NOTE: I took byways for most of these destinations, but most are accesible by highways and exits. Though to get true Americana, the blacktop monsters aren't the best way.
CHICAGO, IL to HUNTINGTON, IN
Route: Take U.S. 41 (Lake Shore Drive) South. It will turn directly into South Shore Drive and then turn left onto 87th Street and then right onto Indianapolis Boulevard once it gets to Indiana (the whole thing is clearly maked by U.S. 41 South signs the whole route). Take U.S. 41 south to U.S. 30 and make a left to head east. Stay on U.S. 30 east for about 110 miles. Turn right onto Indiana 9 and stay on this for about 20 miles. Bear right on Tipton Street and follow this into town. Turn right on Warren Street. 166 miles and approximately 4 hours, 5 minutes.
Alternate Route: Take U.S. 41 (Lake Shore Drive) South to the Chicago Skyway (I-90). Exit #31 is for Chesterton/Valparaiso. Turn right on Indiana 49 South toward Valparaiso. Take ramp onto U.S. 30 East (toward Plymouth) and stay on it for about 85 miles. Turn right onto Indiana 9 and stay on this for about 20 miles. Bear right on Tipton Street and follow this into town. Turn right on Warren Street. 166 miles and approximately 3 hours, 35 minutes.
Picking up my rental car at the Alamo over the Clark and Lake blue line stop (and under the loop stops), I set down Lake Street to Michigan Avenue to Congress Street to Lake Shore Drive. Chicago's my hometown so I could recommend about a dozen scenic routes to get from downtown out of the city (and a couple really dangerous ones like South State Street).
Still in all of my times leaving the city, I couldn't remember a time that Lake Shore Drive looked more beautiful.
The route that I took is not highly recommended because it goes through some absolutely shady sections of Chicago but I do recommed taking Lake Shore Drive to where it merges with the Skyway over one of the more traditional routes like the Kennedy (I-90/I-94). Lake Shore Drive loops around the beaches and parks of Lake Michigan in a seemingly neverending series of vistas of the lake.
South Shore Drive does the same thing through Hyde Park and Bronzeville (basically Chicago's Harlem but without the urban decay). However, if you take this route to South Shore Drive, there's no escape and you're going to be stuck either hugging the lake until Indiana (and if you're scared of the city hugging the steering wheel as well) or going through Chicago's absolute worst neighborhoods to get back to the expressway.
If you stick it out, Indianapolis Boulevard is worth every iota of worry you might have had.
The Skyway is much quicker but it passes above and too far north to see a truly great hidden secret of Chicagoland that I didn't know about - the cities of Highland and Munster, IN.
These towns are so close to Chicago that people commute in from them but two things caught my eye very quickly. The first is that the first farm I saw of the trip was off of the highway in Highland the second was that Highland has a spectacular Main Street that Indianapolis Boulevard turns into for a brief stretch.
Beyond that, this route is not very exciting but there's no way to avoid U.S. 30 (and, trust me, Yahoo and Google Maps both tried to take me back to the expressways no matter how hard I fought it). Unlike many sections of U.S. 30 (the Lincoln Highway) there is not much going on for its Indiana stretch. It's basically a big patch of sububan sprawl across the entire northern Indiana region.
This route does pass below Valpariso which is supposed to be very nice and might prove an interesting place to stop - but I didn't. Warsaw, IN seems like it could be an interesting place due to its name but it's not.
Huntington, on the other hand, is a Norman Rockwell painting with modern characters.
HUNTINGTON, IN to FAIRMOUNT, IN (via GAS CITY, IN)
Route: Turn left on Washington Street past the Dan Quayle Vice Presidential museum, turn left again on Jefferson Street, turn left onto U.S. 224 East (West Merkle Road). Merkle Road will wind through a Metropark and end up at I-69 in about seven miles. Take I-69 South to Exit #59 (Gas City/Upland). Turn right at U.S. 35 which will lead through Gas City as Main Street. Turn left at Indiana 9. Indiana 26 is four miles south. Make a left at it. Make a right at Vine Street. Washington Street will come after 1st Street. Make a left onto it and the Fairmount Historical Museum is on the corner of Washington and Walnut. 49 miles and approximately 1 hour, 5 minutes.
The Dan Quayle Vice Presidential Museum is at 815 Warren Street in Huntington, IN. I know that some people are saying that someone has to be a really big Republican to go to a Dan Quayle Museum or just really be into irony.
However, this museum stands on its own without celebrating the native son of Huntington, IN too much. The entire bottom floor is dedicated to the Vice-Presidency of the United States as a whole. On the back wall of the museum are the photos of every Vice President from John Adams to Dick Cheney. Underneath this display an introductory video loops a very informative and rather academic history of the Vice Presidency and its evolution from "a job not worth a bucket of warm spit" to the number one advisory role to the President that it is today.
The top floor is Dan Quayle memorabilia (as to be expected since it's his Vice Presidential library) from his birth to his unsuccessful run for the Presidency in 2000. Real die hard Republicans can, of course, delight in a giant cardboard cutout that you can photograph yourself with.
And the gift shop can also get your elephant groove on.
Despite equal time being devoted to the Democratic Party's second highest office holders (the slogan of the museum is "second to one"), the town of Huntington itself is pretty much what one might expect from a town in the heartland of one of the reddest states in the United States (red being right and not left in our electoral maps for those not from the U.S.).
I was there a few days before the Indiana primary election and the signs around the bucolic downtown all reflected a competition to see who could have the largest elephant. That and the Democratic Party headquarters called itself the Democrat Party headquarters using right wing lingo.
There's not much else to see and do in Huntington besides the Dan Quayle Vice Presidential Museum though it's worth a wander around the downtown.
Getting out of Huntington is pretty easy and it's very close to I-69 (sort of an irony for such a conservative town).
I really tried to avoid the expressways as much as possible but Indiana 9, the other route out of town is pretty barren so this really is flyover country. One side trip that I took from the expressway was to Gas City (exit #59 Gas City/Upland). Although it only took a half a tank of gas to get to this point, I topped the car off just to have a receipt saying that I got gas in Gas City.
There's is a local speedway there that seemed pretty active if there are any racing fans reading this. I'm not one myself so I sped by it and through town back to Indiana 9 for the brief journey (about four miles) to Fairmount, IN.
