The Ropes Mansion: A Hidden Gem in Salem, Massachusetts

Looking for something free to do in Salem, Massachusetts?  Built in 1727 and renovated in 1894, the Ropes Mansion is a historic home that is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum and is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for free self-guided tours. 

I consider the Ropes Mansion to be a hidden gem of Salem because the interiors remain intact, meaning that all of the furniture, furnishings, art, and personal items of the family are still contained in the house today.  As you wander around the first and second floors, you won’t find any ropes (no pun intended) separating you from what you see.  That means you can get close up to everything, including the dining room table set with pretty Chinese porcelain and glassware from 1847, the gorgeous 1833 piano and beautiful parlor game table in the ornately decorated drawing room, and the family’s extensive China collection in the cupboards.  After a fire damaged the mansion in 2009, the Peabody Essex Museum restored the home using the family’s extensive diaries, records, and letters so that visitors can experience the home as if they were guests of the Ropes family.

In fact, each room of the Ropes Mansion tells a part of the nearly 150 years-long story of the family.  To me, the most interesting part of that history was that the last of the Ropes heirs, several brothers and three sisters, all remained unmarried.  I enjoyed theorizing with the many friendly and knowledgeable docents about why they remained bachelors and spinsters.  In any case, the three unmarried sisters, Sarah Ropes, Mary Pickman Ropes, and Elizabeth Orne Ropes, inherited the home and returned from Cincinnati to take up residence in Salem. 

Between 1893 and 1894, the sisters renovated the mansion in the popular Colonial Revival style and updated the bathroom and kitchen with the latest technologies.  As you explore that 1894 bathroom, make note of the original fixtures, and in the “modern” kitchen,  marvel at the state-of-the-art (for the time) interior plumbing, hot water heater, copper storage tank, and gas-burning stove.  Now that’s what I call a late 19th century fixer upper! 

Upon the death of the last of the sisters in 1907, the mansion and its contents were turned into a trust, which specified that the home be opened as a museum.  That’s why the Ropes Mansion is largely intact today.

Heading upstairs, you’ll find two bedrooms that appear as if the family has just stepped out.  The original four-poster beds are still made up with the family linens and bedspreads over the original mattresses.  Books line the shelves, washing pitchers and basins stand ready to be filled by servants, and personal beauty and grooming items are laid out for the morning routines.  The sadder of two bedrooms belonged to Elizabeth Ropes Orne who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.  Her room contains many of her personal possessions including a heart-warming collection of seashells from her travels, and, chillingly, a medicine box with a recipe for a cough remedy, that may have provided her with some relief before her untimely death. 

Unlike the bedrooms, the other upstairs rooms are set up in a museum format to display a collection of the family’s keepsakes, valuable furniture, and precious items.   To me, the most intriguing artifacts are several tourist souvenirs from mid-19th century Salem, including a silver spoon featuring the image of a witch and a wooden cup from what is now called Witch House.  On the other hand, the creepiest items have to be a set of mourning jewelry and a portrait of one of the sisters that was painted after she died.  The Victorians definitely had a strange, but intriguing, fascination with death!

After your tour of the inside of the Ropes Mansion, don’t leave the grounds without enjoying the gorgeous formal garden, that was added to the home in 1912.   Like the house, the botanical garden was designed in the Colonial Revival style by the botanist and horticulturist John Robinson.   He planted more than 150 different varieties of plants, some of which were very rare and provided by the Arnold Arboretum of Boston.  Today, two of the plants which have survived from that time are the rhododendrons along the walkway fence and the huge copper beech trees in the side yard.  Continuing in that tradition, the staff of the Ropes Mansion have maintained the stunning garden which you are highly encouraged to explore.  In such a beautiful setting, take the time to savor a quiet moment of serenity in the busy tourist city of Salem.


The Ropes Mansion is located at 318 Essex St. in Salem, Massachusetts. For more information, about the house and other surrounding historic homes visit their website.

Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle

Did you know that you can see the Changing of the Guard far more close up than at Buckingham Palace?  Head to Windsor Castle where you can watch the lead up to the ceremony for free outside the castle or the entire event inside the majestic structure.  If you want to watch for free, the guards parade up Sheet St., march up High St., and file into the castle in approximately 10 minutes.  Standing on the elevated steps of the Guildhall will give you a great vantage point.

Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle

However, I highly recommend touring the castle and watching the ceremony there.  Purchase a ticket to get inside the walls of the Queen’s sprawling home, and then you’ll be able to watch the entire, approximately 30 minutes-long Changing of the Guard Ceremony.  It usually takes place in the Lower Ward outside of the guardroom. The guards will enter the castle through the Henry VIII Gate. If you want to find the absolutely best spot, ask a uniformed warden to give you a suggestion.  Alternatively, try standing by the railings outside St. George’s Chapel. When I was there several years ago, I couldn’t believe how close the guards were! It was much more thrilling than watching the ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

However, be aware that if the Queen is in residence (check to see if the Royal Standard is flying above the Round Tower), the ceremony will take place on the lawn of the Quadrangle.  In that case, the guard will enter through St. George’s Gate and march all the way up Castle Hill. I recommend claiming a spot near the railings at Engine Court.

Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle

Wherever you choose to watch the ceremony, it’s extremely important to note that the Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle is weather dependent and only occurs on certain days that change each month.  Before you go, check the schedule at  In addition, if you want to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony inside the castle, arrive no later than 10:00AM to get through security and find a good spot from which to watch.  You’ll have an amazing view no matter where you’re standing and will create a travel experience that you won’t soon forget!

Guardsman at Windsor Castle

Frogmore House and the Royal Baby

Frogmore House
Frogmore House
Photo Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

As an avid royalist, I was excited for today’s announcement of the name of the new royal baby.  Archie Harrison and his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have made their new home at Frogmore Cottage on the grounds of the Frogmore Estate in Windsor Great Park (where Windsor Castle is located).  Built in 1801 and very recently renovated, other notable people who have made Frogmore Cottage their home are Abdul Karim, the secretary and “munshi” of Queen Victoria (think the movie “Victoria & Abdul”) and a Grand Duchess of Russia who escaped the Russian Revolution.

Frogmore Gardens
Frogmore Gardens
Photo Courtesy of Andrew Lawson and the Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

While the public obviously can’t visit the Sussexes’ home, you can get an exclusive tour of the 17th century Frogmore House and Gardens.   More on that in a moment; let’s talk a little about the house first.  In 1792, King George III purchased Frogmore as a countryside home for his wife, Queen Charlotte, and their daughters.   The Queen enjoyed simple and remote settings, away from the public eye, so in 1801, she built Frogmore House, currently used as a home for the Sussexes. 

Frogmore Gardens
Frogmore Gardens
Photo Courtesy of Derry Moore and the Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

In 1840, Queen Victoria gave Frogmore House to her mother, the Duchess of Kent.  After her mother’s death, Victoria frequently visited the house, enjoying it as a place of peace and quiet, and used it as the setting for intimate family functions.  In the 20th century, Queen Mary, wife of King George V and grandmother to Queen Elizabeth II, redecorated Frogmore with souvenirs and mementos of the royal family, treating it as a kind of royal museum.  Continuing in that tradition, in 1997, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, remodeled one of the rooms to contain sentimental items from the decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia.  Most recently, in 2018, Frogmore House was used for the wedding reception of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. 

You can join the ranks of the few members of the public who have toured Frogmore House and Gardens.  They are only open on three Charity Days (usually in May) per year.  Tickets must be booked at the Royal Collection Trust’s websiteSo what are you waiting for?  Go and get your tickets now!  Frogmore is one of only three British royal residences that I haven’t been to, but if I ever visit the UK in May, I’m definitely reserving a place a on the tour!

Bridge in Frogmore Gardens
Frogmore Gardens
Photo Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

Christmas in Massachusetts: My Favorite Holiday Destinations & Traditions

Although I’m still recovering from back surgery and won’t be participating in any of my annual holiday outings, I’d like to share some of my favorite seasonal activities so that you might make them part of your traditions as well.  Let me show you a festive Christmas in Massachusetts!

Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Nothing evokes the simple pleasures of an old-fashioned holiday like Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village.  As you meander around the early 19th century village, each beautifully decorated building features a different activity or holiday tradition to experience.   You can hand craft an ornament in

the tin shop, take a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh while singing carols, listen to Christmas stories or live music, cozy up to the bonfire, marvel at the incredible entries into the gingerbread house competition, enjoy a scrumptious open-hearth baked holiday treat and a cup of warm apple cider, and much more!  I’ve been to Christmas by Candlelight many times, and my favorite part is interacting with the costumed interpreters to learn more about the activities that they’re doing and about holiday traditions in the past. I highly encourage you to make Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village part of your family’s holiday tradition. It will always be part of mine.

Christmas by Candlelight runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from late November through December.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their website by clicking here.

