For one reason or another, whether it’s lack of vacation time, monetary constraints, fear of flying, global pandemic, etc., many people don’t take a proper vacation. A few years ago the word “staycation” entered our lexicon and became a growing trend. For history buffs, however, a vacation at home might not seem as appealing as visiting a big historic city. Historical sites can be found in your hometown though and you can have a rich, cultural adventure in even a small town. Just change the lens of how you view your city and a whole new place will appear for you to explore.
For fun staycation ideas, I encourage you to think outside the box about what constitutes a historical site. At their most basic level, they are places where human history occurred. Your trip will be richer if you are able to conduct a little research on the town first. Who were the first people to your area? When did widespread settlement begin? What were the big industries? Which ethnic groups were in the area? Who were the “big wigs” in your city (they’re likely the names on buildings and streets)? Knowing a bit of your town’s past will help you identify places to visit. Finding historical places can take a bit of digging when you’re looking in cities that don’t boast famous attractions, so here are some tips on how to locate local treasures.
- Historical hot-spots are places where the past is recorded and told. You might want to search for history museums or historical villages. Although your town may not have a big museum, check with the local historical society to see if they have local artifacts on display.
- Historical sites are places where social, political, or military history occurred, such as battle grounds, military forts, historic churches, century-old buildings, theaters, opera houses, state capitols, old government buildings, railroad depots, historic homes and buildings, centennial farms, lighthouses, etc. To find these places, I suggest picking the types of places you would like to see and doing a targeted search for them like “historic churches in Poughkeepsie” or “lighthouses near me.”
- Another way to find historic places, is to search the national register through the National Parks Service: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/database-research.htm
- Additionally, the National Register of Historic Places shows listings by state, as well as historic neighborhoods: http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/
- Sometimes, you may be able to find a memorial, placard, or monument that records an important event on a specific site. It’s fun to punctuate more time-intensive visits to museums with quick trips to these markers of history. Most states have a list of historical markers related to their governmental database. Also, this marker database may show historical places near you: https://www.hmdb.org/
- You may just want to drive around and pick a few buildings that you find architecturally attractive and then see if you can gain access. If you’re lucky, the building might be open to the public—like a church. If not, contact them and see if they will grant you a visit.
It’s good to find out when the historical sites you plan to see were built, so you can think about what was going on in history at that time. Once I was searching for old churches in Detroit and stumbled across Mariners’ Church, which opened in 1849. Detroit had several historical churches to visit, but the fact that this one predated the Civil War made me investigate further. I found out it had been a stop on the Underground Railroad route for African Americans escaping slavery. Knowing when something was built helps you to know what kind of questions to ask about it and gives insight into what kind of unique features a historical place might have—secret passages, anyone?!
- Make a day of it. Plan to visit a favorite restaurant (bonus points if it’s in a historical building) or pack a picnic.
- Take lots of photos. Strike a pose and have fun.
- Buy a little souvenir. You can give business to a local business owner and have something to remember the day.
- Indulge in a sweet from a local bakery, ice cream shop, or candy store. We generally treat ourselves on vacation, so keep it up.
- Talk to people around you. Ask them for recommendations about where to go next. You might think you know everything about your town, and maybe you do, but you might be surprised.
Once you have a list of places to visit and things to do, I suggest that you map them out like you’re going on a historical treasure hunt. Make a plan to sight-see in your city the same as you would a major tourist zone. I like to pick one or two museums, one historic place for lunch, and several buildings or historical markers to survey from the outside (with perhaps a quick trip inside). When I’m not on staycation, I always have a sightseeing list for the day, so taking this step adds an element of purpose to your trip and makes it feel more special.
I hope you history buffs have a good time exploring your town’s past. I’ve seen some of the world’s most famous historical sites and they are fabulous, but most of them don’t represent my personal history. I find them fascinating, but I don’t have an intimate connection with them. By looking through a historical lens at my own city, I discover a deeper link to my roots. I can bond with my locale in a richer way. I hope you are able to make your city’s history come alive and your past speak to you in a whole new way. Happy hometown travels!
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