Article Overview: Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
Historic Sites In Pennsylvania. More Than Just Parks has 15 incredible must-see sites for you.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the Top 15 Historic Sites in Pennsylvania that you’ll want to see. These are our top 10 sites which we will provide in reverse order. We’ve got amazing monuments, fascinating exhibits, historic museums, legendary battlefields and so much more.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as opposed to national parks. It also includes sites that are not a part of the national park service system. After all, we’re more than just parks!
Table Of Contents: Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
- Helpful Guides to Pennsylvania Historic Sites
- Top 15 Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
- Top 10 Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
- Top 5 Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
Helpful Guides to Pennsylvania Historic Sites
If you are planning to make the trip to the Keystone State than I recommend that you bring along two wonderful resources which will help you maximize your time while you’re there. The Great Book of Pennsylvania: The Crazy History of Pennsylvania with Amazing Random Facts & Trivia by Bill O’Neill is a great way to get acquainted with this fascinating state.
I would also pick up Pennsylvania Bucket List: Trip Planner: List your 75 things to do in Pennsylvania! by Leon Byrns. It’s a great resource which is chock full of ideas for other things you might be interested in doing.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Top 15 Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
15. Duquesne Incline
The Duquesne Incline is a century-old cable car in Pittsburgh that offers scenic views of downtown while also providing a glimpse into the city’s history.
Originally opened in 1877, it was restored by a group of local residents in 1963.
Visitors can ride the incline and also visit the upper station, which houses a museum of Pittsburgh history and a gift shop selling souvenirs, maps and photos.
It is one of the few remaining inclines in the country and a unique way to experience the city.
A Short History Lesson About The Duquesne Incline
As a retired history teacher and lifelong history buff, I can’t resist a short history lesson whenever possible. But have no fear as there will be no homework assignments.
The Duquesne Incline is one of the oldest inclines in the country, dating back to 1877. It was built on the site of an early coal hoist that had existed as early as 1854, known as “Kirk Lewis’ incline”.
The incline was designed and built by Samuel Diescher, who was a leading builder of inclines at the time. The construction of the incline faced financial difficulties and it took a while to raise the funds, but it eventually opened to the public on May 20, 1877.
It was the first of four inclined planes serving the summit of Coal Hill, which later came to be known as Mount Washington.
The Duquesne Incline was operated by The Duquesne Inclined Plane Company until 1962, and since 1964 it has been operated by the Society for the Preservation of The Duquesne Heights Incline and owned by the Port Authority of Allegheny County.
14. Fort Ligonier
Historic Fort Ligonier was a fortification built by the British army in 1758, during the French and Indian War. The fort was built as part of the Forbes Campaign, which aimed to capture Fort Duquesne, a French fort. It was the last in a series of fortifications along the newly-cut Forbes Road.
The fort overlooked the Loyalhanna Creek. It was chosen to be the site of the new fortification.
When Fort Duquesne fell to the British army in November of 1758, construction of a new fort, Fort Pitt, began. The land on which it rose was named Pittsburgh. I’ll bet you didn’t know that!
Fort Ligonier is now a reconstructed fortification. It’s open for visitors to explore the grounds and learn more about how it played a role in making Pittsburgh possible.
13. Erie Maritime Museum
The Erie Maritime Museum is a museum located in Erie, Pennsylvania. It focuses on the Great Lakes shipping history, particularly the history of the U.S. Brig Niagara.
The museum features exhibits, artifacts, and interactive displays that highlight the maritime heritage of the Great Lakes region, including the history of shipbuilding, navigation, and the people who worked on the ships.
Visitors can explore the museum’s exhibits, which include a collection of artifacts from ships, such as ship models, navigational instruments, and tools used by sailors.
The museum also features a full-scale replica of the U.S. Brig Niagara. It played a key role in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
Visitors can take a tour of the ship, including the decks, cabins, and hold, and learn about the ship’s history and the lives of the sailors who served on it.
The museum also offers educational programs and events such as sail training, living history demonstrations, and reenactments.
12. Washington Crossing Historic Park
One of my favorite historical sites is Washington Crossing Historic Park. It’s a historical park which is located in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania.
The park commemorates the crossing of the Delaware River by General George Washington and his troops during the American Revolutionary War.
It includes several historical buildings and monuments, including the Thompson-Neely House, which served as a temporary headquarters for Washington during the Revolutionary War. There’s also Bowman’s Hill Tower, which provides a panoramic view of the Delaware River.
The park also features a Visitor Center that displays artifacts, maps, and paintings related to the crossing and the Revolutionary War.
One of the most popular attractions in the park is the reenactment of Washington’s crossing, which takes place annually on Christmas Day. Visitors can also see the reconstructed boat houses where the boats used for the crossing were built and the McConkey’s Ferry Inn, which served as a tavern during the crossing.