The Enchanted Village at Jordan’s Furniture

Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted VillageWhen I was younger, I fondly remember my mother taking me on a Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted Villagespecial trip into Boston to see the Enchanted Village in what used to be the Jordan Marsh department store in Downtown Crossing.  Since the store was sold to Macy’s, the Enchanted Village has changed hands several times, but it’s found a permanent home at Jordan’s Furniture in Avon, Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted VillageMassachusetts. Adults and children alike will delight in the quaint Christmas village Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted Villagefilled with animatronic children, adults, teddy bears, and other animals participating in holiday rituals and traditions.  Before leaving the village, don’t forget to indulge in a delicious blueberry muffin, made from the original Jordan Marsh recipe!  While in the store, you can also take several spins around the 4,000 square foot skating rink, featuring holiday music and dramatic lighting effects. After all that, if you’re still in the holiday spirit (like I would be!) check out Jordan Furniture’s Motion Odyssey Movie (MOM) featuring the Polar Express in a way that you’ve never seen it before . . 4-D!  There’s so much to do at Jordan’s Furniture in Avon that you could make a day trip out of it!  All of the activities at the store are open from mid-November to the 1st of January.  Click here for further details, hours, and pricing information.

A Decked-Out Dwelling

Christmas Massachusetts Everyone knows that neighborhood house whose residents go all out in Christmas Massachusetts decorating their home for the holiday season.  Each year, I’ve always made it a tradition to drive around and discover new holiday light displays and experience old favorites.  In Danvers, Massachusetts, there is a house on Arthur Christmas Massachusetts Street that you simply cannot miss! The home use more than 90,000 lights and over 1,000 lit up figurines and Christmas Massachusetts characters to create an awe-inspiring holiday extravaganza, including, my favorite part, the waterfall display.  While there, be sure to make a donation to Children’s Hospital, who buses in their child patients to see the spectacle for themselves and experience some of the holiday spirit. Do you have a favorite decorated home that makes Christmas in Massachusetts extra special?  Leave the the street address and city or town in the comment section below. I’d love to hear about them!

THE Festival of Trees

Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of Trees

If you love Christmas trees as much as I do, then a visit to the Festival of Trees in Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of TreesMethuen, Massachusetts, is a must during the holiday season!  The festival has been going on for over 25 years and features almost 250 trees and wreaths, that have been donated by various community organizations, businesses, and families.  Each tree is decorated based upon a theme chosen by the individual or group donating it.  While I enjoy simply marveling at all of the intricate decorations and imaginative themes, children can complete a fun scavenger hunt to win a prize, and visitors can purchase raffle tickets and place them into boxes next to the trees or wreaths of their choice in the hopes of winning them.  The Festival of Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of TreesTrees is attended by over 30,000 visitors from across 14 different states, and all of the proceeds provide funding for heritage and restoration projects of historic structures in the greater Merrimack Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of TreesValley. So what are you waiting for?!  Go to see the largest collection of decorated trees in Massachusetts and, at the same time, support a worthy cause, which is what the holiday spirit is truly about.  The Festival of Trees is open from mid-November through early December.  For more information click here to visit their website.

The Christmas Village at Yankee Candle

Christmas Massachusetts Yankee CandleAlthough it’s open all year round, one of my favorite holiday destinations is the Christmas Village at the Yankee Candle Flagship Store in South Deerfield, Massachusetts.  While the village is located entirely within the store, to get there, you’ll have to pass through the Bavarian Forest room where, if you wait a minute or two, you will experience snowfall, no matter what the season or temperature outside.  Emerging from the forest, you would think you stepped into a 14th century Bavarian town that’s been decked out for Christmas. You’ll need a minute or two just to look around and take it all in, trust me.  Each of the quaint shops contains a differentChristmas Massachusetts Yankee Candle theme of over 100,000 holiday ornaments for sale.  Explore the village to get inspiration for your own holiday, and I dare you to leave without picking out an ornament or decoration to purchase.  Looking to create a village of your own?  Yankee has an entire room full of incredible holiday village scene displays to inspire you to design one or just to marvel at.  What’s a medieval village without a castle?  Cross over the moat via the drawbridge and enter the Nutcracker Castle Christmas Massachusetts Yankee Candlewhere you’ll find a variety of German-themed ornaments, nutcrackers (including a 6 ft. tall one!), and a set of thrones that are perfect for selfies.  Next, move on to Santa’s workshop, which contains a plethora of toys for sale to delight children of all ages.  If all of the holiday shopping has made you work up an appetite, Yankee has plenty of tempting choices in its New England Market, including Christmas Massachusetts Yankee CandlePopcornopolis, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Yankee Candy, homemade fudge, and an Au Bon Pain restaurant.  After you’ve refueled, explore the rest of the enormous flagship store which includes the Candle Emporium, with over 200,000 candles in 200 fragrances, the General Store featuring baking mixes and delicious foods, the kitchen shop, the gift boutique, the home store, and the garden shop.  For me, one of the most intriguing parts of the store is the Candle Museum where you can learn about and see how candles were made in the past and the present.  Speaking of making candles, at Yankee you can create your own custom candle with no experience required.  Just choose your shape and color, and an assistant will guide you through the process. If you’re looking for an even more personal experience, you can even make a wax mold of your own hand!  The Yankee Candle Flagship Store in South Deerfield is a fun experience at any time of year but feels even more festive during the holiday season.  For more information about hours and activities, visit their website by clicking here.