FAIRMOUNT, IN to WASHINGTON, PA
Route: 8th Street is Indiana 26 in Fairmount. This street comes off of Main Street where most of the James Dean attractions are in Fairmount. If coming from the north and James Dean's childhood home and gravesite, make a left onto 8th. If coming from the south and the Fairmount Historical Museum, make a right. Five miles east of town, Indiana 26 hits I-69 South. Ten miles south, U.S. 35 exits at Exit #45 (Muncie/Alexandria). This is Indiana 28/U.S. 35 (turn left). Indiana 3 hits about 2 miles later and is merged with U.S. 35 still. U.S. 35 South splits off just before Muncie (there will be a ramp). About 34 miles later, U.S. 35 hits U.S. 40 in Richmond, IN. U.S. 35 is Exit #156B (Lewisburg). There are entrances back onto I-70 at U.S. 127, Ohio 503, and Ohio 49. Take I-70 through the rest of the state of Ohio and into West Virginia. Exit 1A just across the Ohio River in Wheeling, WV is U.S. 40. It goes through the entire state of West Virginia (about 14 miles) before crossing into Pennsylvania. Chestnut Street is U.S. 40. The hotel is 1370 W. Chestnut. 331 miles and approximately 5 hours, 55 minutes.
Alternate Route: 8th Street is Indiana 26 in Fairmount. This street comes off of Main Street where most of the James Dean attractions are in Fairmount. If coming from the north and James Dean's childhood home and gravesite, make a left onto 8th. If coming from the south and the Fairmount Historical Museum, make a right. Five miles east of town, Indiana 26 hits I-69 South. Ten miles south, U.S. 35 exits at Exit #45 (Muncie/Alexandria). This is Indiana 28/U.S. 35 (turn left). Indiana 3 hits about 2 miles later and is merged with U.S. 35 still. U.S. 35 South splits off just before Muncie (there will be a ramp). About 34 miles later, U.S. 35 hits I-70 in Richmond, IN. For Footprint Rock, take exit #156 B (Lewisburg). There are entrances back onto I-70 at U.S. 127, Ohio 503, and Ohio 49. Take I-70 through the rest of Ohio and West Virginia. Exit I-70 at Exit #15 (Chestnut Street). The hotel is about half a mile from the exit. 330 miles and approximately 5 hours, 25 minutes.
I have a confession to make. I'm not really a James Dean fan. I had only seen "Rebel Without A Cause" before I took this road trip and I only watched that a few days before in order to get a slight understanding of Dean as an actor. However, as the Fairmount Historical Museum pointed out quickly, James Dean as a character wasn't really like James Dean as a man. He was actually a good student and an athlete of a pretty high caliber - hardly an outsider.
When I arrived at the museum, it was empty except for two elderly docents, one of whom offered me a private tour going through the life of James Dean in Fairmount, IN (and a bit about his career and death in Hollywood). One thing that I asked right upon entering the museum was how much that it cost. It's donation only and the docent who gave me the tour said, "most people give a couple of dollars but a lot give $5 or 10 and some come back and give more."
I was one of the people who gave more on the way out. The museum is completely donation run and while most of the objects were donated by the Dean and/or Davis (the room has a moderate Garfield collection as well since artist Jim Davis is also a local son) families, it's still an impressive collection to maintain. So impressive that I left a much bigger James Dean fan than I came into the museum.
The second floor of the museum is devoted to Fairmount's lesser known sons and daughters and includes graduating class photos of Fairmount High School from the 1950s until today. The civic pride alone was worth the price of admission. Though Fairmount has had quite a few notables for a town its size and if you get a good docent, they'll go into the doctors, lawyers, and former heads of NOAA that called this small Indiana town home (and if you're lucky you'll get the docent who was on the track team and did pole vault with James Dean himself, though I didn't).
Even though the other attractions in town are free, I recommend visiting the museum first if for no other reason than they provide a map to the other attractions in town.
All of the other attractions are on Main Street (except for James Dean's high school (Old Fairmount High School) which is abandoned at Jefferson and Vine streets. The James Dean statue is in James Dean Memorial Park (really just a garden) at Second Street and Walnut Street (it's hard to see from Main or Second unless you're stopped). The church where the actor's funeral was held (Friends Church) is also off of First west of Main Street and I didn't personally see it.
Another attraction that despite having a map I missed was The Winslow Farm where James Dean was raised (the Winslows were his aunt and uncle). The farm is far north of town and there are many still working farms on the Sand Pike Road (which Main Street turns into) so I feared turning into any of them.
However, worth a visit is the Carter's Motorcycle Shop where James Dean, a two wheeling enthusiastic bought all of his bikes. It's marked by an Indian Motorcyles ad.
Finally, no visit to Fairmount would be complete without paying respects at James Dean's grave which is in Park Cemetery. The grave is a bit hard to find from any but the main entrance (with a dirt road leading up to the chapel) but once inside the gates, the way to his grave is well marked and he's laid to rest right off a driveway. An interesting overlooked grave is that of his mother and father who are buried next to him but without the fanfare of painted rocks and endless flowers.
One thing to be warned about Fairmount though is it's basically a little sister city to next door Marion which has all of the gas, food, and lodging in the area. There's a Giant Cafe next to the museum (which I assume reference one of Dean's three movie roles) but it was closed when I was in town.
I spent a lot of time in Fairmount for a town its size but in an hour, you can pretty much see all the sites and be on your way.
U.S. 35 leading around Muncie proved not much better for food (though Muncie, home of Ball State - David Letterman's alma mater, probably has every fast food place known to humankind). I had the idea to eat in Richmond (which is the last name of a good friend of mine) but be forewarned that I-70 and U.S. 35 run north of the city and not through it proper. There's a National Road Welcome Center in Richmond a bit west of the freeway exit but it focuses on the westbound Indiana portion of the road and if you're heading into Ohio, it's pretty much worthless.
U.S. 40 as it crosses the Indiana border into Ohio isn't the most interesting of stretches. But it does contain one of the odder, yet state endorsed, attractions I saw on my trip. Footprint Rock is just what it says, a rock that is shaped like a footprint (though I haven't seen anything that says it's a fossil). It's actually basically on the road with a large parking lot. Though the limited warning heading eastbound makes it pretty easy to miss and I had to turn around to get back to it. U.S. 40 is very close to I-70 in this part of Ohio so I would advise riding it as far as you want (though no further than where I-75 crosses it was of Dayton where it gets a bit meandering).
