quaint Historic Downtown Gettysburg is worth a poke around in its own right. A tranquil place that emanates out from the central Lincoln Square, the town’s irresistible combination of early 20th century Beaux-Arts & well-preserved Victorian-era architecture, Civil War Americana, fluttering Star-Spangled Banners and pretty foliage means that Gettysburg is not only historic but also undeniably photogenic.
The Battle of Gettysburg & Gettysburg National Military Park
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought over a 3-day period in 1863, from the 1st to the 3rd of July. With over 50,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing, the battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire 1861-1865 American Civil War. Indeed, more men fell during the Battle of Gettysburg than in any other battle on American soil before or since. Often described as the war’s turning point, the defeat of Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was a major victory for the Union’s Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac, halting Lee’s invasion of the North.
Last year we toured Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi. This year it was the turn of Gettysburg. The 1863 battlefield is today Gettysburg National Military Park. Centred on the impressive Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Centre where many of the park’s 43,000 American Civil War artifacts are displayed, the park protects and interprets the landscape of the 1863 battle; while the park encircles the town of Gettysburg, most of the park lies to its south. Brilliantly presented & managed by the National Park Service (I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again – the Americans really do honour their dead in a way no other nation does), the park can be explored via a range of Visitor Centre tours and/or free ranger-led hikes, walks and talks that explore key moments and locations on the Gettysburg battlefield. Most, however, explore the 8-square-mile park via the park’s 24-mile Self-Guiding Auto Tour, driving between numbered stops and around hundreds of ridges, fences, rocks, sentry posts, statues, placards, cannons, overlooks & memorials to the fallen.
– Edward Everett to President Abraham Lincoln after Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Gettysburg. November 19, 1863.
While driving in and around Gettysburg we drove a portion of the wider 180-mile-long Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway, the second National Scenic Byway of the wider road trip.
National Scenic Byway #2 – Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway
NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAYS & ALL-AMERICAN ROADS
While each state can and does designate its own Scenic Byways, a National Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the US Department of Transportation for one or more of six ‘intrinsic qualities’, they being archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. The program was established by Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation’s scenic but often less-travelled roads and to promote tourism and economic development. The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) is administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The most scenic byways are designated All-American Roads. These roads must meet two out of the six intrinsic qualities. An All-American designation means these roads have features that do not exist elsewhere in the US and are unique and important enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves.
As of November 2010 there are 120 National Scenic Byways and 31 All-American Roads located in 46 states (all except Hawaii, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Texas).
Eisenhower National Historic Site
We were late departing Gettysburg, the decision to visit the neighbouring Eisenhower National Historic Site ensuring it was dark when we arrived into Lancaster, Pennsylvania to end this road trip day. The retirement base for Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the US and decorated war general who supervised the invasion of Normandy and the defeat of Nazi Germany, the cottage & farm where Ike spent the last nine years of his life is today a National Historic Site, one only accessible via a guided tour from the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Centre.
Day 4 || September 30 2017
Route || Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 149 (240)
Today’s Highlight || The Amish of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country
Day 4. Pennsylvanian Amish Country in the morning, Philadelphia, the historic City of Brotherly Love, in the afternoon and Atlantic City, the east coast’s very own Vegas, in the evening. Three very different locals on a busy day.
The Amish & Amish Country
I doubt one ever forgets their first sighting of the Amish and their simple, rural & Bible-centered existence. Our gawking (trust me, it’s unavoidable for first-timers) started when we passed an Amish buggy on the 8-mile road from Lancaster to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. We pulled over allowing the buggy to pass and watched it as it navigated a traffic junction. There were plenty more Amish eye-openers to come over the proceeding hours, a period when we felt like we’d left the world as we know it and stepped back to a much earlier period in time.
