Spring travel: 6 historical sites ideal for time travelers

The farmhouse where Jimmy Carter grew up is part of the Boyhood Farm at the Jimmy Carter Historical Park in Plains.
Courtesy Americus Visitor Center / Steve Short

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The farmhouse where Jimmy Carter grew up is part of the Boyhood Farm at the Jimmy Carter Historical Park in Plains. Courtesy Americus Visitor Center / Steve Short

Explore landmark sites steeped in history in the South and beyond.

Digging toes in the sand while sipping from an umbrella drink is all many seek during warm-weather getaways, but travel also involves discovering different cultures and exploring landmark sights steeped in history. Here are six historical journeys that may appeal to those looking to do more than just relax while on vacation this season.

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The Apollo 16 capsule and a moon rock are two of the displays at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Courtesy of Chris Granger

Credit: CHRIS GRANGER

North Alabama tourism project September 2017.

Credit: CHRIS GRANGER

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The Apollo 16 capsule and a moon rock are two of the displays at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Courtesy of Chris Granger

Credit: CHRIS GRANGER

Credit: CHRIS GRANGER

Alabama’s space history

Explore the history of U.S. space exploration at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The rockets of the Apollo program that sent men to the moon were developed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on the grounds of Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal, a U.S. Army base. Astronauts also trained for a zero-gravity environment at Marshall, which is still an operational facility designing propulsion systems and other technology for the latest space missions.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center outside the base is an affiliate museum of the Smithsonian Institution and serves as Marshall’s official visitor center. The museum and its grounds contain notable artifacts and displays chronicling the growth and achievements of the U.S. space program, including an authentic Saturn V rocket — the rocket used for the Apollo missions. One of only three in the world, the center’s Saturn V has been declared a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

Other items on display are the Apollo 16 command module, a moon rock collected during the Apollo 12 mission, a full-sized mockup of the space shuttle Pathfinder, complete with its boosters and main rocket, and other rockets from throughout the history of space travel.

Many add-ons to the museum’s general admission are available such as planetarium shows, flight simulators, virtual reality experiences and more. The popular bus tour add-on of Marshall Space Flight Center on the army base is currently suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is also home to the year-round Space Camp where kids learn about science through astronaut training techniques and sleep in quarters resembling those aboard the International Space Station.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center. 1 Tranquility Base, Huntsville, Alabama. $30, with multiple add-on experiences available. 800-637-7223, www.rocketcenter.com.

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Two restored vintage locomotives at the Golden Spike National Historical Park in Utah where the first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869. Courtesy of Visit Utah.

Credit: Sandra Salvas

Two restored vintage locomotives at the Golden Spike National Historical Park in Utah where the first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869.
Courtesy of Visit Utah.

Credit: Sandra Salvas

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Two restored vintage locomotives at the Golden Spike National Historical Park in Utah where the first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869. Courtesy of Visit Utah.

Credit: Sandra Salvas

Credit: Sandra Salvas

Golden Spike National Historical Park

For those interested in railroad history, the Golden Spike National Historical Park in Utah is a significant site. This is where the nation’s first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, when the eastern portion was joined with the western portion connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads. A ceremonial golden spike was driven to commemorate the joining of the two lines.

It’s no longer a working railroad except for 1.7 miles of track where replica locomotives from the period operate for seasonal re-enactment events. Much of the historic railroad grade inside the park is open for driving and walking tours year-round. You can drive on the old railroad bed for seven miles in your car, and hike a 1.5-mile loop that includes both lines.

This is a remote high-country area where roads can shut down during inclement weather, so the best time to visit is during the summer months when the replica locomotives are operating.

A notable nearby spot is the Spiral Jetty on the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake. This environmental artwork created by Robert Smithson in 1970 coils for 1,500 feet into the lake. Visitors can walk on it to the tip for a moment of Zen. Lake levels have been low in recent years, so the jetty may be on dry land when you visit, but it’s still a striking sight.

Golden Spike National Historic Park. 6200 N. 22300 W., Corinne, Utah. $20. 435-471-2209, www.nps.gov/gosp/index.htm

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The commissary and windmill on the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm in Archery, Georgia.

Credit: Marjie Lambert

The commissary and windmill on the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm in Archery, Georgia.

Credit: Marjie Lambert

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The commissary and windmill on the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm in Archery, Georgia.

Credit: Marjie Lambert

Credit: Marjie Lambert

Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm

People come to Plains to see the various sites of the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, including the train depot that served as Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign headquarters, the downtown historic district and Plains High School, now the park’s visitor center and museum and where you should start any tour.

But many don’t make it to one of the park’s more intriguing sites, the Boyhood Farm, because it’s three miles outside of town in the rural community of Archery and often gets overlooked. This was Jimmy Carter’s home from the time he was 4 until he went off to college.

Aside from its connection to the 39th president of the United States, the Boyhood Farm is fascinating because it has been restored to show how a working farm looked and operated in 1930s rural Georgia before electricity came to the area. It includes the house Carter grew up in, outbuildings, barns, a water tower, a commissary filled with vintage items and the houses of tenant farmers who worked on the property.

Wayside exhibits and voice-over audio narration by Carter provide context and give insight into his childhood and farm life in general during the Depression era.

Read Carter’s 2001 book “An Hour Before Daylight” about his upbringing on the farm, to complement your visit. Stay in nearby Americus at the historic circa-1892 Windsor Hotel in the Presidential Suite, where the former president and first lady, Rosalynn Carter, spent the night in 2002.

