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Fall Foliage! And History, Too!

Jennifer Merin on


When planning your fall foliage itinerary, add a little something extra to your viewing of Mother Nature’s spectacular seasonal show.

Destination-wise, the northeast still boasts the most extraordinary displays of color for leaf peepers. And it offers wonderful historic sites that will set your imagination spinning about what fall foliage was like back in the day. 

’The day’ is, of course, whatever period and/or event is represented by the site you’ve selected for your visit.

Here are several recommended locations, each of which has a  wonderfully inspiring story associated with it and, equally importantly, is surrounded by equally inspiring fall foliage.  In alphabetical order by state:

CONNECTICUT: Several spots in and around Wilton have great allure. First, stop at Wilton’s Cannondale district, a charming riverside collection of historic buildings and small shops that represent a century of American architecture from 1800 through the early 1900s and a lifestyle lived by generations of yore.

In all, the district has several dozen notable buildings of historic significance, as well as vintage gas pumps and other interesting features. The majority of the buildings are situated on Danbury Road (aka U.S. Route 7), and many of the rest are close to the Cannondale train station, with another half dozen or so located along Seeley Road.

The entire district is about 200 acres in size, so it‘s quite easy to cover. And, there are those appealing shops to browse through, and some delightful little restaurants at which to refresh.

Not within the Cannondale district but nearby -- in Branchville, actually, some five miles to the northwest of Cannondale -- is the Weir Farm, the former home of American impressionist painter Julian Alden Weir, who bought the property in 1882 and had his studio in it for almost 40 years. After Weir’s death, his daughter Dorothy, also a painter, lived there with her husband, sculptor Manhouri Young. The bucolic property became part of the National Park System in 1900, and has been beautifully maintained.

A narrow, winding road leads to the farmhouse and separate studios, surrounded by an expansive lawn and landscaped gardens. There’re two walking trails, one leading to a pond and the other, through a lovely meadow, leads to the Weir Preserve, a woodland area through which ranger tours are given. Great bird watching and, of course, leaf peeping. More information:

MASSACHUSETTS: In historic Salem, Corwin House (aka the Witch House) was home to Jonathan Corwin, the presiding judge in the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692. This is the only still standing house directly connected to tragic historic events, which condemned 19 men and women -- all of whom proclaimed their innocence -- to death by hanging, and one, who refused to submit to the trial, to be pressed to death.

Corwin purchased the house in 1675 and lived there for 40 years. The place is open to the public through early November, and a great target date is, obviously, Halloween. You can take a guided tour, or a self-guided tour to learn about 17th century colonial lifestyle and the trials. And, while you‘re at it, ogle the gorgeous fall foliage and contemplate how the change of seasons effected the Puritans and what they had to do to prepare for the onset of winter and the hardships it brought.

After taking the Corwin House tour, head for Derby Street to Salem’s second -- and perhaps more famous -- historic home. It is the actual house that inspired 19th century author Nathanial Hawthorne, who hailed from Salem, to write “The House of Seven Gables.“ The house is open for tours, which offer a blend of information about the house, Salem and Hawthorne’s literary legacy. More information:

NEW YORK: Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, was the home of Theodore Roosevelt. Located in the village of Cove Neck (within the Town of Oyster Bay), the Roosevelt mansion is the centerpiece of 80 acres of parkland, wilderness preserve and other historic buildings. Guided tours of Roosevelt’s home, which is still mostly unchanged since the early 1900s, take you through the 26th president’s familial setting, giving you insight about Teddy’s tremendous can-do spirit and the luxe life he lived on Long Island’s exclusive and ultra-wealthy ’Gold Coast.’

You’ll find a cache of Roosevelt artifacts and memorabilia in The Old Orchard House, built in 1938 by Roosevelt’s son and now serving as an official museum and archive.

Then, get out into the ’wild’ by walking down an oak-shaded (think foliage!) trail that leads to a weatherworn wooden walkway that crosses over Eel Creek Salt march and ends at the beach where the Roosevelt family used to swim. More information:

PENNSYLVANIA: In Harrisburg, the National Civil War Museum sits atop a mountain from which you can see the scenic Blue Mountains, covered with the crimson, burgundy, orange, chre, yellow and gold of fall foliage, stretch into the distance. It’s an exquisite vista.

Enter the museum to add to that glorious view the opportunity to learn about the historic events that took place within its boundaries during the years 1850 to 1876. The museum building isn’t historic, but its contents certainly are.  Well-designed exhibits of artifacts recount the history and harsh realities of the Civil War, elucidate the horrors of battle and reflect the hardships the long-lasting war imposed on noncombatants.

Video presentations bring events to life, but better yet are the live demonstrations of various daily doings, including combat training and learning to load and fire weapons. The museum also hosts historic reenactments, and if you’re around for one of these, you’ll get a very good impression and understanding of what Civil War lifestyle was like. More information:

If you enhance your fall foliage viewing by considering the historic events that shaped our nation, you’ll have a genuinely memorable and meaningful American travel experience.

Copyright 2017 Jennifer Merin


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