A Christmas Festival of Lights

Christmas Massachusetts Christmas Lights LaSalette Shrine

Courtesy of LaSalette Shrine

I absolutely love Christmas light displays!  My absolute favorite place Christmas Massachusetts Christmas Lights LaSalette Shrineto see them is the Christmas Festival of Lights at the LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro, Massachusetts.  This immense holiday display features over 300,000 lights spread across 10 acres!  While the displays have a religious Christmas Massachusetts Christmas Lights LaSalette Shrinetheme, even if you’re not a believer you’ll be thoroughly amazed by this holiday light exhibition.  Be sure to dress warm because the light display is located outside, but don’t worry because hot apple cider, fried dough, make-your-own s’mores and other warm and tasty treats are available for purchase on site. While there, you can also visit the International Creche Museum which features hundreds of different nativity scenes created by artists from all over the world.  Best of all, the light display and creche museum are totally free!   The Christmas Festival of Lights is on display from late November to early January.  For more information visit their website.

The Largest Christmas Store in New England

Christmas Massachusetts Christmas PlaceMy last, but not least, favorite Christmas in Massachusetts destination is a place where you can shop ‘til youChristmas Massachusetts Christmas Place drop for holiday decor. The Christmas Place in Abington, Massachusetts, is the largest Christmas store in all of New England.  If you’re looking for a particular ornament they have aisles and aisles, carefully arranged by theme, full of them. Need garland, tinsel, ribbons, tree skirts or toppers? The Christmas Place has more than you can ever imagine.  They even have a room full of 85 different styles of Christmas trees and an entire lighting department with a huge variety of holiday lights, in countless different styles, to decorate them.  For the outside of your home, the store carries over 150 different types of holiday figures.  Know someone that has a Christmas Massachusetts Christmas PlaceChristmas Village?  The Christmas Place carries over 200 different Department 56 houses and buildings, and even if you’re not looking to buy them, you can admire the holiday village scenes located throughout the store. Speaking of scenes, the Christmas Place has one of the largest Playmobil displays in the country.  Don’t forget to check it out near the entrance of the store.  So if you are looking for some holiday decorations, need a special gift for someone who is crazy about Christmas, or just love to browse like I do, head to the Christmas Place!  And don’t forget to take a selfie with the enormous Nutcracker outside the entrance.

Locations for a Festive Christmas in Massachusetts

Click on a link to be taken to specific driving directions.

Old Sturbridge Village is located at 1 Old Sturbridge Village Rd in Sturbridge, MA.

The Enchanted Village is located at Jordan’s Furniture at 100 Stockwell Dr in Avon, MA.

The “Two Decked Out Dwellings” are located at 3 and 5 Arthur St. in Danvers, Ma.

The Yankee Candle Flagship Store is located at 25 Greenfield Rd, South Deerfield, MA.

The Christmas Festival of Lights is located at the LaSalette Shrine on 947 Park St, Attleboro, MA.

The Christmas Place is located at 1500 Bedford St, Abington, MA.

Pittsburgh: My Top Six Things to Do in the Steel City

My first trip to Pittsburgh was a surprise, and when presented with tickets at the airport that stated our destination, my initial reaction was “Pittsburgh?!?”.  Now having visited the Steel City, I adore it.  Located at the confluence of the Ohio, Alleghany, and Monogahela Rivers, and dominated by Mt. Washington in the south, the setting of the city of Pittsburgh, is, in itself, spectacular.  Let me introduce you to six destinations in and around the city that you and your family will love to explore.