The next portion of the trip was one that I probably wouldn't repeat. Even though it was dark, I decided that I wanted to take U.S. 40 through the entire state of West Virginia (I had yet to cross a state border on an interstate on purpose). The west side of Wheeling is pretty shady and it was the first dealing with the city that one taking my route exactly would have. U.S. 40 then meanders around pretty much the entire city in a confusing circle of juts and turns (all of this in the Alleghany mountains, mind you). It's smooth sailing into Pennylvania but the state line marker wasn't visible at night. Neither was the West Virginia Madonna of the Trails which sits across from an apartment building in Wheeling.
During the day it would probably have been easy to see this sculpture but if you stayed too long in small town Indiana, it would be impossible.
I also don't recommend pushing all the way through to Pennsylvania. Eastern Ohio (perhaps the Zanesville area) is about an hour before the area south of Pittsburgh that U.S. 40 and I-70 runs through (and a sane person might have stopped at Columbus). I ended up getting to the Days Inn Washington at 12:15 a.m. in a quest to get enough lead way into the next day to see all of the site I wanted in northern West Virginia and western and central Pennsylvania.
Though I do have to say that spending the first night in a Washington, even if it wasn't my eventual destination of Washington D.C.) was a good reason to push through. Washington, PA (as all the signs call it to not get confused by the other Washington accessible further up I-70) also has a lot of gas, food, and lodging on U.S. 40 which was something I hadn't seen the rest of the drive.
WASHINGTON, PA to UNIONTOWN, PA (via MORGANTOWN, WV)
Route: Take Chestnut Street into Washington. Turn right at Jefferson Avenue to stay on U.S. 40. It curves around onto Maiden Street which runs past Washington and Jefferson College. It continues out of town and reaches I-79 in about three miles. Take I-79 for 38 miles to Morgantown (Exit #155 West Virginia University). Turn left on Chaplin Hill Road (U.S. 19) and follow this as it becomes Jerry West Boulevard. 3.5 miles later, it reaches downtown Morgantown. To leave Morgantown, take U.S. 119 (it's
Willey Street downtown but be careful since there are a lot of one way streets in Morgantown, but the best route is Spruce Street). Take U.S. 119 North for about 25 miles. U.S. 119 is Morgantown Street is Uniontown. 90 miles and approximately 2 hours, 25 minutes.
Alternate Route: Take Chestnut Street into Washington. Turn right at Jefferson Avenue to stay on U.S. 40. It curves around onto Maiden Street which runs past Washington and Jefferson College. It continues out of town and reaches I-79 in about three miles. Take I-79 for 38 miles to Morgantown (Exit #155 West Virginia University). Turn left on Chaplin Hill Road (U.S. 19) and follow this as it becomes Jerry West Boulevard. 3.5 miles later, it reaches downtown Morgantown. To leave Morgantown, take U.S. 119 South for about 3 miles. It will hit I-68 East and take it for 9 miles. Take Exit #10 (Cheat Lake CR-857/Fairchance Road). Turn left onto CR-69/6 and take this for half a mile to CR-857 (Cheat Road) and make a right. 5 miles later it will reach Gans Road. Make a left onto Gans and take it half a mile to the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Pennsylvania 43) for ten miles or so (Pennsylvania 43 will become free again) and when it hits U.S. 119 North, veer off onto that. U.S. 119 is Morgantown Street is Uniontown. 78 miles and approximately 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Unless you know someone named Morgan (which I do) who you accidentally told your trip went through Morgantown (which I did) and then they showed up at your birthday party as a surprise after telling you they were busy with work (which she did) so you wanted to surprise her back (which I did), I wouldn't recommend taking the convoluted way I got between these two historic Pennsylvania cities with a four hour dip into West Virginia (spending about 90 minutes in Morgantown since I got a bit lost in its labirynth of twisty mountainy streets).
Not that Morgantown doesn't stand on its own. Though it seems like in too strong a wind, it might fall over.
My rental car was a compact Kia Spectra in order to save gas mileage (and the side trip really isn't a lot of miles, reaching Morgantown from Washington is a speedy stretch of I-79 which rolls through scenic highlands). The first time I regretted this decision on the trip was trying to climb onto the West Virginia University campus. And I mean climb. West Virginia University is known as the Mountaineers and it's for good reason. The campus is absolutely built into the side of a mountain.
The valleys aren't that large but wherever there was, literally, 30 yards of open space, they popped down a campus building. And off campus is even weirder. There are apartments that are on angles as some roads have inclines and declines so steep that it must have taken really good engineers to make sure cars don't flip end over end.
Downtown Morgantown is a bit depressing as there aren't a lot of college students milling around and I couldn't, for the life of me, find the visitor's center. But with the layout of the campus there are endless photo opportunities.
Especially if you take photos of High and Morgan themed things.
Still, I was glad to get out of Morgantown (I got lost and ended up winding around a state park, the first time I got lost all trip) and back into Pennsylvania.
While it does add time to the trip, I can't more highly (pardon the expression) recommend U.S. 119 as a scenic route between Morgantown and Uniontown. There is actually a river that runs right next to the highway (and it is a 55 MPH strip of pavement though with stoplights at the occasional small town inbetween the two cities) and the road should be pretty empty to stop and take pictures of this scenic parkway (although not officially designated as such).
Though, really, take U.S. 40 between Washington and Uniontown. The Pennsylvania Madonna of the Trails is on this route (though since I didn't take the route I didn't see it) and there's there's the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in downtown Washington (that I didn't see) that could take as much time and be as interesting as Morgantown.
NOTE: I took byways for most of these destinations, but most are accesible by highways and exits. Though to get true Americana, the blacktop monsters aren't the best way.
UNIONTOWN, PA to GETTYSBURG, PA (via SHANKSVILLE, PA)
Route: Main Street in Uniontown, PA is U.S. 40 though it becomes East Fayette Street on the east side of town. Take U.S. 40 East out of Uniontown (where it becomes known as National Pike). About 20 miles later, it merges with Pennsylvania 281 (Mae West Road). This then splits off and if you take it about 30 miles it reaches downtown Somerset (it merges for a brief time with Pennsylvania 523 in Confluence, PA). On the east side of Somerset, stay straight on Patriot Road as Pensylvania 281 turns left. Turn left onto Pleasant Street and then veer right onto Stoystown Road. Turn right onto U.S. 30 just before the city limits. About three miles east on U.S. 30 is Lambertville Road, make a right onto it. Two miles later, Skyline Road comes off on the left. A mile later is the Flight 93 Memorial. Continue on Skyline Road until it ends and make a left onto Buckstown Road and turn right when Buckstown Road hits U.S. 30. Gettysburg is 101 miles east on U.S. 30 East. 173 miles and approximately 4 hours, 20 minutes.