Established in 1681, the colony of Pennsylvania was one that respected religious freedom and thus it attracted minority religious sects. This included the Mennonite and Amish communities, Christian church fellowships with Swiss Anabaptist origins – the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann and whose followers became known as Amish. Know today by some as the ‘Plain People’, the sect settled here in tolerant Pennsylvania in the early 1700s fleeing persecution in Switzerland, something I’d imagine would be would be unheard of in the Swiss society of today. Speaking a German dialect, known as Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch, they are known for having large families (6-7 children the norm, a blessing from god); for marrying within the faith, a requirement if baptised (baptism usually taking place in their late teens or early twenties with almost 90% Amish teenagers choosing to be baptised and to join the church); for their plain dress; for valuing humility & having an aversion to asserting oneself or self-promotion (not selfie takers, individual photographs might cultivate personal vanity); and for living a simple, rural and Bible-centered life, the rules of which – collectively termed the Ordnung, meaning order in German – see them shunning, or severely limiting, their use of power-line electricity (to do so would be going against the Bible which says that you shall not be “Conformed to the world”), motor cars, telephones and motorised tools, manual labour being just one way of living what they interpret to be God’s word while being more self-sufficient/less dependent on community.
While they keep themselves to themselves, invariably pressures from the modern world have seen a dilution of strict traditional Amish values and customs in some regions of the US & Canada. Diluted or not, their way of life is a big tourist draw around these parts, a simple and curious existence that draws the hordes from far and wide. There are Amish communities in some 8 US states, the largest concentration found here in Pennsylvania – some 75,000 of the nearly 300,000 North American Amish population live in the state with the Amish communities in an around Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County something of an Amish hotbed. Yep, Welcome to Amishville.
In hindsight, I guess we didn’t mind booking days in advance to view the inside of two rooms in a 264-year-old hall, albeit a UNESCO-listed one. Nor did we mind standing in a snaking queue for 45 minutes to get an up-close look at an underwhelming & defunct bell (seemingly the queues are much longer at peak times). (And although it hurt at the time, we don’t hold any grudges now at having to pay almost $30 for a few hours of parking in downtown Philly.) Admittedly that somewhat simplistic and non-too-flattering summary of gritty Philadelphia’s two must-sees – Independence Hall & The Liberty Bell – does a massive disservice to the historic clout of both attractions, but make no mistake – advanced planning, patience & an ease with crowds are prerequisites for these tourist hotspots. That said, there are must-sees, and they are such for a very good reason.
– UNESCO commenting on Independence Hall
– George Washington (1732-1799), Founding Father, Declaration of Independence & Constitution of the United States signatory & first president of the United States (1789-1797)
– Inscription on the Liberty Bell, from Leviticus XXV, v.10, The Bible
New Jersey, Part II
After the frustrations with New Jersey & its Turnpike on Day 2, the frustrations with the Garden State, as deceptive a nickname for a US state as you’ll find, resumed on this day, Day 4. Within seconds of leaving the city of Philadelphia by crossing the Delaware River via the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, while also crossing the Pennsylvania/New Jersey state line, we were on yet another New Jersey toll road. From there it was barely 60 miles to Atlantic City, but we’d be required to pay multiple tolls en route. The toll torment continued into Day 5, when we found ourselves wondering as to whether every main conduit in this state is tolled or just the ones we happened upon. And why are the roads, although tolled, so badly signed compared to the rest of the country? I remember thinking at the time, with NJ discontent at its acme, that when I do eventually get around to writing about my time in the state that I’d have to be gentle, to make a conscious effort to be somewhat positive; after all, people call this state home (a lot of people – it’s the country’s most densely populated state). But, and now that the time has come, that’s going to be hard (time is no healer where NJ is concerned). The best part of the New Jersey experience for me wasn’t stepping out on the iconic Boardwalk of Atlantic City, somewhere I had wanted to visit for a long time and somewhere I suspected pre-arrival would be the state highlight. Nor was it the Jersey Shore drive south from AC to Cape May, a drive that has potential, has Lucy The Elephant and has the Atlantic Ocean and so should be pretty, but just isn’t. Nope, the New Jersey state highlight for me was actually getting the ferry out of the state and into neighbouring Delaware, getting away from New Jersey’s route frustrations, its endless, sterile malls, its ugliness and its tackiness. We didn’t even capture our US road trip staple, the thumbs-up ‘Welcome To New Jersey’ state line picture, the only state sign picture we’ve missed from the 42 states we’ve now visited over the course two epic US road trips. That’s a glaring blot on our US Road Trip copybook & a monumental failing given the lengths we have gone to to capture some state line pictures. The fact that that failing didn’t really bother me says it all for New Jersey.