The Place Where Pittsburgh Began


Do you recognize the soldier on the right?

Pittsburgh Point State Park is located where the Ohio, Alleghany, and Monogahela Rivers meet and where the oldest structure in Pittsburgh is located.  The first thing to do is snap a selfie in front of the gigantic fountain, like we did, with incredible views of the city behind you.  Once you’re done, head on over to the adjacent Fort Pitt Museum.  The area now known as Pittsburgh was originally under French control, and Fort Duquesne was constructed on this site to protect the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers.  In 1755, the British unsuccessfully tried to take the fort, and in the process, the commanding general was killed.  His aide-de-camp, George Washington, was left to coordinate the British retreat.  Yes, the George Washington, who actually received his first military experience in the British army. After all, he was British at the time! The French eventually realized they were outnumbered and destroyed the fort.  From 1759 to 1761, the British Pittsburgh constructed a new fort and called it Fort Pitt. Named by General Forbes and General Washington (the latter got a promotion), “Pittsburgh” actually means the “city of Pitt”, who was the British p


Can you see Heinz Field, home of the Steelers and Panthers, in the background?

rime minister at the time.  In 1777, after the American Revolutionary War, the new U.S. Army took over Fort Pitt as its western headquarters. However, by 1792, the fort had deteriorated, and therefore, was abandoned. Local citizens used its remnants to construct homes, and the army built a new fort in what is now downtown Pittsburgh.  The only part of Fort Pitt that remains is a small brick blockhouse, constructed in 1764, that is the oldest structure in Western Pennsylvania. However, visitors can enjoy the large Fort Pitt Museum, which features interactive, family friendly exhibits about the fort, the Seven Years War, and life on the Western frontier in the 18th century.  Check out their website for living history events, guided tours, and even brewery nights!


The Best View in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh By night or by day, the view of the city of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington is extraordinary.  In fact, the view of the city from Mt. Washington wasPittsburgh named by USA Weekend as the “most beautiful vista in America” and the “best urban vista”.  Although you can drive up the small mountain (which is really a hill), my favorite way to make the ascent is to take the Duquesne Incline.  The incline is similar to a funicular and dates all the way back to 1877. However, don’t worry; it was refurbished in 1964 and redesigned to bring tourists up to an observation deck at the top.  The original Duquesne Incline was steam powered and was one of four transports built to haul freight, horses, wagons, and passengers up to the residential area at the top of what was then called Coal Hill, which was otherwise inaccessible.  Today, the Duquesne Incline is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city because it allows tourists to experience a piece of history and to see the incredible views of the “Golden Triangle” of downtown Pittsburgh.

Where You Can See Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Famous Ketchup

Pittsburgh “Won’t you be my neighbor?”  We all grew up with the heartwarming Pittsburgh show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”, and during my visit to Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, I was overjoyed to take in the largest collection of items from the beloved TV program.  The exhibit includes the set of Mister Rogers’ entryway and living room, King Friday XIII’s Castle, the Great Oak Tree, Mr. McFeely’s ‘Speedy Delivery’ tricycle, a variety of items from the ‘Neighborhood of Make Believe’, and, most exciting for me, the trolley!   You might be asking yourself why this exhibit is located in Pittsburgh? Although the show was originally broadcast for three seasons in Canada, Fred Rogers moved it to WQED in Pittsburgh and began to produce and distribute the show from the Steel City. “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” began airing in 1968 and ran for 895 episodes, with the final ones on the air in 2001.  At the height of its popularity, 80% of households tuned in to watch Fred Rogers! Even today, his messages ofPittsburgh kindness, patience, honesty, and the love of learning continue to resonate and are, perhaps, Pittsburgh more important than ever.