The park also offers guided tours, educational programs, and other events throughout the year.
11. Johnstown Flood Museum
The Johnstown Flood Museum is a museum located in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It tells the story of the 1889 Johnstown Flood, one of the deadliest floods in American history.
The museum features exhibits on the history of the flood, its causes, and its aftermath, including the impact on the community and the relief efforts that followed.
It also has artifacts and photographs from the flood, as well as interactive exhibits and educational programs for visitors of all ages.
The museum is located in the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, which also includes a visitor center and the remains of the South Fork Dam, which played a role in the flood.
Top 10 Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
10. Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
The Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site is a National Historic Site located in western Pennsylvania, which preserves the remains of the Allegheny Portage Railroad.
This railroad was an important transportation system in the 19th century that connected the Pennsylvania Canal to the Allegheny River, allowing boats to bypass the Allegheny Mountains and travel between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The site includes the remains of the railroad’s engineering marvels, such as the Staple Bend Tunnel, the first railroad tunnel in the United States, the Lemon House, a hotel and tavern, and the inclined planes, which were used to lift boats and cargo up and over the mountain.
Things To Do At The Portage
I always recommend that first-timers begin their adventure at the visitor center.
The Summit Level Visitor Center includes various exhibit areas and models including a life- size replica of a canal boat and the locomotive Lafayette, and artifacts from the Portage Railroad.
There are also hands on and interactive exhibits that will interest young and old alike.
There are other exhibits on the park grounds and in the Engine House No. 6 Exhibit Shelter, the Lemon House, and along several park trails.
There’s also a wonderful 20-minute film which features a fictional character, Edgar West, who explains life on the canals then speaks of a change of occupation to Portage Railroad worker.
I always love a good bookstore and you’ll find one there.
The park’s non-profit Eastern National run bookstore carries unusual and hard to find books and souvenirs from the canal and early railroading era.
There’s also biking and hiking which allows visitors to experience over 15 miles of trails in different sections of the park.
9. Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
Our next site is definitely hot stuff. Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is a National Historic Site located in Elverson, Pennsylvania. The site preserves and interprets Hopewell Furnace, an iron plantation that was in operation from 1771 to 1883.
The Furnace was a self-sufficient community that produced iron, pig iron, and steel. It also included a company town, with workers’ houses, a church, a school, and other buildings.
The site features the restored furnace, blast furnace, and charcoal hearths, as well as the ironmaster’s mansion, which serves as the visitor center. Visitors can also explore the historic village which includes over 30 buildings.
Visitors will enjoy ranger-led tours, blacksmithing demonstrations, and other educational programs that allow visitors to learn about the history of iron-making and the lives of the people who lived and worked at the furnace.
8. Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial
You’re probably asking yourself: Who was Thaddeus Kosciuszko? Simply put, he was a Polish patriot who helped America win its independence in the Revolutionary War. He engineered the colonial defenses in some of the war’s most crucial battles.
Kosciuszko’s greatest contribution to the American Revolution came later that year in the Battle of Saratoga, when the defenses along the Hudson River helped the Continental Army to victory.
At the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial you can visit the house where wounded Polish freedom fighter Thaddeus Kosciuszko lived and hear how this brilliant military engineer designed successful fortifications during the American Revolution.
Visitors will see the room where he received notable visitors such as Chief Little Turtle and Thomas Jefferson. You can also see images of Thaddeus Kosciuszko and other fascinating exhibits.
To learn more about this fascinating figure, I recommend The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution by Alex Storozynski. Storozynski is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who knows how to tell a good story.
7. Fort Necessity National Battlefield
Historic Fort Necessity National Battlefield is located in Farmington, Pennsylvania. The site preserves the remains of Fort Necessity, which was the site of the first engagement of the French and Indian War in 1754.
The fort was built by British Colonel George Washington and his troops, who were ambushed by a larger French and Indian force.
The battle was a defeat for the British and it marked the beginning of the global Seven Years’ War.
The site includes a visitor center with exhibits about the history of the fort and the battle, as well as a reconstruction of the fort, a trail that leads to the site of the battle, and a monument to Colonel Washington.
The site also features the grave of Ensign Ward, a British soldier who died during the battle, and the Mount Washington Tavern, which was built after the battle and served as a stagecoach stop.
The park offers guided tours, living history demonstrations and other educational programs that allow visitors to learn more about the history of the battle and the role it played in the French and Indian War.
6. Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
We continue our list of the Best Historic Sites In Pennsylvania with the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site.
The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The site preserves the home of Edgar Allan Poe, the famous American author, poet, and literary critic, who lived in the house from 1843 to 1844.
Poe wrote several of his famous works, such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” while living in the home.
The site features the restored home, which has been furnished to look as it would have during Poe’s time. Visitors can tour the house and see the rooms where Poe lived and wrote.