Jimmy Carter National Historical Park Visitor Center. 300 N. Bond St., Plains. Free. 229-824-4104, www.nps.gov/jica/index.htm

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A reconstruction of the Council House, where the Apalachee gathered for meetings and ceremonial rituals, on the grounds of Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, Florida. Courtesy of courtesy of Visit Florida

Credit: Handout

A reconstruction of the Council House, where the Apalachee gathered for meetings and ceremonial rituals, on the grounds of Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, Florida.
Courtesy of courtesy of Visit Florida

Credit: Handout

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A reconstruction of the Council House, where the Apalachee gathered for meetings and ceremonial rituals, on the grounds of Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, Florida. Courtesy of courtesy of Visit Florida

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Mission San Luis

Add a dose of history to your Florida Panhandle beach vacation with a stop at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee. This National Historic Landmark is a re-creation of a 17th-century Spanish Florida village that once stood on the site. The Apalachee Indians and the Spaniards lived together in the village between 1656 and 1704.

Costumed interpreters in period clothing re-enact daily life in the mission settlement and share stories of these two cultures living together. An exhibit gallery interprets the history of the westernmost capital of Spanish-era Florida and a primary village for the Apalachee people.

The eye-catching re-constructed Council House, where the Apalachee gathered for meetings and ceremonial rituals, shows what one of the largest historic Indian structures in the Southeast looked like. There’s also a reconstructed Spanish fort.

Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy the scenic outdoor setting at the picnic grounds, take a peaceful walk on the 1/3-mile nature trail and find some unique souvenirs at the gift shop.

Mission San Luis. 2100 W. Tennessee St., Tallahassee, Florida. $5. 850-245-6406, www.missionsanluis.org

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The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, covers the boxing great's life in and out of the ring. Courtesy of courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Tourism

Credit: Jonathan Roberts

The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, covers the boxing great's life in and out of the ring.
Courtesy of courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Tourism

Credit: Jonathan Roberts

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The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, covers the boxing great's life in and out of the ring. Courtesy of courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Tourism

Credit: Jonathan Roberts

Credit: Jonathan Roberts

Muhammad Ali’s Louisville

Tour notable sites in the life of “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The Olympic gold medalist, three-time heavyweight champion of the world, political activist and humanitarian was one the most famous athletes and personalities of the 20th century. He is buried in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery with a gravestone bearing only the name “Ali.”

There are historical markers at significant sites around town including at Ali’s boyhood home on Grand Avenue and at Columbia Gym on the campus of Spalding University where the future champion learned to box and had his first amateur bouts. The building has a red bicycle hanging over its entrance in homage to Ali. This is where the 12-year-old had his bike stolen and told a police officer that he wanted to “whup” whoever stole it. The officer suggested he learn how to fight first at the gym. Six years later, Ali won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games.

Learn about Ali’s life and legacy at the Muhammad Ali Center downtown, a museum and cultural center founded in 2005. The museum’s permanent exhibits explore many facets of Ali’s life in and out of the ring. The interactive Train With Ali exhibit allows you to shadowbox with him in a re-creation of his Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, training camp.

Another exhibit projects a film about Ali’s career onto a full-sized boxing ring canvas. The historic Brown Hotel has a Muhammad Ali suite that the Champ dedicated in 2001 decked out with memorabilia including a pair of Ali’s boxing gloves.

The Muhammad Ali Center. 144 N. Sixth St., Louisville, Kentucky. $14. 502-584-9254, alicenter.org

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Darrah Hall is one of the many historic structures on the grounds of the Penn Center near Beaufort, South Carolina. Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Credit: Blake Guthrie

Darrah Hall is one of the many historic structures on the grounds of the Penn Center near Beaufort, South Carolina.
Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Credit: Blake Guthrie

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Darrah Hall is one of the many historic structures on the grounds of the Penn Center near Beaufort, South Carolina. Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Credit: Blake Guthrie

Credit: Blake Guthrie

Penn Center

St. Helena Island near Beaufort, South Carolina, brims with classic rural Lowcountry scenery and a lot of history, too, including African-American history at the Penn Center.

Established as the Penn School in 1862 after the Union occupation of the Sea Islands in 1861, it was one of the first academic institutions for freed slaves of African descent. The school closed in 1948, but the Penn site remained active preserving the local Gullah-Geechee culture and serving as a refuge for integrated groups during a time of segregation. Martin Luther King Jr. spent time there during the civil rights movement and worked on his “I have a dream” speech in a cottage on the 50-acre grounds.

Today, Penn Center is a National Historic Landmark District with a museum that interprets the school’s and the island’s history and features rotating art exhibitions and cultural presentations. Purchase a map at the welcome center for a self-guided walking tour of the campus’ many historic structures and to take in the beautiful Lowcountry landscape featuring overarching oak trees laden with Spanish moss and watery vistas of tidal creeks and salt marshes.

Penn Center is part of the larger Reconstruction Era National Historical Park that includes the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District and the Camp Saxton site where the first Black regiment entered into service for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. It’s also where an elaborate ceremony was held on New Year’s Day in 1863, formally announcing the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation to the troops and former slaves.

Penn Center. 16 Penn Center Circle West, St. Helena Island, South Carolina. $7. 843-838-7105, www.penncenter.com