• Lenora Kruk-Mullanaphy

Places and Spaces with a Rich History

It won’t be a stretch of the imagination for attendees to feel like they’re standing on hallowed grounds where America’s first leaders gathered, battles were fought and prestigious buildings still stand to remind them of our nation’s rich history.

A myriad of destinations and properties throughout the Mid-Atlantic region boast a wealth of history that can be woven into group itineraries. These locations also offer top-notch meeting facilities, varied dining choices and plenty of possibilities for networking, spousal programs and extended stays.

Along with hundreds of attractions in Baltimore, Maryland, attendees also will find the city to be a haven for history buffs. Visitors can trace the nation’s journey from its fight for independence through the War of 1812 at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, where soldiers were stationed to defend Baltimore from British attack.

With live military reenactments and musket and artillery demonstrations, visiting groups will feel transported back in time. The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, which was built in 1793, was Mary Pickersgill’s home and business location. She sewed the flag that flew over Fort McHenry and served as inspiration for Francis Scott Key when he penned what would become the national anthem.

Historic Ships in Baltimore, such as the USS Constellation, are docked at the world-famous Inner Harbor. Baltimore’s four military ships and the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse offer exhibits and tours that portray what life was like on the ships during war.

The B&O Railroad Museum is a national landmark that allows guests to explore the premier railroad collection in the country. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum showcases more than 150 life-size wax figures and is the only museum of its kind dedicated to the African American experience.

A tour of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture highlights the history and accomplishments of the state’s African American community.

Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park provides a history of the two men and the first black-owned shipyard in the nation. Open to the public, it features Douglass’ life as an enslaved child and young man in Baltimore. Visitors learn about Myers, a free born African American who rose to be a national leader.

Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum both offer free admission to view extensive collections of art throughout the centuries.

The American Visionary Art Museum features artists and their works along with a gift shop to purchase original art, jewelry, novelties and more.

The city also is home to more than 20,000 aquatic animals at the Inner Harbor’s National Aquarium and to hundreds of animals at Maryland Zoo.

For a fun way to get around the area, the Baltimore Water Taxi is the oldest of its type in the country and offers one price for all-day, unlimited, on/off service to over 30 attractions and neighborhoods.

“If you haven’t been to Baltimore within the last five years to experience our urban renaissance, your groups are missing out,” said Eric Masterton, director of tourism for Visit Baltimore.

Attendees will need to refuel after all the touring, and Baltimore doesn’t disappoint when it comes to great food. From fine dining to a traditional crab feast, the city’s restaurants offer a variety of menus. Attendees will find everything from eateries that cook up local flavor to dining options that feature international cuisine. Many of the city’s restaurants offer private dining, as well.

Baltimore’s options for groups of 200 or fewer attendees range from museum spaces that are already enhanced with built-in entertainment to meeting rooms at cozy inns and bed-and-breakfasts to charter ships that tour the Inner Harbor.

For a large conclave requiring a lot of space, Baltimore boasts two stadiums, an arena and the Baltimore Convention Center, which itself consists of 300,000-square feet of contiguous exhibit space, about 85,000-square feet of meeting space within 50 rooms, plus a multifunctional ballroom that boasts more than 36,000-square-feet.

Royal Farms Arena, the city’s largest indoor sports and entertainment venue, can be used as a companion or flex space to the convention center since the two properties are just blocks from each other. The arena houses 11,000 permanent seats plus space for over 3,000 additional temporary floor seats. It is comprised of a main floor and seven connecting meeting rooms for smaller functions.

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania is home to world-class hotels, more than 300 meeting venues, and a host of restaurants and team building opportunities. With an abundance of history to explore, groups won’t want to miss Valley Forge National Historic Park, the site where then General George Washington and the Continental Army encamped during the Revolutionary War in winter of 1777-1778.

Reconstructed huts stand on the site of General Peter Muhlenberg’s encampment and serve as a reminder to what life was like then. Washington’s Headquarters is a two-story stone building where he and his highest-ranking officers lived and worked during the encampment. Artillery Park displays rows of cannons on the site where Henry Knox and his artillery unit trained over the historic winter.

Groups can take advantage of a 90-minute trolley tour and experience the park with extended stops at Washington’s Headquarters as well as the Muhlenberg Brigade Huts.

The Patriot Trails, an interactive Revolutionary War History Tour, delves deeper into the history of the park and Revolutionary War-era sites situated throughout surrounding Montgomery County, PA.

The National Park Service opened a temporary Visitor Center within the park during the $12 million renovation of its existing Visitor Center facility. Here, attendees can visit the Encampment Store, the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board information desk, participate in public tours, and view the park’s orientation film.

