Manasses, VA; American History tour road trip for families with kids

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If you haven’t read about the first two parts of our road trip across the USA, you can find them here:

US History Road Trip With Kids

Washington D. C.: All the awesome things to see with kids




We finished (and thoroughly loved) touring Washington D.C. and proceeded on our way. We attended local church services and then set off to tour a couple of Civil War battlefields that we had learned about in our homeschool studies of American History.

Manasses, VA and Gettysburg, PA battlefields

Our first stop was Manassas, VA, where two important Civil War battles were fought: the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 and the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862.

Be sure to google the dates and times of reenactments, because it was especially fun to watch the uniformed men reenact a battle, and to watch them demonstrate and explain Civil War era guns and artifacts. My boys especially loved the canons and guns, and my kids all loved running wild after having spent a couple of hours in the car. My 2-year-old had a ball collecting sticks and getting dirty.


Here is a funny story. In Utah we don’t ever worry about ticks. I’ve never encountered any. So when we arrived at the battlefield we were just a little late and we threw open the doors of the van and ran through the woods to where the actors were talking instead of taking the paved long way around. When we reached the group they were all silently watching us, with repugnance, and told us that we shouldn’t run through the woods. We needed to be wary of ticks. From then on we were very careful and just a little paranoid.

Our next stop was Gettysburg, PA, where they have a fantastic visitor’s center and museum, with Civil War artifacts and a film. We then drove out onto the battlefield with a little map outlining what happened and where. It is extremely beautiful countryside and my little kids liked getting out at the various stops and climbing on rocks, even if they weren’t particularly interested in the history. My older kids were familiar with the history, so the places we visited were significant and meaningful to them.


It was super nice that all of these historic places were so close together and accessible. In Utah and throughout most of the west, the towns are few and far between, and the miles stretch on an on with very little to see.

We stayed in a hotel in Gettysburg. To cut down on costs, we brought along a crockpot and 2 dozen freezer meals. When our motorhome broke down we lost the freezer, so we bought a gigantic cooler that took up most of the very back seat in the van. So, to our children’s great dismay, we were still eating freezer meals cooked in the crockpot.

We would plug it in at each hotel, heat our food, eat on paper dishes, then clean the crockpot in the bathtub. I know it’s weird, but we saved at least $3000 doing that. It’s over $100 for our family to eat at a restaurant. I made sure to book hotels that included breakfast, and we’d usually just have sandwiches and fruit for lunches, although we did have some fun splurges.

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, PA, was only about 2 hours down the road from Gettysburg. Unfortunately, our GPS took us to a parking garage in a VERY SCARY looking part of Philadelphia instead of to Independence Hall. The parking attendant turned us away because our van was too large. As we drove along a one-way street, trying to find Independence Hall, we suddenly stumbled upon it. Without thinking adequately, the kids and I all piled out of the van at an intersection, as quickly as a pregnant mom with seven kids can pile out, and ran for the common. The plan was that Kendel would find a place to park while I obtained tickets and then we would meet up. Unfortunately, I had left my phone in the van and had no way to contact Kendel, and the grassy, common area between Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell was a giant mass of people.

Kendel was only able to find one place that would let him park the gigantic van, and they charged him $22 per half hour for EACH spot he took. The van took two spots. Good thing we went cheap on meals, since we spent over $100 on parking that day!

Independence Mall consists of several buildings around a central common. We just stayed put in the grassy center area and watched. Kendel, at 6’9″ is pretty easy to spot in a crowd, so finding him wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated.

We all loved Independence Hall. It is replete with a dignified spirit of miraculous Godly intervention. The sunrise chair in the first room to the right is the honest-to-goodness original chair that George Washington sat in during the Constitutional Convention; the one Benjamin Franklin pointed toward, observing that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising sun from a setting sun. He went on to say: “I have often … in the course of the session … looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.”


The rest of Independence Mall is just as incredible. There are ongoing excavations of the original president’s house, just south of the building the Liberty Bell is in. I did know that the President lived in Philadelphia, before moving the capital to DC, but had forgotten, so finding those excavations was surprising. They were a lot of fun to see!


There is no charge for tickets to these attractions. Tickets are distributed each morning from the Independence Visitor Center at 6th and Market Streets starting at 8:30am. They are limited in quantity and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. On busy days, all the tickets may be distributed by 11am.

After our tours we bought Philly Cheesesteak’s from a sidewalk vendor near the common, which was fun. We watched him cook up the beef right in front of us, pile the steak and cheese on toasted buns and wrap them in foil. The sandwiches were huge, which pleased our children to no end. All of my kids have great appetites!


New York City

From Philadelphia, we drove to Staten Island, New York. Kendel had no desire to drive in NYC (I concur!) so we parked at a lot adjacent to the Staten Island ferry terminal, and took the ferry into NYC. Surprisingly, this carpark had excellent rates. I think it was only $7 for the whole day.

NYC. American History tour road trip for families with kids


Kendel’s cute cousin, Brenda, lived in NYC at the time, and she kindly agreed to give us a tour. She asked us to meet her at a park near her work. We found the address, but were confused, because there was no park. She wasn’t there yet, either, so we called her. She informed us that we were at the correct address — that any corner with a park bench and a bit of dirt was considered a park by locals. We laughed about that.


NYC. American History tour road trip for families with kids
Here we are at the ‘park’ ha, ha!


We purchased frozen yogurt from a sidewalk vendor and ate as Brenda gave us a quick tour of the city and of her apartment building. We found it hilarious that the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement we had heard about nightly on the news for months consisted of 3 homeless people sitting (very bored!) on the steps with signs, while at least 20 police officers in full riot gear stood around, seemingly alert, but with nothing to do.


From NYC we drove to Boston along the coast, through Connecticut and Rhode Island. We saw beautiful coastline and our first light houses. I kept wishing we had scheduled more time through that area to stop and explore.

Please join us on the rest of our trip:

17 Riveting Boston historical sites everyone should see

Niagra Falls and Palmyra: Upstate New York

LDS Church History: Kirtland, Nauvoo and Winter Quarters





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  1. What a great learning experience for your family! Thanks for sharing!

  2. This looks like such an interesting trip, and so fun! What a great learning opportunity for the kiddos too. 🙂

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Thanks, Tami! It really was a fun and educational trip!

  3. Taking f your family on a walk through history is such an intresting learning opportunity.

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