Midwestern Historical Sites
Whenever I write about the great natural places to visit in the U.S., I always feel I am not giving the Midwest enough attention. (Poor Midwest.) Of course, part of that is because I’m not sure which states are even in the Midwest. Does it start in Ohio and continue to Nebraska? Is Tennessee a part of it? Should it just be all the areas between the Rockies and the Appalachians? Does it matter?
No matter the definition, the area is full of destinations. So, in this week’s exploration of cool places to visit, I’m going to look at National Historical Sites in those, well, I’m just going to call them middle states. (No matter how long I live in California, I refuse to use the term “flyover states.” Damn it, I just did.)
Effigy Mounds National Monument. Starting our trip through history, is a place in Northern Iowa that examines the cultures that were here before any Europeans thought of stepping foot here. Dated from 650 to 1200 AD, the mounds served as burial and ceremonial sites for these early Americans around the Mississippi River where they could hunt, fish and gather all that they needed. Be sure to take the hikes where you can look at the mounds shaped like bears and birds.
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Once the Europeans came, they tended to stay to the East, until Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase. Underneath the Arch, is the Museum of Westward Expansion that includes details of the Lewis and Clark exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. There’s also the St. Louis Courthouse, where Dred Scott sued for his freedom, one of the acts that led to the Civil War.
Fort Smith National Historic Site. Once the Louisiana Purchase happened, there was a large amount of land to the west available for Native American relocation. The removal and the routes they traveled are known as the Trail of Tears, and this historic site has exhibits about this tragic event. Not a happy place, this historic site also commemorates Judge Isaac Parker, known as a “Hanging Judge” for sentencing 160 people to death.
Shiloh National Military Park. Heading almost due east, you can explore this park with all of the details of this major battle in the Civil War that had over 23,000 casualties. Whenever I go to an old battlefield, hiking to see the sight lines
of the soldiers, where all of the sudden a small hill becomes a frightening place where hundreds of enemies could hide an interesting viewpoint. To see how the battle developed, take the auto tour or a ranger led tour.
Vicksburg National Military Park. This is the site of the battle that gave the North control of the Mississippi River. Part of that control was the gunboats, including the USS Cairo that was sunk in the attack on the Confederates. It was brought up from the bottom of the river about 100 years later and now is part of the museum that examines the navy of the Civil War period.
Harry S. Truman National Historic Site. Moving into the 20th century, Missouri’s only president, Harry S. Truman, resided here before and after serving from the end of World War II to the middle of the Korean War. Here you can explore the exhibits devoted to stories of this shopkeeper who was the man who approved the use of the atomic bomb. For even more Truman, you can also go to the Truman Library nearby.
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. Finally, for this tour of the history of the United States, you can end up in just about an hour away in Topeka, Kansas at this former African American school that is now used to commemorate the decision that ended legal segregation in the United States.
They might not be part of the glamorous coasts, but these locations can give you a large slice of the history and major events that have shaped this nation. Plus, it would make a heck of a road trip. (Though I’d hit Shiloh and Vicksburg before going to Fort Smith.)
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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."