However, there’s a lot more to see at the Heinz History Center than just Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood!  Perhaps, the most obvious exhibit to check out is the namesake of the museum.  Did you know that the H. J. Heinz Company began in a suburb of Pittsburgh when eight year old Henry John Heinz began selling produce from his mother’s garden?  The company was founded in 1869, and although Heinz is most known for its ketchup, its first product was actually John Heinz’s mother’s recipe for horseradish, which was produced in their basement.  The company went bankrupt in 1875, but a year later, Heinz founded a new company and focused on the production of ketchup and, later, “57 varieties” (actually 60) of other products. The Heinz History Center in downtown Pittsburgh has a fascinating permanent exhibit about the history of the company and its products, as well as the largest collection of Heinz artifacts in its archives.  The entrance to the exhibit features a 11 foot tall ketchup bottle made up of more than 400 individual bottles! Alongside this gigantic condiment are 100 historical bottles that show how Heinz products and their packaging have evolved over time. I was fascinated to learn so much that I never knew about the company. Henry John Heinz pioneered the tePittsburgh chnological and sanitation procedures to prevent bacterial contamination of foods and lobbied Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.  Heinz was praised as a humanitarian and a model employer who was truly concerned for the safety and well being of his employees. He provided them with free medical care, recreational facilities such as swimming pools and gyms, and educational opportunities such as libraries, concerts, and lectures. During the Great Depression, Heinz helped to boost employment and improve the nutrition of families with the production of ready to eat soups and baby food, and during World War II, Heinz took a leading role in providing the blockaded United Kingdom with food.  After the war, the company acquired the well known Ore Ida and Star Kist Tuna brands, and in the exhibit, you can see a life-size costume of Charlie the Tuna. How fun! Today, Heinz sells over 5,700 different products in over 200 countries around the globe! The world headquarters of Heinz has been in Pittsburgh since 1890, and the company’s familiar black logo is the keystone, the same as the motto of Pennsylvania (the Keystone State). However, the Heinz History Center focuses on all 250 years of Pittsburgh’s history, not just the company itself.  Check out their website to see all of the exhibits on display.


Amusement Rides and History in One Location

I’m usually not one for rides, but Kennywood is one of only two amusement parks in the United States that have been Pittsburgh designated a National Historic Landmark.   As a history buff with a husband who likes adrenaline rushes, how could we not visit?! The park first opened in 1898, at the end of a trolley line which transported visitors from nearby Pittsburgh and its suburbs.  By 1901, Kennywood had its first roller coaster and a carousel, casino, swimming pool, bandstand, and dance pavilion. Today, the park features two wooden roller coasters (Jack Rabbit and Racer) built in 1920 and 1927, as well as several modern coasters.  Kennywood also contains many rides that date back to the very beginnings of its history. They include the Merry Go Round (1927), the Whip (1919), the Turtle (1927), and the Auto Race (1930). One of the most curious and nostalgic attractions is Noah’s Ark (1936), which allows visitors to walk into a dark, moving ark that recreates Noah’s supposed attempt to bring animals aboard.  Old-time special effects are included, of course! My favorite ride was the Kangaroo (1962), in which visitors ride in cars that move along a track. When the cars go over the single, steep hill, they bounce off, simulating a flying sensation and giving the ride its name. The leap of the Kangaroo was enough of a thrill for me, while my adventure-seeking husband enjoyed the more exhilarating rides and coasters.  Kennywood is a treat for the entire family, whether you’re a history buff like me or a thrill-seeker like my husband.  Now, on to something more artistic . . .


Architectural Brilliance in a Setting of Natural Splendor

Pittsburgh Designed in 1935 by Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater is an architecturally stunningPittsburgh and aesthetically pleasing home set above a naturally occurring waterfall in rural Pennsylvania, fairly close to the city of Pittsburgh.  Knowing that I love history and peaking into the homes of others (legally, of course!), my husband surprised me by taking me there. The home is built over the waterfall, to allow its former occupants, the Kaufmann family, and its current visitors to enjoy the views.  Touring the residence is an absolute delight because it’s designed organically so that the house not only naturally blends in with the forest landscape but also smoothly incorporates elements of the outside on the inside of the home. It’s no wonder that Smithsonian Magazine put Fallingwater on its “Life List of 28 Places to Visit Before You Die” and that the American Institute of Architects named it the “best all-time work of American Architecture” in 2007.  With praise like that, how can you not visit?!  Ok, let’s get “moving” to our final destination.


Ride and Learn About Historic Trolleys Near Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh ‘All Aboard!’ for a ride on a historic trolley at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.  We boarded the trolley from a vintage interurban trolley-line waiting station that was moved to the museum and restored to give riders an authentic experience of the 1880’s. Upon hearing the whistle and the conductor calling, Greg and I climbed aboard one of the museum’s restored electric streetcars for a four mile round trip journey.  Part of the ride included a stop at the Trolley Display Building where the Pittsburgh tour guide took us through a fascinating look at a selection of the 45 different cars in the museum’s collection. What makes a streetcar different from a trolley? How can you tell the difference between a city car, a suburban car, and an interurban car? How did the design and function of trolleys change over time?  You’ll find out the answers to these questions and more while viewing historic trolleys from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Next, it was back on board for the remainder of the journey, which finished at the Visitor Center. There, we watched a short video introducing the era of trolleys and wandered through various exhibits about how trolleys improved the daily lives of everyday people, how trolleys work, and why the trolley era ended.  There are also find some interactive parts of the museum specifically designed for children. Whether you’re an actual child, a child at heart, or just someone who’s looking to experience a piece of the past, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum makes for a thoroughly enjoyable half-day trip from Pittsburgh.



