History often gets chalked up as dusty or dull, but historic sites give visitors the chance to stand in the very spots where the course of our country shifted or where our future was decided.
Step inside the small wooden house where a silversmith began his “midnight ride” to warn of the British invasion. Stand in the very spot where one of America’s greatest presidents was shot. Feel the fear of harboring a fugitive slave in the root cellar of an Ohio mansion. Along with giving an authentic glimpse into history, many historic sites also give visitors the chills.
Travel Alliance Partners’ tours take groups to notable historic sites all around the country. Here are five that will make an impression on your travelers.
Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion
From the outside, visitors can’t miss the towering Greek Revival-style columns of Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion facade. But the exterior gives no clue to the secret that surprises guests inside this home in the town of Milledgeville.
“We have a 50-foot-tall interior dome that’s completely hidden below the roofline of the home, so it’s not visible from the outside,” said director Matt Davis.
The dome, which is covered in original plaster and gilded in 23-karat gold leaf, is one of visitors’ favorite highlights during a group tour. Another crowd pleaser is the ballroom, which “has been favorably compared as nearly an exact copy of the East Room at the White House,” Davis said.
Milledgeville was Georgia’s original capital from 1804 to 1868, most notably during the Civil War. That’s why the city is home to the original governor’s mansion, which was completed in 1839. During his famous March to the Sea campaign, Union General William Sherman claimed the mansion and headquartered there for a night on November 23, 1864. After the North won the war, Georgia’s capital was relocated to Atlanta, and the mansion was abandoned for more than 20 years until it was given to the school that is now Georgia College.
A $9.5 million restoration was completed in 2005 that restored the building’s original layout, exterior, interior, collections and grounds to its early-1850s period. Guided group tours include all three floors and focus on the building’s history, its inhabitants — both free and enslaved — and the complex societal issues during Georgia’s Antebellum and Civil War years. Group tours are limited to 40 people at a time, but larger groups can be split up.
Kelton House Museum and Garden
Sophia Stone Kelton seems to grow increasingly nervous as she leads groups through her mansion in Columbus, Ohio. She has noticed bounty hunters outside and finally reveals to her guests that she and her family are in a harrowing situation: They are harboring a fugitive slave fleeing to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
Kelton and her husband, Fernando Cortez Kelton, were staunch abolitionists, and their 1852 home is a documented Underground Railroad site. At the Kelton House Museum and Garden, the Sophia’s Secret tour re-creates the homeowner and her refugee nearly being caught. Tour and Tea With Sophia is another experiential tour for groups that highlights genteel society of the era and takes visitors to the Carriage House for tea and trifles, said museum director Georgeanne Reuter.
Groups of 15 or more can take the basic historical tour led by a costumed docent who talks about the Kelton family in the context of life between 1850 and 1900, which includes the Victorian era, the Civil War and the postwar Reconstruction years. The house stayed in the Kelton family until Grace Kelton, Fernando and Sophia’s granddaughter, died in 1975 and willed the estate to the Columbus Foundation with the direction to use it for educational purposes.
Inside, guests will see a huge array of family antiques and artifacts, including a piece of Victorian hair jewelry, as they explore the four rooms on the main level, the bedrooms upstairs and the Underground Railroad Learning Station on the lower level. Because historians “don’t know exactly where they hid [fleeing slaves], we created an area in the basement root cellar to give visitors an idea,” Reuter said.