“The region uses Valley Forge National Historical Park in a number of ways, including tours of the park that are incorporated for off-site sightseeing, spousal programs and evening events,” said Marc Kaminetsky, director of sports, tourism and convention sales for the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. “History often is used as a theme for meetings and conferences - it’s very common for state associations that host conventions in the region.”

Historical reenactors, such as George Washington, have been known to make appearances for groups and can be an exciting addition as part of the kick-off to a convention. Many meeting and event attendees also incorporate programs where they can learn about leadership techniques used in the encampment at Valley Forge.

The area is rich with other historical locations, too, like Pottsgrove Manor, which was built in 1752 and served as home to successful ironmaster John Potts. The Potts family owned Mount Joy Forge (the area known today as Valley Forge) and Potts’ son was a patriot who supplied ammunition to the Continental Army.

Valley Forge and Montgomery County boast a variety of restaurants, and some include historical elements that are a great added touch for groups. Attendees will relish Black Powder Tavern, which is housed in a building that played an integral role in the establishment of the nation with origins that date back to 1746. At one time it was a respite for stagecoach travelers heading westward as well as a covert rendezvous point for Washington, Marquis de Lafayette and other leaders of the American Revolution. At the tavern, food and shelter were provided to the soldiers.

Graeme Park, a manor house built in 1722, was the residence of Henry Fergusson, a British loyalist, and his wife, Elizabeth Graeme, who passed messages along to the Continental Army, such as one asking Washington for his surrender. The manor was confiscated by the Americans in 1778.

Built in the 1790s after the Revolution, the Old Guard House Inn was a tavern once owned by John Rawlins, a captain of the volunteer rifle company during the War of 1812. Attendees can visit the site and dine on Continental and German cuisine at the restaurant.

As the oldest, continuously operated country inn in Pennsylvania, the William Penn Inn was founded in 1714. It offers an elegant atmosphere, creative cuisine and an extensive wine selection.

In all, Montgomery County offers more than a million square feet of event space, including at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks and at the Valley Forge Casino Resort’s Event Center.

Williamsburg, Virginia, which has been ranked as one of the Top 15 Cities in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure, also has hosted some of the world’s most prestigious groups. It’s no wonder why attendees flock to the area with the numerous things to do here, including exploring the largest outdoor living museum on the globe, Colonial Williamsburg.

Williamsburg is part of a historic triangle in Virginia that also includes Yorktown, Historic Jamestown, the Jamestown Settlement, and the College of William and Mary, which is the second oldest college in America.

For networking events, Busch Gardens Williamsburg offers reduced ticket prices for groups, meal plan options and three after-hours venues. Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum play host to private events and special occasions.

The Williamsburg Winery, which is located on the 300-acre Wessex Hundred farm, is well suited to host corporate retreats and private meal functions.

With more than 12 golf courses designed by renowned architects, a choice of spas, plenty to do outdoors such as kayaking, paddle boarding, boat cruises, Segway tours and zip lining, attendees will want to spend a long weekend and bring along their families, too.

Accommodations run the gamut from luxury hotels to resorts to convention hotels and more.

In keeping with the theme, attendees also can indulge in historic ambience while dining at taverns throughout Colonial Williamsburg.

A stop at the King’s Arms Tavern is a must - the staff dresses in period clothing, and the menu resembles some of the foods eaten during colonial times. Guests can choose dishes like peanut soup, Virginia ham, colonial game pie and more.

It’s as if the hands of time have been turned back when diners enter Shields Tavern, where hearty seafood gumbo, vegetable wraps and other mouthwatering choices are offered.

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern was George Washington’s favorite spot for seafood. The dinner menu includes: crab cakes, Gloucester chicken, filet of beef with crab-stuffed shrimp, fritters and southern spoon bread.

Locally, there also are options that include international fare, fine dining and fresh fish and seafood from local waters, so planners will find something to fit nearly every taste.

For a spirited event, groups can opt to follow the Williamsburg Tasting Trail. This area encompasses the state’s largest winery, several breweries and micropubs, two distilleries and a meadery. (Mead or honey wine is made by fermenting honey with water and is sometimes flavored with fruits, spices, grains or hops.)

“Greater Williamsburg is a unique destination that’s ideal for meetings of all sizes, offering adventure, thrills, unique dining experiences and much more,” said Dave Potter, director, marketing communications for the Williamsburg Tourism Council. “Not only can meeting attendees have fun and absorb living history throughout the historic triangle at Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, but they also can enjoy The Williamsburg Tasting Trail and fun activities that help to build team spirit. Greater Williamsburg is an unforgettable destination where attendees will feel more enlightened when they depart.”

The East Coast, and particularly the Mid-Atlantic Region, is chockfull of American historical sites for groups to enjoy and explore. Incorporating a bit of history into the itinerary of a meeting or event can aid in team building, provide opportunities for learning, and add an element that’s fun as well as educational.

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