Published September 01, 2017
The Colonial history of the United States is a wealth of stories encompassing culture, emigration, sacrifice, conflict and discovery that together have had a profound and lasting impact on the country in which we live today.
Following are five noteworthy destinations with strong Colonial histories, each offering a wealth of distinctive special experiences for tour groups.
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine, Florida, about an hour south of Jacksonville, has been a city of firsts since its founding in 1565.
The capital of Spanish Florida for nearly 200 years, St. Augustine owns the distinction of being the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in North America and the oldest town plat in the United States.
After Spanish rule ended, St. Augustine was controlled by the British. Structures and artifacts from the Spanish, British and American periods work together to make the entire city a living museum.
Among them is Castillo de San Marcos, built between 1672 and 1695 to protect the Spanish fleet from foreign invasion. It stands today as the oldest masonry fort in the country and America’s first national monument.
Spanning 144 square blocks and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Plaza de la Constitution, established in 1573, is home to the Constitutional Monument. Monuments such as this were erected in every Spanish colony during the 1500s, and the St. Augustine monument is believed to be the only remaining one.
St. Augustine is also known as the first commercial seaport in North America and the home of the first hospital opened in North America, in 1598. In 1738, the first legally sanctioned African-American town in what would become the United States, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, also known as Fort Mose, opened near the city.
Groups can experience the city’s Colonial highlights in a variety of ways.
“Many tours here are geared to working with leisure groups,” said Evelyn Vazquez, director of leisure sales for the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. “Since 1953, the Ripley’s Sightseeing Trains have been providing narrated tours of the nation’s oldest city. Tour planning by Ancient City Tours includes professional guide service, itinerary planning and scheduling, meals, transportation, accommodations and more. And DMC Ventures is a St. Augustine full-service tour operator that creates customized tour planning and itineraries for groups of any age.”
Other worthwhile sites and attractions attractive to groups are the St. Augustine Lighthouse, the Colonial Quarter, the Pirate and Treasure Museum, and Mission Nombre de Dios.
When English visionary, social reformer and military leader Gen. James Oglethorpe landed on a bluff high above the Savannah River in search of a better life for his home country’s working poor, he named this new territory Georgia, after England’s King George II, making it America’s 13th and final colony. He called its first city Savannah, honoring the river above which it sat.
Savannah is about two hours from Charleston, South Carolina, and is known as America’s first planned city. Its landscape follows Oglethorpe’s design for a series of grids that connect the area and citizens via 24 public squares, 22 of which are still in existence; wide-open streets; and parks. Today’s historic district captures the romantic ambiance that flourished from this city plan, which continues to enchant visitors and residents alike.
According to Mindy Shea, director of tour, travel, and international sales for Visit Savannah, a visit here is a unique Savannah Colonial experience.
“Tour groups can explore the city in many ways, but one of the most popular is by open-air trolleys touring the beautiful historic homes and museums,” Shea said. “Among some of the unique activities your group can do is play a round of Colonial cricket, take part in a pine-needle basket-weaving demonstration, learn about Colonial fibers and try [their] hand at weaving.”
Area attractions include the Mercer-Williams House, a pre-Civil War-era mansion; the Wormsloe Historic Site, which has been in the same family since the 1930s; the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, built between 1873 and 1876 and an excellent example of French Gothic architecture; and the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, which recounts the history of segregation and the civil rights movement in Savannah. Tricentennial Park preserves Savannah’s Central of Georgia Railway National Landmark District, as well as the oldest and most complete antebellum railroad manufacturing and repair facility still in existence in the country.
Within only a few miles of the city, historic attractions attractive to groups include Old Fort Jackson, one of the few surviving brick fortifications in the United States, and on Tybee Island, Fort Pulaski National Monument and the Tybee Island Lighthouse.
More modern-day excursions include haunted ghost tours; a cruise aboard the Georgia Queen, the country’s largest riverboat; and walking amidst the stunning art and period architectural structures around town.
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