Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: November/December 2010
African-American Guide To Meeting, Incentives & Traveling In the Northeast
By: Sonya Stinson
If you’re looking for a destination that’s brimming with history, buzzing with cultural and entertainment attractions and conveniently close to some of the largest U.S. population centers, you’re bound to find someplace that fits the bill in the Northeast. Of course, the region is well known for its serious significance in the history of Colonial America, the Revolutionary War, the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist Movement. But the Northeast also scores big in the history of fun. It’s home to the oldest operating saloon in America and the world’s largest casino.

Whether your group is more interested in delving into the history, enjoying the nightlife or exploring some of the great outdoor activities and attractions of the Northeast, the options are varied and plentiful. Here’s a look at some of what the region has to offer.

CONNECTICUT
The second largest concentration of sites on the National Register of Historic Landmarks, behind New Orleans, is found in Hartford, Connecticut. That list includes the Old State House, which held the trial of Joseph Cinque, leader of the legendary revolt aboard the slave ship Amistad.



Two grand casino resorts in Connecticut’s Mystic Country offer sizable meeting venues. At the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, the world’s largest gaming facility, the onsite MGM Grand at Foxwoods contains 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in Uncasville boasts 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.




Art lovers on a campus tour of New Haven’s best known landmark can view works by Van Gogh, Manet and Picasso at the Yale University Art Gallery.  Fairfield County includes the coastal destination of Norwalk, where the Maritime Aquarium and the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum are two of the top attractions. The area also is home to Stamford, where a satellite of New York City’s acclaimed Whitney Museum of American Art is located.

DELAWARE

In the capital of America’s first state, the list of must-see attraction has to include some of its historic landmarks. A historic tour of Dover will take you to Legislative Mall; Capital Square, which displays a replica of Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell; and Constitution Park, where a copy of the U.S. Constitution encased in a cube and 12-ft. quill hovering above it serve as a unique monument to that pivotal document.



Delaware’s scenic Brandywine Valley includes Wilmington, where the visitor bureau’s Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport provides admission to 10 area attractions for a single price. One of the top draws is the Winterthur Museum and Country Estate, a former residence of the famed du Pont family. To learn about a less famous yet historically significant figure, you can tour a replica of the tall ship Kalmar Nykel, on which a Caribbean freedman called “Anthonie, the Black Swede” was among the first immigrants to arrive in the Delaware Valley in 1638.

MAINE
When you think of Maine you picture sailboats, a rugged seacoast, vast woods and rolling green hills. The state has 5,000 miles of Atlantic coastline — not to mention 6,000 lakes and 32,000 miles of rivers — and 17 million acres of forest, creating plenty of outdoor recreational and sightseeing opportunities. Situated on the Casco Bay, Maine’s largest city is home to the state’s oldest lighthouse and the only remaining U.S. maritime signal tower, Portland Head Light and the Portland Observatory, respectively. Meeting groups and other travelers can spend their leisure strolling and shopping in historic Old Port and touring places like the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow House and the Portland Museum of Art.



Rockport, nestled on the Penobscot Bay, is the headquarters of the famous Windjammer fleet. If you’re not a sailing enthusiast, you might be interested in visiting the Center for Maine Contemporary Art or getting some tips for capturing your trip on camera at the Maine Photographic Workshop.

MARYLAND
If you’re meeting in Annapolis, be sure to see the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial at City Dock, with life-size sculptures by African-American artist Ed Dwight depicting the author reading to three children.  In Bethesda, part of Maryland’s Capital Region, the Josiah Henson Site pays tribute to the slave who’s life inspired the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Along with being the site of the University of Maryland’s flagship campus, College Park is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating airport, which has the College Park Aviation Museum on its grounds. The city is located in Prince George’s County, where large meeting groups might convene at the new Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center overlooking the Potomac River. For a family reunion or incentive trip destination, consider Ocean City, which offers free entry to its popular beach resort. Each June, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform their thrilling maneuvers in the Ocean City Air Show.

BALTIMORE
Baltimore’s free Heritage Walk tour offers a quick glimpse of some of the city’s biggest attractions, including the Inner Harbor, Little Italy, Jamestown, the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History & Culture. If you have more time to explore the famous Inner Harbor, you might visit the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, the Baltimore Maritime Museum or the Port Discovery Children’s Museum — or take a cruise aboard the Spirit of Baltimore.



In Fells Point, you can visit Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, which recreates the first African-American shipyard in North America, or take a food tour of the historic district. Besides the Reginald Lewis Museum, other local Black heritage attractions include the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum and the Dorothy Parker Memorial. North of the Inner Harbor, the new Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail extends three miles with more than 20 sites linked to the African-American history and culture of the area.

