The weekend of November 7-9, 2014 we operated a familiarization tour to Pennsylvania for teachers in CT, NJ & PA. While being from the Massachusetts area I felt it would be difficult to match the immense impact the state of Massachusetts had on the founding of our country but I was wrong.
While working with our partners at the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Philadelphia and Gettysburg we developed a varied itinerary that included the rich American history legacy, culture and fun opportunities the area offers.
Similar to Boston my vision of student travel in the Philadelphia & Gettysburg area is to offer more than just museums and what I call a vanilla itinerary. We hope to offer a more interactive program that engages the students to touch, feel, smell and taste the history and culture.
We started the program in Philadelphia with the perfect hotel property… The Wyndham Historic District Hotel located within a short walk of all the major historic sites. Upon arrival we were whisked away on a London style double decker bus for an entertaining city tour from Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours. This gave us a wonderful overview of this historic city. Dinner was at Romano Bistro a quality student friendly restaurant that offers a multi-course meal and meets the student tour budget. One of the difficult parts of a student itinerary is evening events. What after dinner tour that will provide a fun, safe experience that will get them ready for a restful night once back at the hotel? Specialty Tours offers “Philly Upside Down” that features pop music and DJ on the motor coach that matches the sights seen on evening tour of the city. It also includes a number of tour stops such as the Comcast Center that offers a fantastic 2000 square foot HD video wall that displays hours of unique programming and other fun interactive locations throughout the downtown.
The next morning we met our guide Anne from Specialty Tours. She was an excellent guide that entertained us with information on the Christ Church burial ground where Ben Franklin and his wife Deborah are interred. Anne also told us of Ben Franklin’s life as inventor, printer, scientist, postmaster, politician, statesman, and diplomat. He also developed the first firehouse and founded the University of Pennsylvania. Our tour included Independence Hall the location of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. It was also home of the first Supreme Court. This historic structure is 70% original and provides a moment to ponder that you are walking and using the handrail that these great men of America’s founding used.
Our next stop after having lunch at another student favorite, the Hard Rock Café, was the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The museum was built as a legacy of the great Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and it has collections of more than 227,000 objects that include “world-class holdings of European and American paintings, prints, drawings, and decorative arts”. We reluctantly left the museum after a short stay and went to our next location the Seaport Museum home of the sole surviving vessel of the Spanish-American War and the oldest surviving steel warship in the world the Olympia. Also housed at the museum is the Submarine Becuna which served in WWII and the cold war. Both provide a fascinating tour and view of life at sea during two world conflicts.
Off to Gettysburg
After a short tour of the Franklin Museum, that caters to student groups we were off to Gettysburg. A short 2 ½ hours and we arrive in Gettysburg and view the beautiful countryside. Dinner is at a very special restaurant the 1776 Dobbin House Tavern, Gettysburg’s oldest and most historic building and the former home of the Reverend Alexander Dobbin. The evening entertainment was the highlight of the day. We enjoyed the discussion of Remembering Mr. Lincoln from Myra Reichart, President of Places Through Time Living History Inc. She brought you to that storied time of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Her delivery and acting allowed you to actually visualize that amazing moment in history.
A beautiful day and an early start brought us to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, designed and built in 2008 to provide a proper and permanent home for the Gettysburg National Military Park’s collection of Civil War artifacts. The center is home to The Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War and the film A New Birth of Freedom, a film narrated by Morgan Freeman and sponsored by The History Channel, and the Cyclorama, the nation’s largest painting that places visitors in the fury of Pickett’s Charge on the third day of the battle.
Our group was joined by our licensed battle field guide and we were off for a two hour battle field tour. Our guide laid out the history, strategy, successes and failures of both the Union and Confederate forces. We visited the important locations of the three day battle that resulted in 7000 deaths and 46,000 injured. The fastest two hours I have witnessed in quite a while.
Our lunch was at the historic Inn at Herr Ridge established in 1815; the property functioned as a local tavern until 1828 when it was purchased by Frederick Herr. Herr also ran the property as a tavern and lodging for travelers. Additionally, Herr Tavern was a major stop in the Underground Railroad. The property played a pivotal role in helping slaves to escape. Later, the tranquility of rural Gettysburg was shattered by the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg was played out in the fields surrounding Herr Tavern.
After our wonderful lunch we traveled to a relatively new museum. The Seminary Ridge Museum opened in July 2013. The museum is committed to restoring, preserving and maintaining the national historic Civil War properties, architecture and legacies of Seminary Ridge during the first day of battle. It was an extremely informative museum that discussed this important location.
Our last stop before heading home was the Shriver House Museum the fully restored 1860 home of the Shriver family that was occupied by confederate sharpshooters. A very interesting story provided by the current owner of the house while in period costume.
In conclusion this was a fascinating few days that brought to life two very important periods of our countries history. Any history teacher that has these time periods in their school year curriculum should have their students visit these wonderful locations. These cities will sear these historic periods of American history in your students memories.