I don't know what it is about the small towns that I drove through on the Americana Road Trip, but each of them seemed to produce a lot of famous people (though I'm not sure how Pennsylvania 281 became Mae West Road as Wikipedia has nothing about an association between her and southwestern Pennsylvania). Uniontown is famous as the home of George C. Marshall (architect of the Marsall Plan to reconstruct Europe after WWII).
While there were water towers or plaques in other towns with famous citizens, Uniontown goes all out to honor George C. Marshall. The Parkway outside of town is named for him and what dominates the "skyline" upon entering the downtown area is a five or six story mural of Marshall scowling (as a military man, I guess they didn't want to depict him smiling) in the pose of his most famous portrait (at least I'm assuming this is the case since it's his photo on Wikipedia).
Uniontown was a boom city during the coal and steel heyday and one boasted so, unlike many small towns, it actually has quite a few historic midrises.
The downtown area is filled with monuments to all sorts of things both military and not and the tower of the county building (Uniontown is the county seat for Fayette County) is picturesque. I ended up eating lunch at an "international" diner, Choices International (international because they serve Jamaican on Friday nights) and getting out of town on U.S. 40 east pretty quickly.
Just outside of town is the Searights Toll House, one of the last two remaining toll houses from when the National Road was a pike. I think I drove right past it since it's not well marked. Fort Necessity Battlefield, the first military leadership position of George Washington, past the toll house is extremely well marked. There's not much to do there like other battlefield parks. It's mostly hiking trails which I really didn't feel was a necessity. Though the sign in the front is worth the price for non-admission. There's also a U.S. 40 visitors center inside (which I had forgotten about so I didn't go in).
Just past Fort Necessity is General Braddock's Grave (a British general who died near Fort Necessity in the French and Indian war). I didn't stop at it, but it was actually agreed to in a pact that the grave site is officially British soil so that's an interesting fact. Another interesting fact was the he actually used to be buried under the road to avoid the French defacing his body (back when it was a wagon road and not, of course, a highway). But since the road pretty much takes the original path, no matter if you stop or not at the gravesite, you drive over his original resting place.
Less interesting a stretch of road the jam packed tourist mecca east of Uniontown is the stretch of Pennyslvania 281 that connects U.S. 40 (which keeps heading southeast into Maryland) with U.S. 30.
Though had 9/11 happened 50 years before it did, the crash site of Flight 93 would not have been nearly as isolated since it's only a few miles off of the Lincoln Highway (much further off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike's modern thoroughfare which runs south of Somerset).
I'm not sure if the Flight 93 Temprary Memorial being really isolated and yet busy shows the perminent psyche effect that 9/11 has had on the United States or what. But even without playing on the tragedy, the temporary memorial is powerful. The main thrust of the memorial is just a fence like at a baseball diamond - though a symbolic 40 feel for the 40 non-hijacker passenger and crew - hung with mementos and remembrances that people from all over the world have brought to the memorial (these have to be cleared with the Park Service so it's not just anything).
There are also more perminent stone monument and 40 lawn angels to denote the 40 passengers and crew.
The Park Service has added an ampitheater of benches (with the names of all of the people who died on the flight except for the hijackers) and a podium - as well as a small American flag where the nose of the plane crashed in the field a couple hundred of yards from the memorial right off Skyline Road. I'm not sure what the plans for the true memorial will be but I'm sure it will involve a lot of marble and ingravings so I recommend the temporary memorial while it still exists.
It's pretty amazing how close houses are to the field and taking Buckstown Road back to U.S. 30 puts you right in front of houses of people who probably heard the plane crashing (it's pretty amazing considering the events that led up to the crash that no one on the ground was injured). That more than anything was intense.
Back on U.S. 30, the stretch from Buckstown to Gettysburg is pretty eventful. Back in the Alleghany Mountains (at some pretty high peaks), it's sort of white knuckle ride at times. Every few hundred yards is a runaway truck ramp which warns what kind of ramp (gravel or sand) awaits the unfortunate trucker.
There are a couple of spectacular scenic lookouts. I was lucky enough to have a state trooper behind me for much of the ride so even if I wasn't too scared to go the speed limit, the thought of getting pulled over for accelerating down a hill too fast for his or her (I didn't look back to see which) liking kept the drive pretty slow.
One of the amazing things about Gettysburg, therefore, as you're approaching it from the west is it pretty much comes out of nowhere. And yet, the second you enter the city, you're already in the Battlefield Park.
NOTE: I took byways for most of these destinations, but most are accesible by highways and exits. Though to get true Americana, the blacktop monsters aren't the best way.
GETTYSBURG, PA to LANCASTER, PA
Route: Baltimore Pike runs through the middle of the southern section of Gettysburg National Military Park. This becomes Baltimore Street (Business U.S. 15) in downtown Gettysburg. Turn right onto East Hanover Street (Pennsylvania 116/ U.S. 30) and branch off with U.S. 30 (Lincoln Highway) at Liberty Street. U.S. 30 runs all the way to Lancaster in 27 miles. U.S. 30 becomes a highway and goes around the top of Lancaster. The hotels are mostly east of the city on U.S. 30, Pennsylvania 340, or Pennsylvania 896. The Days Inn is on Pennsylvania 896 off of U.S. 30. Make a left at Eastbrook Road and it's a little over a block. 62 miles and approximately 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Gettysburg National Military Park is one of the most easily navigatable national parks by car that I have ever been to. Sure there are hiking trails and such but the auto tour brings you by so many monuments and such that there's really no need, unless you're a huge military history buff, to walk anywhere. Even when you first enter Gettysburg from the west on U.S., there's a sign welcoming you to Gettysburg National Military Park.
The visitor's center, though, is on the other side of downtown Gettysburg. U.S. 15 bisects the city almost in half and it's really only a minute or two through downtown to get to the park. I got there after closing time (but, thankfully before sunset as the battle field was beautiful at sunset) but outside of the visitor's center was an informational map with the auto tour.