AN ORIGINAL THIRTEEN || One of the original Thirteen Colonies. A proprietary colony from 1664, a crown colony from 1702.
State Nickname – The Garden State. State Motto – Liberty and prosperity. Admitted To The Union – December 18, 1787 (3rd state). Population – 9 million New Jerseyans/New Jerseyites (11th most populous state). Area – 8,700 sq miles (4th smallest state). Capital – Trenton. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 2/0. Famous For – Being the birthplace of many an a-lister (Frank Sinatra, Meryl Streep, Bruce Springsteen, John Travolta, Danny DeVito and Jon Bon Jovi to name but a few); tacky-to-classy Jersey Shore; The Statue of Liberty (yes, it’s in New Jersey. Kind of; Liberty Island is New York, the waters surrounding it New Jersey); a road (the Turnpike); political scandals; The Sopranos (shot on location in New Jersey); the Miss America pageant (first held in Atlantic City in 1921); inventions (Thomas Edison, America’s greatest inventor, moluded some of his greatest inventions – including the lightbulb, the phonograph and the movie – in his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey); Revolutionary War battles (more were fought in New Jersey than in any of the other 12 original Thirteen Colonies); the All-American diner (there are over 600 diners in the state, more than anywhere else in the world); shopping malls; decaying dystopic landscapes of the Industrial Revolution era, i.e. ugliness (and it calls itself the Garden State). State Highlights – Emm, I’m struggling here. New Jersey Titbits – Wrestled from the Dutch by the colonising British, the state is named after the largest of the British Channel Island, Jersey; New Jersey is home to more scientists and engineers per square mile than anywhere else in the world; the state has the highest cumulative tax rate of all 50 states; a large portion of New Jersey consists of suburbs of neighbouring New York City and Philadelphia; Fill ‘er up! New Jersey is the only state in the US where fuel stations are required to provide a full-service to customers at all times – it is against the law for a customer to pump their own gas, seemingly the fire hazard associated with doing so the reason; it’s also the only state without an official state song; New Jersey gave the boardwalk (1870), the submarine (1878), salt water taffy (1880s), movies (1889) & the drive-in theatre (1933) to the world; being the 4th smallest and 11th most populous state makes New Jersey the most densely populated state in the US and the only one that has had every one of its counties classified as urban. The state is more densely populated than China and almost as crowded as India (it’s no wonder there are so many malls).
Atlantic City || AC
Suffice to say, I don’t have a lot of good to say about Atlantic City, so I won’t say much. The entertainment hub of Jersey Shore, it’s a chilly Las Vegas with sand, seagulls & sea breezes. And where Vegas has The Strip, AC has The Boardwalk. A nationally renowned resort city of shopping and (supposedly fine) dining, AC, which served as the inspiration for the board game Monopoly, is also happy to run with the title of “Gambling Capital of the East Coast” – it’s second only to the aforementioned Las Vegas in yearly gaming revenue, in the number of casinos it offers up to good-time risk takers and in the number of hotel rooms it boasts in which to sleep off the AC hangover. It might be a somewhat enjoyable place to visit during the warmer and more rumbustious summer months, when a swagger or Rolling Chair ride down the Boardwalk with a beer or oversized luminous cocktail in hand would surely help to numb the ennui, but the overbearing neon, noise and kitsch is hard to warm to on a chilly late September Saturday evening.
– AtlanticCityNJ.com (but they would say that)
New Jersey’s coastal region stretches for 140 miles (230 kilometres), from Perth Amboy in the north to Cape May in the south. With over 40 different communities and a sting of resort towns ranging from tacky to classy, this is boardwalk, arcade and amusement park central. Hugely popular in the summer months, especially with New Jerseyans, New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, there’s certainly not a whole lot happening this time of year.