The African American Heritage Festival and the PAETEC Jazz Festival are part of the summer lineup of special events in Baltimore. The summer event season also includes ArtScape, the nation’s largest free municipal arts festival.  The new free shuttle bus system, the Charm City Circulator, makes it easy to get to downtown attractions.



The city’s premier meeting venue is the 1.2 million-sq. ft. Baltimore Convention Center, with 300,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 85,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in 50 rooms, and a 36,000-sq. ft. ballroom. There are 6,500 guestrooms in the downtown area, most within walking distance of the convention center.

MASSACHUSETTS
A Massachusetts coastal retreat might be an ideal setting for a corporate meeting, incentive trip or family reunion. Top visitor attractions on Cape Cod include the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, the John F. Kennedy Memorial and Museum in Hyannis and the Provincetown Art Association & Museum. Martha’s Vineyard has a 17-site African-American Heritage Trail, while other local points of interest include the Victorian gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs, the whaling and yachting industry in Edgartown and the spectacular Aquinah Cliffs.

Located just west of Boston, Marlborough is an affordable destination for small meeting groups. If you go there in May or November, you might catch the Paradise City Arts Festival.  You’ll find lots of family-friendly attractions in Springfield, which is home to the Basketball Hall of Fame, Six Flags New England, The Zoo in Forest Park and The Springfield Museums complex, which includes the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden.

BOSTON

The National Resources Defense Council has called Boston the greenest city on the East Coast. Beantown is already known as one of America’s most walkable cities, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority offers several ways to get around Greater Boston without a car, including commuter trains and ferries. The city also boasts a LEED Gold-certified visitor attraction, the Boston Children’s Museum.



To explore the city on foot, you can stroll around Boston Harbor or follow the Abolitionist Walking Trail or the Freedom Trail, which features sites related to the Revolutionary War.  During the 19th century, Boston’s Beacon Hill was the largest free Black community in America. The area is home to the Museum of Afro-American History as well as the nation’s oldest Black church, the 1806 African Meeting House, which will reopen in fall 2011 following a major renovation.

The church construction project is just one of several notable additions and upgrades to local visitor attractions. The new Kennedy Institute, targeted for a 2013 opening next to the JFK Presidential Library, will include a replica of Kennedy’s Capitol Hill office when he served as a U.S. Senator. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is building $115 million addition — expected to open in March 2012 — that includes a 300-seat performance hall. Nearby, the Boston Conservatory opened its 300-seat theater in October 2010. Three previously endangered landmark theaters in the Boston’s Theatre District — the Modern Theatre, the Opera House and the Paramount Theatre — have recently been restored. The Boston Tea Party Ships Museum is expected to reopen 2012 after its $25 million upgrade.

Boston’s largest meeting space is the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, touted as the most user-friendly convention facility in the world. Flexibility in every area lets you decide how to use the building to your best advantage. The Center boasts 516,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, 84 configurable meeting rooms, over 300,000 sq. ft. of function areas, eight registration areas and a 40,020-sq. ft. ballroom. Another popular venue is the Hynes Convention Center, with 176,480 sq. ft. of exhibit space and function space, 38 meeting rooms and a 24,544-sq. ft. ballroom, all connected to more than 3,100 hotel rooms. There are more than 30,000 hotel rooms citywide.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Granite State offers plenty of diversions for the outdoor adventure seeker, whether it’s skiing in the White Mountains, making a fall foliage pilgrimage to the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest or bird watching in the Great North Woods. For the culinary traveler, tax-free shopping and experiences like the statewide Chocolate & Martini Tour and several wine and cheese trails make it easy to take home a taste of New Hampshire.



Manchester, the state’s largest city, is located in the Merrimack Valley. The city’s Currier Museum of Art has reopened following a $13 million expansion, while other notable attractions include Falls Overlook, the Millyard Museum and City Hall. The Seacoast Region draws visitors to its beaches and resort towns for activities like whale watching, harbor cruising, gallery hopping and exploring historical sites. Portsmouth, the area’s largest city, is home to the Seacoast African-American Cultural Center and a downtown Black Heritage Trail featuring 24 sites.

NEW JERSEY

Atlantic City’s beaches, boardwalk and casinos are, of course, the main attraction, but two others worth seeking out are the Civil Rights Garden and the Atlantic City Aquarium. Among the architectural landmarks in Newark is the Kreuger Scott Mansion, former home of the city’s first Black millionaire.



Small and mid-sized meeting groups might gather in Parsippany, where they can tour Craftsmen Farms, the historic home of Arts and Crafts furniture designer Gustav Stickley. The city is located in the Skylands Region that also includes Somerset, where Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park offers a variety of recreation for meeting or family reunion groups. Cultural attractions are plentiful in Princeton, from the Princeton University Art Museum to the renowned McCarter Theater. Sports lovers and shopping enthusiasts will find lots to like in Secaucus, whose Meadowlands Sports Complex is home to the Giants, the Jets and the Nets, and whose Secaucus Outlets mall has been dubbed “the birthplace of outlet shopping.”