The unfortunate thing about the timing of this trip was that West Confederate Avenue (to give some idea about how intertwined Gettysburg is with the battle that took place there and the civil war in general) was closed to traffic for repairs. This road contains about five stops on the auto tour so hopefully by the time anyone reading this pays a visit to the site, it will be reopened.
Even with half the park pretty much closed down, there is still a lot to see and do on the auto tour of Gettysburg. There are over 1,600 monuments and statues placed somewhere within the boundaries of the park (it would probably take a whole vacation just to see these) but I found a few of them most impressive. The Eternal Light Peace Memorial, for example (sight #2 on the auto tour) towers above the rest of the monuments in a symbol of a nation reuinted after the war. There are also quite a few impressive statues around the entry to Gettysburg on U.S. 30 on Seminar Ridge Avenue.
And, again, pretty much the entire park and its statues is accessible within feet of the many roads that crisscross its acreage.
Though in this comes a dilemma to the world be sightseer. All of Gettysburg's roads are also used by locals for actual commercial traffic. The route for the auto tour is well marked with signs noting which way to turn - if you can see them in time. Lose the path and it's easy to start going in circles along with actual Gettysburg residents.
Not that I did this of course and not that I'm speaking from experience.
Downtown Gettysburg is an absolute treasure trove of Civil War memorabilia and antiques in general. There are also quite a few restaurants and bars to lure in more than just historical buff tourists. Had I not been in a hurry (and alone) the Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours sounded fun as did the Eisenhower National Historical Site.
Looking at other similar trips here on Yahoo Travel, it seems like no one leaves enough time for Gettysburg. I join the chorus in saying that you could easily spend two days in this city (very out of proportion for a town so small, but it is one of the most historic cities in the United States). I only spend a little over three hours because it was starting to get dark and I wanted to get to Lancaster.
East of Gettysburg on the way to Lancaster is an area that, for an Anglophile like me, is just like heaven.
One thing that I noticed driving into Gettysburg was the strong German influence on the names of the towns and cities. Almost every one was a "burg." Leaving Gettysburg and heading east is like leaving Germany and entering the United Kingdom (and England in particular). York and Lancaster are the two most famous English sounding towns in the area on U.S. 30 but I actually stopped for dinner in New Oxford.
I just couldn't pass up the chance to go to the Keystone Diner (the Keystone State is Pennsylvania's nickname). There are a lot of diners along U.S. 30 since it's still a popular trucker route (since truckers have to pay a ton for the Pennsylvania Turnpike from end to end and U.S. 30 is a 55 MPH highway much of its way not that many miles to the south of it).
A place like this, I've found, is a very good place to hear the opinions of locals and truckers (which, being from Chicago are very different than my views) and in the aftermath of the Pennsylvania Primary when I took my trip, there were still quite a few flying around.
One thing that I wasn't expecting was traffic circles on U.S. 30. However, the British influence in the area (sort of ironic that this was one of the heartlands of the United States Civil War and not the American Revolution as much) even extends this far. And they were authentic traffic circles from the original laying out of the cities while they were still under English control (though not for cars) to the best of my knowledge. Of course that was part of the reason that I stopped for food. Handling a traffic circle on an empty stomach was not my idea of fun.
York is supposed to be a pretty interesting city unto itself but I didn't really look into it at all (mostly since the hotels in this city are more expensive, surprisingly, than the much more touristy areas of Gettysburg and Lancaster that it lies between).
The ride from Gettysburg to Lancaster is a fast breeze. I found getting to my hotel east of Lancaster in the dark a bit difficult (as I had to use exit numbers off of U.S. 30 as opposed to the lazy street names and numbers of smaller towns). But pretty much every hotel around Lancaster is on a pike or Pennsylvania numbered road (or sometimes both) so I made it more trouble than it was. My hotel was the Days Inn on Pennsylvania 896 (basically in the parking lot of an outlet mall which spring up like mushrooms in the whole area) and the accomidations were quite nice.
Then again, this being quite a large chunk of miles, I probably would have been have been happy with a cot in an Amish farm house.
LANCASTER, PA to PHILADELPHIA, PA (via INTERCOURSE, PA)
Route: Take Pennsylvania 340 7 miles to Intercourse, PA. Pennsylvania 340 in approximately 15 miles merges with U.S. 30 (make a left onto the expressway). Take U.S. 30 through the Philadelphia suburbs to U.S. 1 (East City Avenue), make a right. 67 miles and approximately 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Alternate Route: Take Pennsylvania 340 7 miles to Intercourse, PA. Bear right on Pennsylvania 772 (East Newport Road) and take it for 5 miles to U.S. 30. Turn left on U.S. 30 and go for 25 miles or so. Take the King of Prussia exit and take U.S. 202 N for 10 miles. Take the Philadelphia exit on I-76 (which is the Pennsylvania turnpike) and go 13 miles. Take exit #339 (City Avenue) onto City Avenue South. 65 miles and approximately 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Although I'm not a big fan of antiquing like my parents (a quest that sends them consistently into Mennonite territory), I have always been fascinated by the Amish. I see them on a regular basis in Union Station in Chicago by my work but don't really know that much about them. A few weeks before I left on my road trip, we were having a discussion at work about what the difference was between an Amish and a Mennonite. I had no clue.
I made it my goal to find out the answer to this riddle on day three of my journey.
Though the first stop I made, since it was right down Pennsylvania 896 (Eastbrook Road) from my hotel was the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Much to my surprise the only Amish that I saw were not on the road to the museum. There were actually quite a few Amish families who had taken a journey (most likely short) to see the museum. I know Amish take the trains but it still surprised me that they would visit a museum that glorified them.
The museum itself, despite being one of the only starred attraction in the Lancaster area according to AAA, left me sort of disappointed. It's definitely a time capsule with a huge amount of trains from throughout Pennsylvania's railroading history but they don't really come alive at all. They've all been nicely restored though and it's worth a look if you're realy into the railroad.
After the museum, I got lost for the first time on the trip. The museum is outside of Strasburg (in the southeast Lancaster suburbs) and to get back to U.S. 30 and the other attractions, the Strasburg Pike is the easiest way. I missed this and ended up taking Pennsylvania 741 south of the city of Lancaster and having to take U.S. 222 back into it.
Just a warning, the south side of Lancaster is bad. And not bad for a small town but pretty bad for a big city.