Day 5 || October 1 2017
Route || Atlantic City, New Jersey to Washington D.C.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 201 (324)
Today’s Highlight || Late afternoon in the National Mall, Washington D.C.
What felt like a watery escape from New Jersey was followed by a dash through Delaware into Maryland, and all was topped off by a welcome and warm return to Washington D.C. Another New Jersey toll, ‘The World’s Biggest Elephant’, a ferry ride that’s actually an extension of a road (how does that work?), an All-American Road, a National Scenic Byway, a long & precarious bridge, the ‘Sailing Capital of the World’, and the nation’s capital. Two state lines, three states, 1 district and 201 miles. All of this and more on Epic US Road Trip 2017 Day 5, probably the busiest day yet.
I suspect I’d be a tad more complimentary about New Jersey if we had of succeeded in getting to Camp May Lighthouse prior to driving onto the ferry for the crossing to Lewes, Delaware, as was the plan when setting out on this morning from Atlantic City (it would have been nice, too, to see some of the nicely preserved Victorian buildings the resort town of Cape May boasts). Frustratingly poor road signage on the seemingly straightforward 50-mile drive south down Jersey Shore from AC to Cape May meant that by the time we arrived we only had the time as was required to board the Cape May-Lewes Ferry that was to take us out of New Jersey. I guess it could have been worse; at least we made the ferry meaning no further time was required in New Jersey.
AN ORIGINAL THIRTEEN || One of the original Thirteen Colonies. A proprietary colony established in 1664.
State Nicknames – The First State, The Small Wonder, Blue Hen State, The Diamond State. State Motto – Liberty and Independence. Admitted To The Union – December 7, 1787 (1st state). Population – 1 million Delawareans (6th least populous state). Area – 1,950 sq miles (2nd smallest state). Capital – Dover. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 1/0. Famous For – Being first (it was the first state to ratify the US Constitution); being small; being overlooked; having low tax rates & no sales tax; the Du Pont family & DuPont Chemicals (founded here in 1802); banking & credit card companies; chickens & chicken farms. State Highlight – Its beaches. Delaware Titbits – Delaware is named after the Delaware River, its name derived from one Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, an English nobleman and the first colonial governor of Virginia; the state is comprised of three counties, the smallest number of any state; Delaware’s unique northern boundary with the state of Pennsylvania, referred to the Twelve-Mile Circle, is the only nominally circular state boundary in the US; the Irish are the largest European ancestry group in Delaware (over 18% of the population trace their roots back to Ireland); favourable state tax rates ensures there are more corporations registered in the state (1 million-plus) then there are people living there (also, more than 50% of all US publicly traded companies are incorporated in Delaware); Grounded – as of 2016, there are no scheduled air service from any Delaware airport.
Ahh, Delaware. Quaint little Delaware. It looks like something of a cartographer’s afterthought, occupying as it does the northeastern quadrant of the Delmarva Peninsula (Maryland claims the lion’s share of the peninsula with Virginia its southern reaches, ‘Delmarva’ being an acronym for the three states that occupy it). While the British took over in 1664, Delaware was initially colonized in 1631 by Dutch traders who set up a whaling station at Zwaanendael (Valley of the Swans) near the present-day town of Lewes. This seaside gem is probably Delaware’s most beloved town and thus was as good a place as any for us to get acquainted with the country’s second-smallest state.
Being only 35 miles wide at its widest point means the drive east to west across Delaware to the state line with Maryland didn’t take long. There wasn’t a whole lot to see en route, just chicken farms, one after the other, their massive poultry houses belying the tiny size of the state, probably my abiding memory of the time we spent in Delaware (admittedly not long).
AN ORIGINAL THIRTEEN || One of the original Thirteen Colonies. A proprietary colony established in 1632.