NEW YORK
At the New York State Capitol in Albany, one of the most interesting design details is the “Million Dollar Staircase,” adorned with carved portraits of 300 famous people from the Empire State. Buffalo’s Paul Robeson Theatre is a notable Black heritage attraction, while other local points of interest include the Darwin Martin House and the Albright-Knox Gallery.



Visitors to Ithaca can view works of art at Cornell University’s Johnson Art Museum, and gaze at nature’s paintings at sightseeing attractions like Ithaca Falls and Buttermilk Falls State Park.  Along with viewing attractions like the lighthouse at Montauk, a tour of the African American Museum in Hempstead might interest meeting or leisure travelers to Long Island. For any visitor interested in New York City’s African-American history and culture, the Harlem jazz clubs and the Apollo Theater belong on the itinerary.

Travelers to Niagara Falls can join an Underground Railroad tour in addition to enjoying a Maid of the Mist boat tour of the falls and other popular attractions. At Rochester’s George Eastman House, visitors can check out Eastman’s studio and an antique camera exhibit. In Syracuse, the Onondaga Historical Museum houses an Underground Railroad exhibit.

PENNSYLVANIA

After watching the Underground Railroad re-enactment at Lancaster’s Bethel AME Church, called “Living the Experience,” you can enjoy an authentic 1800’s meal. The city also offers an Underground Railroad tour. Since you’ll be in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, you can also explore the area’s Amish heritage on a visit to an Amish farm or the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum.



Pittsburgh offers a wealth of African-American historical and cultural attractions, including Bethel AME, the city’s oldest African-American congregation; the August Wilson Center for African American Culture; the Kuntu Theatre, which showcases the works of African-American playwrights; and the John C. Peck Oyster House, a former Underground Railroad Station. Reading is the site of the Central Pennsylvania African American Museum, housed in a church that once served as an Underground Railroad station. Two other notable attractions are the Berks County Wine Trail and the Genesius Theatre.

HERSHEY
Hershey is the site of Pennsylvania’s state’s largest convention resort. The convention center at Hershey Lodge contains more than 100,000 sq. ft. of space in the convention center, including three ballrooms and 35 meeting rooms. For a unique offsite event venue, The Hershey Story, The Museum on Chocolate Avenue, houses exhibits chronicling the life of Milton S. Hershey, while guests can take part in the hands-on Chocolate Lab and the Countries of Origin Chocolate Tasting. Other local attractions offering space for meetings and other events include the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park and the Antique Auto Museum, which can hold up to 600 people for receptions.

Family reunion groups and meeting delegates traveling with kids can have a fun outing at Hersheypark, enjoy the rides, boardwalk and live entertainment. The adjacent ZooAmerica is included in admission to the park. Other kid-friendly attractions include Hershey’s Chocolate World, with free samples included on the tour; Dutch Wonderland, designed especially for the under-12 set; and Hershey Gardens, where an outdoor Butterfly House and more than 23 acres of horticultural displays are waiting to be explored. The grownups might enjoy an evening play or concert at the historic Hershey Theatre.

PHILADELPHIA

Iconic sites like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are definite must-sees for any first-time visitor to the City of Brotherly Love. But you could easily fill up a convention’s free-time itinerary with Philadelphia’s numerous African-American heritage attractions. Mother Bethel AME Church, with the crypt of founder Richard Allen housed in the onsite museum, is one of the best-known sites. There’s also the African American Museum in Philadelphia, which showcases fine arts, textiles, archeological exhibits, and the Philadelphia Doll Museum’s extensive Black doll collection. Historic homes like the Paul Robeson House, the Marian Anderson and the Johnson House, an Underground Railroad stop in Germantown, are part of the list, too.

 

For a broader view of the movement to aid fugitive slaves, you can visit the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia, while a new project called the President’s House Commemorative Site pays tribute to the nine slaves who worked at George Washington’s Philadelphia home. African-Americans who served in the military are honored at the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers.

Art lovers can check out the Philadelphia Art Museum, which was the first major U.S. museum designed by an African-American architect, or the World Sculpture Garden at Penn’s Landing riverfront park. Attractions with kid appeal include the Philadelphia Zoo, the Adventure Aquarium, the Franklin Institute Science Museum, Sesame Place and the Please Touch ® Museum.

The Pennsylvania Convention Center is undergoing a major expansion that is expected to open in March 2011, giving the center more than one million sq. ft. of saleable space, 528,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, a new 55,400-sq. ft. ballroom and a total of 79 meeting rooms. There are 8,500 hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center and more than 3,000 rooms are only two minutes away.