This put me right past the Lancaster Newspaper Museum (really just a collection of old newspapers in a window). I'm sure it was interesting and all that, but there's no parking anywhere near it so I headed up Queen Street to King Street which was Pennsylvania 462. This merged with U.S. 30 just before the Mennonite Information Center.
Of all of the attractions in Lancaster I, by far, recommend this one the most. For $5.00 admission, there are two excellent films that actually (despite my worry about false advertising) really did present the answer to the question of the film title, "Who Are The Amish?" It went through the history of the Amish church, the various kinds of "old order" Amish (ranging from real hardliners to those who just try to stay off the public grid and avoid public services).
And, most importantly, worth the $5.00 by itself, it once and for all resolved the question of what the difference is between a Mennonite and the Amish. Basically, the Amish are those who broke from the Mennonite Church centuries ago over the question of excommunication. While there are "old order" Mennonites who dress and look a lot like the Amish (who dress and look different from each other depending on which village they are from). But most Mennonites evolved with their church into a modern group who stress simplicity humility (like the Amish) and devotion to God and community service (and pacifism).
I found myself so enamored with the Mennonites that I thought about getting more information on the church. Which I guess is the point of the information center. Still, it was more informative than prostelityzing and more than worth seeing on any trip through Lancaster.
There is also a tour of an Mennonite Tabernacle but I didn't take this as it cost additional money. Though many of the actual Amish who were in the museum chose to do this and not, surprisingly, see the movie.
Back onto U.S. 30 and barely east was the Village of Dutch Delights. This is a complex consisting of a couple of restaurants, some Amish peddling merchants, and one of the greatest gag gift stores I have ever come across, The Outhouse. Though it's basically a souvenir store for the area (which such things as, maybe, Amish carved wooden keychains of people's names), it's also a quarter playland of sorts.
Be warned of two things, bring lots of quarters (there's a gag machine every few feet and each cost a quarter) and bring a lot of sense of humor. Read the warning signs because they're true. And you could get as wet as a water park. It's a very memorable and entertaining little store.
I backtracked on U.S. 30 (the first time all trip I had backtracked anywhere) to Jennie's Diner. They promised Pennsylvania Dutch cooking on the board but it's basically just a diner. If you're looking for an old school diner on U.S. 30 though (flat down to the chrome and photos of area young adults serving in the military) this place is worthwhile. Though had I not been travelling alone, the various Amish all-you-can-eats around the area seem to be more highly recommended (including by the guide at the Mennonite Information Center).
I backtracked further into Lancaster to try one more time to see the Lancaster Newspaper Museum. Still no luck in finding parking, I headed out of Lancaster to the exciting little suburbs of Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse.
Originially in my trip plans, I had planned on taking in Plain and Fancy Farm which is another Amish themed complex complete with buggy rides and another multi-media presentation on the Amish way of life. Though in the end, this screamed tourist trap so I avoided it.
One thing I'm upset that I missed because it wasn't in any guidebook that I saw (perhaps because it's not Amish themed) is the Americana Museum of Bird-In-Hand which is apparently a recreation of a small town in the early 1900s. Though I guess I preferred my Americana less pre-packaged this tour so that will be for a future trip.
There are literally dozens of attractions around Lancaster spread out in all the little towns around it and a one day breezethrough does this area no justice. I one day want to visit the The Masonic Village (in Elizabethtown northwest of the city), the Ephrata Cloisters (northeast of the town), the Candy Americana Museum and Candy Store (in Lititz, north of the city), and even the National Christmas Center (further east of the city on U.S. 30 than I went in Paradise).
But since I was in a hurry to get to Washington D.C. on this third day, I just hopped on Pennylvania 340 and took it through Intercourse and kept riding it until it merged back with U.S. 30.
I stopped at the People's Place Book Shoppe in the People's Place Complex and bought an Amish cookbook for my mother for mother's day. This shoppe has just an incredible amount of books on the Amish for anyone else who, like me, was on their way out of town to the east but still wanted to learn more.
One thing I kept seeing signs for was the Intercourse Pretzel Factory which will let you twist your own pretzel but I apparently drove right by it because Intercourse is too short (sorry, I just had to get in one innuendo there no matter how much I've been avoiding them).
And, yes, I, like many others, did take a photo of the name of the town on the way in.
After Intercourse it was on to Philadelphia - the long way.
Perhaps I wanted to live like the Amish and have it take three hours to get to Philadelphia from Lancaster but I think I saw many horses and buggies pass me on the way to Philadelphia from Lancaster. Well, they would have at least if Pennsylvania Dutch Country stretched all the way to the Philadelphia border on U.S. 30.
I had this brilliant idea of taking U.S. 30 to U.S. 1. In the scheduling and mapping of my trip, I had to play around a lot with Yahoo Maps to make it take my orders of how I wanted to travel rather than the fastest route. The trip from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania took more alternate routes to make it stay on U.S. 30 than Yahoo even allows. It was as if the system was screaming at me, "bad idea, don't do that, you won't like the Philadelphia suburbs as much as you think you will."
But I was too "smart" to listen to all the electronic advice on how to get to Philadelphia from Lancaster (more like stubborn).
And the Philadelphia suburbs start very quickly after a brief stretch of U.S. 30 highway (it's amazing how close to Philadelphia that the Amish really live) and they don't ever end. They're interesting little small town eastern suburbs with a lot of old movie theater and such and the Villanova campus is on this route but other than that, avoid taking U.S. to the Philadelphia border like I did.
Use that time to spend more time around Lancaster, I would have to say.
PHILADELPHIA, PA to WASHINGTON, DC (via BALTIMORE, MD)
Route: Go 95 miles or so on U.S. 1 through the southwest Philadelphia suburbs and rural Maryland to Baltimore (U.S. 1 become Belair Road in Baltimore). Belair Road becomes Gay Street leading into downtown Baltimore. Bear right on East Preston Street. Turn left onto North Broadway Street and take it for seven blocks. Turn right on Orleans Street (U.S. 40). Turn left onto South Central Avenue. Turn left onto East Lombard Street and take this for about a mile. Turn left onto South Howard Street which turns into I-395. I-395 hits I-95 in about a mile. Take I-95 for about 30 miles and you reach the Beltway. At that point, it's every driver for themselves to find accomidations. 67 miles and approximately 2 hours, 10 minutes. 144 miles and approximately 4 hours.
