12 Cool Spots to Discover U.S. History
Oldest Community: Acoma Pueblo. The Acoma people have lived continuously for nearly 900 years atop a 367-foot sandstone bluff 70 miles west of Albuquerque, N.M.
Homes in the Acoma Pueblo are multi-story, multi-family “apartment complexes” that can be reached only by exterior ladders.
Today you can tour Acoma and visit the Haak'u museum, which has exhibits on local pottery and weavings as well as modern life in the pueblo.
Oldest Public Garden: United States Botanic Garden. George Washington himself had a vision of a modern capital with a botanic garden to teach the importance of plants to the young nation; his idea became a reality in 1820.
The glass conservatory at the United States Botanic Garden was built in 1933.
The conservatory at the United States Botanic Garden contains plants from multiple climates, including jungle and desert (shown here: plants from the jungle).
The United States Botanical Gardens contain more than 60,000 plants, ranging from medicinal to carniverous.
Oldest National Park: Yellowstone National Park. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant created the world's first national park in the pristine wilderness straddling the Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho territories (which weren't states yet!).
Today Yellowstone continues to be the national park system's bubbly, geyser-riffic, and wildlife-filled emblem of eco-consciousness.
Oldest Art: Chumash Cave Painting. The 500-plus-year-old rock paintings of colorful and abstract symbols, possibly representing mythic figures or natural phenomena (like a 1677 solar eclipse), were applied with crushed mineral pigment.
You can see the paintings yourself at Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park in the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara, Calif.
Oldest Church: San Miguel Mission. The Spanish Colonial San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe, N.M., was built in 1710 to replaces a 1626 chapel that was destroyed in a fire.
Mass is still given on Sundays within San Miguel Mission's cool confines, beneath thick wooden beams and in front of a gorgeously carved wooden reredos.
The San Miguel Mission anchors Santa Fe's Barrio de Analco Historic District.
Oldest Bar: Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop. The squat townhouse is the oldest structure to operate as a bar in the States; it opened in 1722 as the grog-soaked home base to nefarious privateers Jean and Pierre Lafitte.
Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop is located on the far end of Bourbon Street and is the Vieux Carré's best remaining example of French briquette-entre-poteaux construction.
Oldest City: Cahokia. The vastness of this prehistoric settlement (c. 700–1400) can be viewed from the top of Monks Mound—a 100-foot-tall monumental outlook that took an estimated 22 million cubic feet of earth to make—at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
The prehistoric settlement of Cahokia had 500 thatch-roofed rectangular houses that were gridded around ceremonial plazas and stretched eight miles on either side of the Mississippi River and was home to 20,000 inhabitants at its peak.
The prehistoric settlement of Cahokia was actually larger than London was back in 1250.
Archaeologists at Cahokia discovered pits that possibly contained posts that lined up with the rising sun throughout the year, serving as a prehistoric caledar. (It's now referred to as Woodhenge.)
Oldest Continuously Operating Museum: Peabody Essex Museum. This museum was founded in 1799 by a group of Salem, Mass., sea captains as the East India Marine Society, with the mission of collecting curiosities from around the world.
Today, the vast collection started by the sea captains is located in a modern building in Salem.
The "cabinet of curiosities" started in 1799 has grown to a collection of 1.8 million pieces of maritime, Asian, African, Indian, and Oceanic art at the Peabody Essex Museum.
Salem's Peabody Essex Museum also has 22 historic buildings, including the Qing Dynasty Yin Yu Tang house.
Oldest Timber Frame House: The Fairbanks House Thanks to the magic of dendrochronology (a.k.a. tree-ring dating), the approximately 375-year-old Fairbanks House was declared North America's oldest timber-framed house.
The kitchen in the original section of the Fairbanks House looks today as it would have back in the 17th century.
Oldest Roller Coaster: Leap-the-Dips. It may seem tame by today's standards, but The Leap-the-Dips at Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pa., has been white-knuckling riders since 1902 by roaring down a figure eight of oak tracks.
The Leap-the-Dips roller coaster has a vertical height of 41 feet and is the last remaining side-friction model in North America—no up-stop wheels bolt it to the track.
Oldest Airport: College Park Airport. Wilbur Wright opened this airport in College Park, Md., in 1909 to train military pilots. (This photo shows visitors arriving in 1911.)
You can still fly into College Park Airport today, but the 2,600-foot-long runway can only accommodate small private planes.
To see the airport and the the College Park Aviation Museum, take the half-hour Metro ride from downtown Washington, D.C.
The College Park Aviation Museum has a collection of classic aircraft, including the biplane-like Berliner Helicopter No. 5, which made its first controlled flight from here in 1924.
Oldest Skyscraper: Wainwright Building. Though its 10 stories seem modest by today's standards, this red brick building was an engineering marvel when it was built back in 1892 in downtown St. Louis, Mo.
We're taking a step back in history with this tour of 12 amazing—but often overlooked—destinations. From a pre-Columbian settlement near St. Louis to a pirate bar in New Orleans, these vacation-worthy spots deserve a place on your American travel list.