VALLEY FORGE

Valley Forge National Historic Park, the Monument to Patriots of African Descent, pays tribute to the estimated 5,000 Black soldiers who fought in the Continental Army. The 3,600-acre park is the site where George Washington’s Continental Army encamped during the winter of 1777-78. Visitors can view Washington’s original headquarters and the Gothic Revival-style Washington Memorial Chapel, along with enjoying horseback riding trails and other outdoor recreation.

Another historical point of interest is the American Revolution Center, which boasts the world’s largest collection of Revolutionary War artifacts. Two additional Black heritage sites, the Maulsby House and Abolition Hall, await those willing to venture out to the nearby town of Plymouth Meeting.
Other notable area attractions include King of Prussia Mall, the Abington Art Center in Jenkentown, the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles and the Highlands Mansion & Gardens in Ford Washington.

The Valley Forge Convention Center in King of Prussia offers 108,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, and there are more than 7,300 area guestrooms.
Located only 18 miles from Philadelphia and all of its cultural and entertainment attractions, Valley Forge would be a great option for a military or family reunion.

RHODE ISLAND
Follow Newport’s Gilded Age Trail for a glimpse at famously opulent summer residences like Belcourt Castle, The Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms and Rosecliff. For some spectacular natural scenery you can stroll along Cliff Walk, 3.5-mile pathway overlooking the Atlantic. Other local points of interest include the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the National Museum of American Illustration and the White Horse Tavern, which is the oldest operating saloon in the United States.



One of the hidden treasures of Providence, Rhode Island’s capital and largest city, is the small museum at the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. The museum is one of many sites listed on the Providence Arts & Cultural Trail. These guides also lead visitors to attractions like the Providence Black Repertory Company, the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America and the Culinary Archives & Museum at Johnson & Wales University.

VERMONT

With its scenic location on the banks of Lake Champlain, Burlington offers a host of recreational and cultural attractions. The city is home to the ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center, the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum & Historic Site and the Robert Hull Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont, which specializes in art and anthropology. Other area attractions include the Shelburne Museum and the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburg, where you can learn about the history of the Underground Railroad in Vermont.



Vermont’s top tourist attraction is the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream plant in Stowe. But no one comes to this year-round mountain resort just for the dessert: There’s a full menu of activities, from skiing, snowboarding and snow shoeing in the winter to hiking, mountain biking and kayaking in the summer. The list of places to see include Mount Mansfield, Smugglers Notch, the Vermont Ski Museum and the Boyden Valley Winery.

WASHINGTON, DC
The nation’s capital has a host of well-known Black cultural and historical attractions, as well as a few that might be surprising discoveries for many visitors. An African-American heritage tour of the city might include Howard University; the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum; Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass’ 21-room Victorian Mansion set on a nine-acre estate in Anacostia; and the Willard InterContinental Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his “I Have a Dream” speech. One of the city’s most important historically Black neighborhoods is the U Street Corridor. Once a renowned entertainment hub nicknamed “Black Broadway,” the area is home to the African-American Civil War Memorial, the Lincoln Theatre and the Thurgood Marshall Center for Justice and Heritage, which houses the first African-American YMCA.



Some of the best things to do in DC are free, including visits to famous landmarks like the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; Saturday morning performances at the National Theatre; evening shows at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage; the drum playing and dancing at Meridian Hill Park on Sundays; and admission to the Howard University Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the National Archives.

Other major attractions include the National Postal Museum, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Newseum. Each spring the National Cherry Blossom Festival draws thousands of visitors to view the pink-flowered trees that have become one of the city’s favorite sightseeing attractions. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, easily accessible via the Metrorail, contains 2.3 million sq. ft. of space, including 700,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 125,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 52,000-sq. ft. ballroom with a pre-function area overlooking the DC skyline. There are 27,800 hotel rooms citywide.

Ready to start planning? The tourism offices listed here can provide additional information about meeting, incentive trip and leisure travel destinations in the Northeast.

CONTACT INFORMATION
• Connecticut Office of Tourism — (888) CT-VISIT
• Delaware Tourism Office — (866) 284-7483
• Maine Office of Tourism — (888) 624-6345
• Maryland Office of Tourism — (866) 639-3526
• Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism — (800) 227-MASS
• New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development — (603) 271-2665
• New Jersey Division of Travel & Tourism — (800) VISIT-NJ
• New York State Department of Economic Development — (800) CALL-NYS
• Visit Pennsylvania — (800) VISIT-PA (847-4872)
• Rhode Island Tourism Division — (800) 250-7384
• Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing — (800) VERMONT
• Destination DC — (202) 789-7000

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