Alternate Route: Take I-76 to Exit #347A (Penrose Avenue (I-95S)/International Airport) onto 26th Street (Pennsylvania 291W). Follow Pennsylvania 291W for about two miles. Take ramp onto I-95 South (toward International Airport) and go about 94 miles and you reach the Beltway (and bypass Baltimore except for going over it). At that point, it's every driver for themselves to find accomidations. 142 miles and approximately 2 hours, 45 minutes.
It's always been my desire to take U.S. 1 up and down the entire coast from Maine to Florida (a road trip that many have done but it's very worth doing from what I understand). I didn't know when the next chance I was going to have to ride this historic highway for even part of the trip would be so I knew I would regret it if I didn't take it between Philadelphia and Baltimore (which is a very straight shot for this road).
I knew that I was already running behind schedule to get to Washington D.C. to see my first film of D.C. Filmfest, this Polish film that looked really good in the description, but I just couldn't help it. Despite the fact that I knew Philadelphia and Washington D.C. were still a good distance apart (and I still hadn't eaten dinner), I just had to take U.S. 1 from the border of Philadelphia (it never enters Philadelphia proper as it forms the city's western border) to downtown Baltimore (which it does run all the way through).
The drive in Maryland is positively beautiful. As soon as you clear the Philadelphia southern suburbs, U.S. 1 opens up into Maryland's horse country and giant horse farms (as well as other sort I'm sure) dot both sides of the road. These lead almost all the way into Baltimore proper. I honestly had no idea I was about to enter a major city until suddenly there were things like liquor stores and check cashing places.
Baltimore has a bad reputation and I'm not sure it's entirely deserved but the section that I was in on Belair Road scared me a bit and I grew up around Detroit. The route on U.S. 1 in Baltimore proper really isn't even scenic. Though at the end when it turns into Gay Street, you can see the Baltimore City hall.
I had carefully designated street directions but still found myself just hoping I didn't miss a street in downtown Baltimore's one way street maze. The only real tourist attraction that was on my original route was Camden Yards but when I got to the street that was supposed to pass the Baltimore Oriole's stadium, it was closed.
Thankfully a sign pointed the way to I-95 from there. Yahoo Maps recommended taking the Balitmore-Washington Parkway (Maryland 278) but this was nowhere to be found and I ended up slightly after rush hour going through Washington D.C.'s Maryland suburbs (though I did get to pass through Laurel where a couple of my second cousins grew up) and having no idea how to get to my friend's house in Woodbridge on the Virginia side of the border on I-95.
"The Beltway" is a very popular term describing the things that go on in Washington D.C. that are sometimes a mystery to the outside world. The traffic matches the term's popularity but somehow I wound my way around this made of I-95 spur roads (thankfully the signs to I-95 South are well marked) and into Virginia.
I ended up getting off the road to go to a Taco Bell on U.S. 1 (thank goodness I didn't follow that all the way through from Baltimore, though I think it's not possible to do so) and getting to my friend's house from there. Ironically, I got more lost in these last few miles (ending up back on the Prince William Parkway missing their street in the dark) than I had the rest of the day.
At my destination, I collapsed. I was literally up just long enough to eat my Taco Bell before I went to the guest room and fell asleep. Though I have to say I felt bad for anyone who needed to find something in Washington D.C. if they followed the same route I did. Though very few people, I imagine, take the scenic route from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to surburban Virginia like I did. And that's probably a good thing.
MOUNT VERNON, VA to WASHINGTON, DC (via ALEXANDRIA, VA)
Route: Mount Vernon is at the southern end of the George Washington Parkway. It can be accessed off of this or U.S. 1 (exit #177B off of I-95 - take Virginia 235 from U.S. 1 and this merges with the Mount Vernon Memorial highway, make a left). The George Washington Parkway goes through Alexandria if you're coming from the north (aka D.C. proper) so this might be better to see first. To get to downtown D.C. from Old Town Alexandria, turn right onto Washington Street from King Street. Washington Street becomes the George Washington Parkway. Just past National Airport, the George Washington Parkway hits I-395/U.S. 1. Exit onto the northbound lanes. This will almost immediately take you across the Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge into Washington D.C. About three miles later will be the Massachusetts Avenue exit. Take this onto 2nd Street NW. Turn right at Massachusetts Avenue. The Postal Museum is on the right before you get to Union Station. 18 miles and approximately 35 minutes.
You might not want to take the above driving directions as gospel on this part. After driving for three straight days from dawn until far after dusk, I took the Metro into D.C. from Alexandria and used D.C.'s incredible public transportation (the yellow line from Alexandria's King Street Station) to get around. But since this is a road trip, I have included the driving directions that one would, theoretically take if they did this journey completely by car.
And going completely by car is something I can't recommend highly enough for Mount Vernon. I have friend who have taken the train out this far and there's a 20 minute bus ride attached to it at the end. While Mount Vernon is only eight miles outside of Alexandria, it's a world away when it comes to city versus suburban transportation. Plus the train ride out is much slower than the car ride (judging by Alexandria).
Either way, Mount Vernon is entirely worth whatever wait, be it traffic or train stops, that it takes to get there.
It's not a mystery why George Washington wanted to spend eternity buried on the grounds of his home and not some military graveyard of distinction. He definitely knew what he was doing when he designed the place in 1757 (though the plantation land itself had been in the family for generation). The Washington home sits of a hill overlooking the Potomac River in some of the greatest vistas that I could imagine (so, of course, all of my photos are of the front of the house as none I took behind the house could quite capture the views).
The estate itself is huge. There is actually a food court at the front next to the visitor's center (which you can dine at without paying the admission). Before I went in, I didn't stop to pay this a visit but I figured it was just for the large amount of pedestrian traffic that visits the site as a way to make money. Really it's more of a warning that if you're hungry, Mount Vernon might be about as conducive to your health as a nature hike.
And I didn't even do the house tour, just the grounds. And not even the entire grounds. There are coencentric circles of things to do at Mount Vernon. For the truly lazy, there's an intense visitor's center with a 20-minute multimedia film (which I never could quite figure out the times of) and a separate museum in the basement. For those who want their value worth of the $13.00 admission, the next circle is the mansion (which, thankfully doesn't charge additional fees).
If you want to go further afield, you can go into the intermediate fields and explore carefully constructed reinactments of the slave quarters, horse barn, and (three seater) outhoses (or, in the polite parlance of the time, "necessities").
