As we were watching the Barrett-Jackson Car Auction last night, we thought about the role of the automobile and the place it has in the hearts and minds of Americans. This led us to wonder whether there is any National Park Unit dedicated to cars. We couldn’t find one.
There are many National Park Units however, that talk about aspects of transportation.
Early transportation focused on maritime transport – the shipbuilding and seafaring industry. National Park Units for these include:
Much of the early transport within the United States focused on rivers and canals. Not only did the rivers support exploration and westward expansion, they enabled shipping. Canal systems in the northeast opened up shipping for coal, lumber and agricultural goods and supported communities along the way. Goods from the interior were shipped down the Mississippi River on barges, then boatmen would disassemble the boats, sell the wood and hike back north on foot.
Hear more about these aspects of transportation at:
- Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor
- Natchez Trace Parkway
The introduction of trains connected the canals. At Allegheny-Portage you can see how trains initially hauled the canal boats over the Allegheny mountain! The establishment of cross-country railroad tracks fueled the economy and integrated the east and west.
Initially focused on transporting goods, trains soon also became a way for people to travel cross-country and see our glorious west. Companies like the Fred Harvey company promoted tourism, attracting people to our National Parks and providing food and lodging, something they still do today.
National Park Units related to trains include:
- Allegheny-Portage Railroad National Historic Site
- Golden Spike National Historic Site
- Steamtown National Historic Site
- Pullman National Monument
The future of the next generation of travel started in a humble bicycle shop in Dayton Ohio, home to the Wright-Brothers. Their exploratory flights took place from the dunes in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, where the community came out to support them in their historic achievement of the first successful sustained powered flight. Learn more at:
President Eisenhower established the Interstate Highway System, opening up the age of automobile transportation. The Pullman National Monument includes cars made by the Pullman Palace Car Company, and the history of interstate travel weaves throughout many of the national park units even though at this time there is no specific site dedicated to the automobile.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
We do recommend a visit to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn Michigan. Although not part of the National Park system, this museum has an incredible collections of planes, trains and automobiles, plus a variety of other innovations.
Another must-see is the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. The home of the renowned “Blue Angels” this museum has everything from blimps to fighter jets, space capsules and coast guard helicopters, and includes a simulator where you can experience landing a plane on an aircraft carrier.
You can’t think about the history of transportation without thinking about what fueled the growth. Drake Oil Well Museum and Park in Titusville, Pennsylvania is the birthplace of the petroleum industry.
If you want to experience the history of transportation in America, you will want to include all these in your itinerary.