The site also includes exhibits about Poe’s life and works, as well as a visitor center with additional information about the author.
The park offers ranger-led tours and other educational programs that allow visitors to learn more about Poe’s life and legacy. There’s also offers a self-guided tour which visitors can access via their mobile devices.
Top 5 Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
5. Flight 93 National Memorial
The Flight 93 National Memorial is a national park in western Pennsylvania that honors the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, who were killed when the plane was hijacked on September 11, 2001.
The memorial features a visitors center with exhibits about the flight and its passengers, as well as a walkway to the crash site where a memorial wall bears the names of the victims.
The park also includes a grove of trees and a tower that overlooks the crash site.
The memorial was dedicated in 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
4. Eisenhower National Historic Site
The Eisenhower National Historic Site is located in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The site preserves the home and farm of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, and his wife, Mamie Eisenhower.
The site includes the home where the Eisenhowers lived after they left the White House, as well as the farm buildings, including a barn and a greenhouse.
Visitors can tour the home, which has been restored to look as it did when the Eisenhowers lived there and contains many of their personal belongings, including gifts from world leaders and mementos from their time in the White House.
The site also includes a visitor center with exhibits about the Eisenhowers’ lives and careers, and a film about the president’s life.
There are guided tours of the home, barn and greenhouse, with ranger-led tours and audio tours available.
The site also offers a self-guided tour of the farm and other educational programs that allow visitors to learn more about the Eisenhowers and the history of the site.
3. Valley Forge National Historical Park
On December 19th, 1777, 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children marched into Valley Forge and began to build what essentially became the fourth largest city in the colonies at the time, with 1,500 log huts and two miles of fortifications.
It was where the American Continental Army made camp during the winter of 1777-1778. It was here that the American forces became a true fighting unit. Valley Forge is often called the birthplace of the American Army.
I recommend beginning your adventure at the Valley Forge Visitor Center. There’s a wonderful museum exhibit where you’ll learn about how men, women, and children from many different walks of life all struggled together during the winter of 1777-78, and how they ultimately overcame so many hardships in order to march away from Valley Forge a stronger, more unified fighting force.
You can also tour the Encampment Route. It’s a 10-mile driving loop comprised of 9 major tour stops plus additional opportunities to stop and explore Valley Forge.
The route features some of the most scenic views of the park as well as many of the historic sites and monuments.
2. Gettysburg National Military Park
The Gettysburg National Military Park is located in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The park preserves the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, which was fought during the American Civil War in 1863. The battle was a turning point in the war and resulted in a Union victory.
The park includes more than 1,300 monuments, markers, and memorials that commemorate the battle and the soldiers who fought in it.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the battlefield, which covers more than 6,000 acres and includes the locations of key engagements and the sites of Union and Confederate camps.
The park also includes the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center, which features exhibits on the history of the battle, the causes of the Civil War, and the impact of the battle on the outcome of the war.
There are ranger-led tours and other educational programs that allow visitors to learn more about the battle and the soldiers who fought in it.
RELATED: 10 BEST Civil War Sites In America
1. Independence National Historical Park
I have saved the best for last. It’s Independence National Historical Park which is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The park preserves the site of Independence Hall, the building where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were both signed.
It also includes other historical sites related to the nation’s founding and early history, such as the Liberty Bell and the President’s House.
The park also includes several other historic buildings, such as the Congress Hall, the Old City Hall, and the Bishop White House, which were all used during the early days of the United States.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the park, which includes access to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and other historic buildings.
The park also includes a visitor center with exhibits on the history of the park and the nation’s founding.
For Anyone Who Loves History There’s No Place Quite Like It
For anyone who loves history (and even for those folks who don’t) this is one of the most exciting historical tours. At Independence Hall, visitors learn the stories about the people and events which shaped America.
There’s an old saying that goes, “If this place could only talk.” Well, at Independence Hall, it can talk as the stories come to life about the unique history of a very special place which brought together an amazing group of men who produced not one, but two of the most important documents in the history of the world.
List Of Historical Sites In Pennsylvania
- Independence National Historical Park
- Gettysburg National Military Park
- Valley Forge National Historical Park
- Eisenhower National Historic Site
- Flight 93 National Memorial
- Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
- Fort Necessity National Battlefield
- Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial
- Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
- Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
- Johnston Flood Museum
- Washington Crossing Historic Park
- Erie Maritime Museum
- Fort Ligonier
- Duquesne Incline
About the Folks Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks. I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for the More Than Just Parks website. I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then sign up below!
To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
Civil War Sites: Top 10 Best Civil War Sites & Battlefields
Revolutionary War Sites: Top 10 Best Revolutionary War Sites & Battlefields
Pennsylvania National Parks: 22 EPIC Pennsylvania National Parks Worth Visiting