A bit further out stands the docks and the original burial chamber for George Washington. One step further is what I think is the most valuable part of the experience George Washington's tomb. He is buried above ground in a stone sarcophagus carefully gated and guarded alongside his wife. Other family members are buried on the grounds around this tomb marked with, surprisingly, more ornate markers than George himself.
Now this area of the world has a hero worship to no end of George Washington so the legends about him are, well, legendary. But this one is truth. He actually designed his own burial chamber down to what kind of stone he wanted it made out of. So in his modesty, he chose to allow his descendents more ornate tombstones than his own (which just states above the tomb "Within this Enclosure Rest the remians of Gen' George Washington"). Not as simple as Robert Kennedy's unmarked cross but a lot simpler than a lot of Presidential burial grounds (Grant's Tomb in New York City springs to mind).
I didn't even venture out to the furthest circle to see the model farm and petting zoo. It's supposed to be worthwhile, but I tried to keep myself to the things actually associated with Washington.
A lot of people, it seems, were talking about the eternal question of Mount Vernon while I was there: whether to go to Alexandria and then Mount Vernon or Mount Vernon and then Alexandria. For me, the decision was simple as I was coming from the south and Mount Vernon appeared to my car first. But I would still recommend Mount Vernon first and then Alexandria. Firstly because it means you're on the right side of the George Washington Parkway with an unobstructed view of the little parks that run alongside it up the Potomac and second because it provides some context to Alexandria.
Of course it's entirely unfair to judge a city by its Old Town (though in Europe and in Alexandria, Virginia these are usually the best parts) and I'm sure Alexandria is a very vibrant commuter suburb outside of its downtown but its downtown is an active, vibrant combination of theme bars, restaurants, and row houses. All three are very attractive.
At the foot of King Street, the docks on the Potomac are sites to be beheld by itself. I chose to eat at a restaurant just off King Street called Bilbo Baggins. This choice was only because I went to Michigan State University and we had a restaurant called Bilbo's with a similar "Lord of the Rings" theme. I was hoping to maybe recapture some college magic but also to see if they carried Hobbit Stix which were the world's best deep buttered breadsticks at the now defunct East Lansing, Michigan Bilbos.
Bilbo Baggins in Arlington, Virginia does actually have a college bar/restaurant feel to it with a small eating area and small tables and a large bar upstairs. But the food was outstanding and the prices were about half of what was available on King Street. King Street restaurants averaged about $25.00 an entree and Bilbo Baggins had hobbit sized $15.00 entrees in comparison (without the hobbit sized portions to match).
It would be entirely possible to explore Alexandria for hours including the George Washington Masonic Memorial on King Street just after the Metro stop (which I forgot about in my rush to get on the train and get to Washington D.C. due to my late start).
For those who don't plan on staying in the city late or don't like city parking, I recommend doing what I did and parking in one of the lots in Alexandria on King Street (for about half the price of a lot in Washington D.C.). The King Street Trolley will take you from the Potomac River to the Metro stop (about 17 blocks) and is a great way to catch all the vistas quickly. It will stop like a bus at the pull of a lever if you see something you like and it runs from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
The Yellow Line of the Metro runs to two D.C. transfer stops at L'Enfant Plaza and Gallery Place-Chinatown. From these you can get anywhere in the city. The only downside of taking public transportation into Washington D.C. is that it goes underground past the Pentagon and some of the memorials (and you don't get to cross a bridge named after any famous person). Driving into the city you see the Pentagon right up close depending on which way you take as well as some of the great vistas of Washington D.C. spreading out before you.
But, me, I prefer not trying to find a parking space in Washington D.C. And I'm from Chicago and deal with city parking all the time. Washington D.C. is ten times worse.
At about 3:30 p.m. on the fourth day of my trip, I finally reached my "destination," Washington D.C. I wasn't driving at the time since I had parked my car in Alexandria, VA and bought a one-day pass on the Metro. Pretty much everything touristy in Washington D.C. is walking distance from any one of the attractions. This was actually right around my 10th time in Washington so I can't really say these next two entries will be very helpful to anyone reading them.
I recommend, if you're reading this looking for what to do on a first or second time in Washington, D.C., I recommend another trip that I took and recorded on Yahoo Travel: 3-Day D.C. Weekend.
Since I had pretty much seen every bit of interesting architecture and war memorial (and that seems to be Washington D.C.'s specialty) and since I wanted to sort of stick to my Americana theme (not that everything in Washington D.C. isn't something to do with the classic United States), I decided to first to see the National Postal Museum.
Sure enough, I wasn't disappointed in the Americana aspect of this Smithsonian Institution. On display are such things as a Pony Express sachel, a mail truck from the days when trucks were a new fangled invention, and old signs marking the first postal road (which became the Kings Highway which became U.S. 1 to bring it back to my road trip).
Other than that, however, I can clearly state that there's a reason why when people think of the Smithsonian, they wouldn't even remember the National Postal Museum was part of it if you asked them to name every museum in the collection (then again, most people would name Air and Space and Natural History and then be at a loss, myself included). Besides the stuff that could be contained in a small room at the American History Smithsonian, the rest of the museum is pretty much just an advertisement for the U.S. Postal Service.
Which, of course, since the dawn of the internet needs all the marketing help it can get. There are videos on Postal Inspectors (and how to stop mail fraud) and how to properly greet a letter carrier (I made that one up).
You can even purchase an electronic postcard at a bank of computers which dominates the atrium. Of course it costs $.90 to mail it and the machine doesn't take dollar bills. Still it's a fun souvenir (if you don't, like me, in a fit of tired put your postcard in the metering machine upsidown and then it doesn't send) and goes to support all of the Smithsonian's endeavors.
One good thing about the Postal Museum, however, is that it contains a full Smithsonian gift shop. For anyone who's ever fought through a gift shop at one of the more popular Smithsonians, this is a blessing. You can even buy the shredded money they sell at the U.S. mint there and claim you went on that tour. There's also first day issue stamps from all over the country. And it's about a minute away from Union Station so it's easy to get in and get out of if you forget to buy a souvenir anywhere else. And it's in the basement of D.C.'s actual central post office (the closest thing to a national post office that the United States has).
The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and even the Magna Carta (a copy on loan from the United Kingdom and ironically only feet away from the document used to declare war on our colonial mothers) are at The National Archives.