State Nicknames – Old Line State, Free State, Little America, America in Miniature. State Motto – Fatti maschii, parole femine (Strong Deeds, Gentle Words). Admitted To The Union – April 28, 1788 (7th state). Population – 6 million Marylanders (19th most populous state). Area – 12,400 sq miles (9th smallest state). Capital – Annapolis. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 4/2. Famous For – Religious freedom; sailors; blue crabs; being the birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner, the US National Anthem, & Babe Ruth. State Highlights – Chesapeake Bay; nautical Annapolis, a.k.a. the sailing capital of the world, & gritty Baltimore. Maryland Titbits – Maryland is named after the English queen Henrietta Maria of France; formed by George Calvert in the early 17th century as an intended refuge for persecuted Catholics from England, Maryland’s 1649 Tolerance Act, which allowed for freedom of any Christian worship, was North American’s first such act (Baltimore’s early 19th century Basilica, an architectural masterpiece and one of the finest 19th century buildings in the world, was the first Catholic cathedral built in the US); land ceded by Maryland & Virginia was used in 1790 when founding Washington D.C.; top of the pile when it comes to Median Household Income, Maryland households are the wealthiest in the US; The Star-Spangled Banner, America’s national anthem, was written by Francis Scott Key, a Maryland lawyer. It is believed Key wrote the anthem on September 14, 1814 while watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor.
I’d been to irregular-shaped Maryland (check out Maryland’s margin madness here) a few times before, most recently a 2013 visit to Baltimore, the state’s largest urban centre. This time it was the turn of the watery state capital of Annapolis to charm the senses in much the same was as gritty & historic Charm City itself did back in 2013.
Much like Delaware before it, crossing the state of Maryland, although approximately four times as wide as tiny Delaware, didn’t take long. From the state line with Delaware in the east to Washington D.C. in the west is a distance of less than 140 miles, but en route we still managed to drive a portion of an All-American Road, a National Scenic Byway and across an impressive but precarious bridge. And as already mentioned we also found the time to stop off in Maryland’s nautical nicety, its picturesque capital of Annapolis (to miss that would have been an embarrassing omission).
All-American Road #1 – Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway
We only drove a very small portion of the All-American Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, an 8-mile stretch of Maryland Route 404 between Denton & Hillsboro. Although aware of the road’s presence in the region, we didn’t actually know at the time that we were driving an All-America Road, didn’t stop and certainly didn’t capture any pictures. All that said, it still counts as the first All-American Road of Epic US Road Trip 2017 (our rules). Named after Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist born a slave on a plantation in Maryland who became a famous conductor on the Underground Railroad leading other slaves to freedom in the North, the 125-mile road, which runs mostly north to south, commemorates Tubman and everyone else – black and white, enslaved and free – involved in the Underground Railroad, the secret aid channels (roads, waterways, trails and hiding places) provided by abolitionists in the years before the American Civil War and used by enslaved people fleeing from bondage. Threading together some of the most pristine and well-preserved working landscapes found along the East Coast, the route captures the same culture of family farming and life on the Chesapeake that Tubman grew up in; welcoming towns and hamlets reflect the vernacular architecture of the Chesapeake Bay in the 1850s. To explore the byway landscapes is to walk in Tubman’s footsteps as she grew from infant to woman, enslaved to free, ordinary to extraordinary.
National Scenic Byway #3 – Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway
The state of Maryland is defined by its abundant waterways and coastlines on both the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. Travelling through historic towns and scenic stretches of farmland of this Mid-Atlantic Region, the state’s 85-mile Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway aims to celebrate life on the Chesapeake Bay, the large inlet of the North Atlantic fed by Susquehanna River that separates Maryland and Virginia.
– Dangerousroads.org commenting on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Coming down off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and taking an exit off Maryland’s US Route 50 brought us into Annapolis. Being Maryland’s capital would be reason enough to visit – the city’s domed Maryland State House dates to 1772 making it the oldest state capitol building in continuous legislative use in the US – but charming, bricked streets lined with one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants, great seafood from Chesapeake Bay (the region is renowned for its blue crab, indigenous to the Bay & one of its most important economic products), and an unrivaled nautical heritage all make this jewel of Chesapeake Bay one of the most visitable cities in the country (and we picked a good time to visit because, and unlike Jersey Shore, New Jersey, & Lewes, Delaware, earlier in this day, Annapolis was alive & buzzing on this sunny Sunday afternoon).