Click in the name of any of the locations below to be taken to more specific directions.

Point State Park and the Fort Pitt Museum are located at 601 Commonwealth Place in Pittsburgh.

Parking for the Duquesne Incline is located on West Carson Street in Pittsburgh.  Click on the name for specific directions.

The Heinz History Center is located at1212 Smallman Street in Pittsburgh.

Kennywood Park is located at 4800 Kennywood Boulevard in West Mifflin, PA.

Fallingwater is located at 1491 Mill Run Road in Mill Run, PA.

The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum is located at 1 Museum Road in Washington, PA.



The Royall House and the Only Slave Quarters in the Northern U.S.

When you hear about the history of enslaved Africans in the United States, you likely think about the lives of slaves on plantations in the American south. However, did you know that a slave-owning estate existed right outside of Boston, Massachusetts? The Isaac Royall House is the only historic home in the northern United States with surviving Royall Houseseparate slave quarters.   While slavery was legal in Massachusetts until 1781, it was uncommon for a family to own more than one or two slaves. So how did the Royall family come to have 27 enslaved people on their estate in rural Medford? In 1736, after the possibility emerged of a slave revolt in Antigua, Isaac Royall, Sr., who was a sugar cane plantation owner there, moved his family and 27 enslaved Africans to a 636-acre estate and home that he purchased in Medford, which was then known as West Cambridge.   Upon his death in 1739, his son, Isaac Royal, Jr., inherited the Royall House and estate. To show off the family’s fortune, he proceeded to double the size of the house, create the two beautiful facades that you see today, and remodel the interior to turn the former farmhouse into an opulent Georgian mansion. Throughout the tour of the Royall House, I was amazed by the incredible wooden paneling and intricately carved, decorated archways, which are considered the best surviving examples from the period.   The historian in me was impressed that historic inventories of the home have been used to lavishly furnish the mansion with period appropriate antiques and artifacts so that visitors can see each room as it would have actually appeared during the time period.

Royall House

The brick structure is the “out kitchen”, or summer kitchen, while the attached wooden structure, on the right, is the slave quarters.

As part of his continued renovations of the Royall House, in around 1760, Isaac Royall, Jr., also expanded the “out kitchen”, or summer kitchen, building to create the two-floored slave quarters that remain today.  Having 27 enslaved Africans made the Royalls the largest slave-owning family in Massachusetts.  Unlike the plantations of the antebellum south, the estate was not a cash crop farm.  Instead, Isaac Royall, Jr., continued to grow the family’s wealth through the slave trade, the operation of his sugar cane plantation in Antigua, and the ownership and leasing of property throughout Massachusetts.  In fact, the town of Royalston, Massachusetts, is named after him since he founded it by a land grant in 1765.

Royall House

The intricately-carved Georgian arches are considered to be the best existing examples in the country.

On the over 600-acre Royall House and Estate, the enslaved people performed various duties including farming (to produce food for the family and workers only), cooking, cleaning, and serving in the household. Not all of the slaves would have resided in the building referred to as the slave quarters; many would have lived and slept wherever they worked, such as in the kitchen, in the barns, or in work rooms in the main house.   Possessing so many slaves, allowed the Royalls to have a sumptuous lifestyle, but their luck changed with the events leading up to the American Royall HouseRevolutionary War.

The Royall Family were Loyalists, meaning that their loyalties lay with Britain, not with the American patriots who desired independence.  As a result, several days before the Battles of Lexington and Concord (that began the American Revolution), the Royall Family fled their Medford home to Boston.   Since Boston and the surrounding area was a hotbed of patriot activity and anti-British sentiment, Royalists were harassed and attacked; so many feared for their lives. So, like many other Royalists, the Royall family boarded a ship bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they knew they would be safe, since Canada was part of the British Empire. The Royalls never returned to their Medford estate, and for a while, the Royall House lay abandoned.  Little is known about the fate of the enslaved people. Likely, they would have remained on the estate, as any traveling Africans would have raised suspicions among the local community.