– VisitMaryland.org commenting on Annapolis
Stoked. I was pumped to be getting back to Washington D.C., a short 30-mile drive west of Annapolis. I didn’t have one presentable picture from two previous visits to what is arguably the most influential city on earth – in 1998 & 2003 – and so was determined, over the course of an evening and a morning in the city on this third visit, to put that right. Washington played ball – it and its iconic neoclassical monuments looked great bathed in the soft light towards the end of day 5 and just as good in the bright sunshine on the morning of day 6. Who would have thought that a hub of bureaucracy and policy could ever look so good.
DC || Then & Now
Approved in 1790, formally founded in 1791, and named in honour of President George Washington, central, swampy Washington, District of Columbia (DC), was designated the new nation’s capital to diffuse regional tension. Built by the Potomac River on land ceded by neighbouring Maryland & Virginia (Congress returned to Virginia in 1846 the land originally ceded by the state) and geographically located at the mid-way point of the original 13 colonies, the present-day city is the result of a compromise, a happy medium between the wants of Southern & Northern politicians, the idea to carve out a new city for the then 15-year-old country preferable to bestowing the title of capital on already well-established cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Designed by Pierre L’Enfant & Andrew Ellicott, the 68 sq mi (177 km²) city, the central core of the wider Washington metropolitan area, is designed to be navigable, split as it is into 4 quadrants (the northwestern quadrant hosts the bulk of the tourist hotspots) where letters go east-west & numbers north-south. The city has a population of almost 700,000, a number that swells to over a million during the work week with commuters from neighbouring Maryland & Virginia, inhabitants taxed like all other Americans yet not represented in Congress (DC’s unofficial motto and license plate slogan is ‘Taxation Without Representation’).
Beyond the National Mall, Washington D.C. is a multilayered, multifaceted city filled with culture, restaurants, shopping, nightlife & distinct neighbourhoods; the city is both a marbled temple to federal government (and residence for its employees) and an urban ghetto of various (& oft crime-ridden) outlying neighbourhoods for immigrants and African Americans. One of the most touristed locations in the US, the city attracts over 20 million visitors a year, visitors who come to soak up the history, the museums (DC is home to the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution, a globally prestigious research unit & group of (free) museums established in 1846 “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge” and administered today by the US Government), the imposing governmental buildings (the city is home to all three branches of the American government), and of course the array of mammoth neoclassical white marble monuments, those instantly-recognisable venerated altars to the democracy America has championed around the world since its very founding.
The National Mall
When one thinks of Washington D.C. one invariable thinks of the National Mall, America’s vast public space full of symbolism, power, political swots, suits, museums, government buildings, lobbyists, lawyers, memorials, galleries, cultural institutions, sculptures, monuments and tourists. Originally planned as a ‘grand avenue’ in L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the city and today an official unit of the national park system, it stretches for 1.9 miles (3 kilometres) – from the steps of the US Capitol in the east to the Lincoln Memorial in the west – providing, according to the National Park Service, ‘a monumental, dignified, and symbolic setting for the governmental structures, museums and national memorials as first delineated by the L’Enfant plan’. We arrived into the city late in the afternoon. It being a Sunday meant parking in the vicinity of the US Capitol was both abundant and free (the excessive parking fees paid in Philadelphia and Annapolis, not to mention a parking ticket acquired in Gettysburg, were still fresh in the memory). It was a beautiful sunny and warm day and the Mall’s famous edifices & monuments looked great as a result.
The sun had almost set by the time we made it back to the Mall and found ourselves at the foot of Washington’s tallest structure.
All-American Road #2 – George Washington Memorial Parkway
Before leaving the DC area for Monticello in rural Virginia, we drove a portion of the All-American Washington Memorial Parkway, the second All-American Road of the wider road trip. The 25-mile (40 kilometre) route is a busy road. Almost entirely within Virginia, it runs along the south bank of the Potomac River from Mount Vernon to Langley.