Royall House

The Marble Chamber, or master bedroom, supposedly used by George Washington

During the early months of the American Revolutionary War, officers of the Continental Army used the the Royall House as a type of headquarters, and General George Washington supposedly interrogated several British Royall Housesoldiers in the master bedroom, known as the Marble Chamber.   After the war, Washington’s secretary lived in the mansion, and, later, it became a boarding house. The estate was eventually returned to the heirs of the Royall family who sold it in 1806.  A significant portion of the profit was donated to Harvard University to fund the creation of Harvard Law School.  In fact, the seal of Harvard Law School bears three shafts of wheat that were copied from from the Royall Family Crest in order to commemorate their endowment of the school.  However, in 2015, protests from Harvard students and members of the local community erupted over the use of a slave-owning family’s crest on the school’s seal.   The university formed a committee to evaluate the issue, and Harvard Law School decided to retire the use of the shield.

Royall House

Rear view of the slave quarters and summer kitchen

After its sale to a series of other families, the former Royall House continued to be occupied until 1861, when the last owner died without an heir, causing the property to gradually fall into disrepair.   However, in 1908, the Daughters of the American Revolution raised the necessary funds to renovate the home and open it as a museum.  Later, in 1962, the Royal House Association formed and began operating the museum, offering public tours, events, and educational programs for school children.

The Royall House is such a unique historic home, and I thoroughly enjoyed my tour.  Learning about the history of the home was absolutely fascinating and seeing the original lavish interiors, which have been carefully curated with sumptuous period furnishings, was a feast for the eyes.  I highly encourage you and your family to visit the Royall House and Slave Quarters to learn about the rich history of the family who lived on the estate and about the little-known lives of enslaved Africans in the northern part of the United States.

Stevens-Coolidge Place: Spectacular Colonial Revival Gardens and Mansion

Stevens-Coolidge PlaceThe Stevens-Coolidge Place (formerly known as Ashdale Farm) is a historic home and Stevens-Coolidge Placegardens located in North Andover, Massachusetts. The extensive gardens are always free and open to the public. However, the house is available to tour only on open house days and special events. Check their website for details about their many special events throughout the year.

Even if the home is not open for tours, I highly recommend visiting just to see the extensive gardens. They include a Stevens-Coolidge Placeperennial garden with geometric beds and countless varieties of plants, a French Garden and Stevens-Coolidge PlaceSerpentine Wall (modeled after one designed by Thomas Jefferson), a cutting garden (where you can pay a small fee to pick-your-own flower bouquet to take home), a rose garden, a vegetable and flower garden, and a greenhouse complex. Meander through the spectacular gardens, bring a picnic, choose a quaint spot, and settle in for a few hours of relaxation.

Stevens-Coolidge Place

While the property belonged to the Stevens family since 1729, the most current Stevens-Coolidge Placeresidents were Helen Stevens Coolidge and her husband John Gardner Coolidge, who was a diplomat and a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Isabella Stuart Gardner.  Between 1914 and 1918, they hired an architect to remodel the two adjoined farmhouses and gardens into a Colonial Revival estate, which the couple used as a second home.  When her husband died in 1936, Helen Steven Coolidge continued to live in the home until her death in 1962.  She granted the entire estate, the home, and all of the contents to the Trustees of Reservations.  The tour guide told me Stevens-Coolidge Placethat all of the family’s belongings remain in the house, from the china in the cupboards, to the clothes inStevens-Coolidge Place the closets, to every item that was in the all of the drawers in house (which are still in them!).  As a historian, I know how rare it is for a home to remain intact just as if the owners had left, so the Stevens-Coolidge Place is really special.  In addition, the Coolidges were world travelers, and many of the furniture and Stevens-Coolidge Placeitems that you will see in the home have been accumulated from all over the world.  I strongly encourage you to check out their website to visit on a day when a house tour is available.  Whether you’re interested in antiques and collectibles, fascinated by family histories, or just curious about how people lived in the past, you’ll be amazed by all that the Stevens–Coolidge Place has to offer.

For more information about other things to do in Massachusetts, check out our other blogs posts and head on over to this great list!

Location of the Stevens-Coolidge Place

The Stevens-Coolidge Place is located at 137 Andover St. in North Andover, Massachusetts.  If you’re familiar with the area, the estate is located near the intersection of state routes 133 and 125 and very close to route 495.  For driving directions, click on the map below.Stevens-Coolidge Place

« Older Entries Recent Entries »