Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: November/December 2011
African-American Guide To Meetings, Incentives & Traveling In The Northeast
By: Sonya Stinson
It’s easy to tick off many of the things that make the Northeast such an interesting travel destination. You’ve got the dazzling fall foliage, and picturesque coastal playgrounds winter resorts; a wealth of acclaimed cultural attractions; plus the region’s central role in America’s Colonial, Revolutionary War and Underground Railroad history.

Then there are the things you might not expect, like the region’s thriving winemaking and winery tourism industry. In fact, New York is one of America’s top wine-producing states. Beyond the vineyards, the Northeast is showing its green side through a variety of local sustainability initiatives. There are hotels and convention center buildings earning LEED certifications and implementing environmentally friendly practices, while new parks, hiking and biking trails are springing up to encourage the enjoyment and preservation of green spaces.

The destinations profiled here are located in or near some of the largest U.S. population centers — making them very accessible to meeting attendees — and many of the larger cities offer light rail, free downtown shuttles and other public transit options that make them easy to navigate once you arrive.
Here’s a glimpse of what’s waiting to be discovered when you do.

The story of the Amistad, the Cuban schooner where the famous 1839 slave revolt took place off the Connecticut coast, is preserved and retold through several historical sites in the state. At the former site of the New Haven Jail, where the Africans aboard the slave ship awaited trial, stands the Amistad Memorial, created by African-American sculptor Ed Hamilton. New Haven also is the home berth of the Freedom Schooner Amistad, a recreation of the original ship that travels on educational missions. The Old State House in Hartford was the site of the first Amistad trial.

Meeting attendees and other visitors can spend leisure time at one of Connecticut’s coastal resorts, or perhaps see a show and try their luck at a casino. Along with the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, the Foxwoods Resort Casino, the MGM Grand at Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun Casino contain the state’s largest meeting accommodations.

From hanging out at Rehoboth Beach and other Atlantic coastal retreats to kayaking in the Delaware Bay, the First State offers a wide range of outdoor recreational attractions. Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, for example, is a popular spot for biking, swimming and hiking.

The Dover International Speedway, Fort Delaware State Park and the statewide Delaware Wine and Ale Trail are also among the area’s main attractions.

History buffs may want to visit Dover’s First State Heritage Park or Wilmington’s Kalmar Nyckel — a recreation of the ship on which Swedish settlers first came to the Delaware Valley in the 17th century — or tour one of the du Pont family’s opulent estates in the scenic Brandywine Valley. While finding bargains at Delaware’s tax-free retail outlets may not make visitors feel quite as rich as a du Pont, the shops are nevertheless one of the state’s top tourist draws.

Here’s one for the “Did You Know?” files of a state not readily associated with Black history: The first African-American college graduate in the United States, John Brown Russworm, received his degree from Maine’s Bowdoin College in 1826.

Several notable Black heritage attractions make up Maine’s Portland Freedom Trail — 16 sites with links to with the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist Movement, including the nation’s third oldest African-American church still standing. Nicknamed the Pine Tree State, Maine is renowned for its rugged natural beauty. Boasting 5,500 miles of coastland, the state is home to the largest fleet of windjammers in North America. Altogether Maine’s state and national parks — of which Acadia National Park is the largest and best known — encompass more than 540,000 acres.

Along with its natural scenery, Maine offers a unique man-made photo op: the world’s largest 3-D model of the solar system, laid out over 40 miles between Houlton and Presque Isle.

Travelers to Maryland can choose from a lengthy list of Black heritage sites to explore. The capital city of Annapolis is home to the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial and the Thurgood Marshall Memorial at the Maryland State House. The Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center is located in Highland Beach, in Anne Arundel County. Columbia is the home of the African Art Museum of Maryland and the Howard County Center of African-American Culture, along with an exhibit at Columbia Air Center commemorating the site of the state’s first Black-owned and operated airfield. On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center and other related sites in Cambridge pay tribute to the most prominent figure in the Underground Railroad.

Maryland’s nearly 4,000 miles of shoreline, including the Chesapeake Bay and 31 miles of Atlantic Coast, provide great settings for fishing, sailing and beachcombing.

American’s oldest civil rights organization is based in Baltimore. Visitors can see the NAACP Headquarters, along with a host of other Black heritage attractions in Maryland’s largest city. The list includes the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture, the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum and the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, which honors a free African-American who founded the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company, along with the famed abolitionist and orator.

Art lovers will find free admission at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum, just two of the city’s more than 20 museums and galleries. Those looking for picture-worthy outdoor scenery might opt for a cruise of the Inner Harbor or a bike ride along Glenn Falls Trail.
The Baltimore Convention Center, just 15 minutes from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, is easily accessible via the city’s light rail system. Specs at the 1.2 million-sq. ft. convention center include 300,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 50 meeting rooms and a 36,000-sq. ft. ballroom. The city offers more than 8,500 downtown hotel rooms, with more than 1,000 committable rooms adjacent to the convention center.

From Plymouth Rock, the site of the 17th century Pilgrims’ landing, to Beacon Hill, where a large community of free African-Americans resided in the 19th century, the Bay State is home to some of the most iconic places in U.S. history.

Massachusetts’ maritime history is evident in the lighthouses dotting its coastline. The home of one of the nation’s first Black sea captains is one of the 22 sites on the African American Heritage Trail on Martha’s Vineyard. That island and other seaside resorts like Cape Cod and Nantucket Island are among the state’s most popular recreational attractions. Outdoor enthusiasts traveling to Massachusetts will also discover plenty more options, from whale watching excursions in Stellwagen Bank to canoeing on the Concord River.

Notable cultural attractions include the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton and Jacob’s Pillow, and the nation’s oldest international dance festival, in Becket.

In this very pedestrian-friendly city, you can walk to the riverfront park on the Charles River, stroll along the 40-mile Boston Harborwalk or follow the footpath of the Freedom Trail, Boston’s most popular tour, which links 16 of the sites that make up the Boston National Historical Park.

Another walking tour, the Black Heritage Trail, consists of 14 sites connected to the city’s 19th century free Black community. Those landmarks include two sites owned by the Museum of African American History: the Abiel Smith School and the African Meeting House. Constructed in 1806, the African Meeting House is the oldest existing African-American church building in the United States. Reopening in December 2011 following an $8 million restoration, it now offers space for receptions.

The African-American neighborhood of Roxbury is home to the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists and the Roxbury Center for the Arts at Hibernian Hall. The Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum will open a new Renzo Piano-designed wing in January 2012. Across the Charles River in Cambridge, the new Entrepreneur Walk of Fame opened in September 2011.

Visitors with a special interest in family attractions might check out the Franklin Park Zoo, the New England Aquarium or the Museum of Science, which also offers a self-guided cell phone tour of green buildings in the Boston area. The Beantown Jazz Festival in September is just one of many special events held throughout the year, including a variety of ethnic festivals.

The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, located two miles from Logan International Airport, has 516,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a 40,020-sq. ft. ballroom and more than 300,000 sq. ft. of registration and function space. The city has more than 35,000 hotel rooms.

Another popular meeting venue is the Hynes Convention Center, which features 176,480 sq. ft. of versatile exhibit space, a multi-purpose auditorium with seating for over 4,000, 38 meeting rooms and a 24,544-sq. ft. grand ballroom.

Whether it’s skiing in the White Mountains, cruising on Lake Winnipesaukee, camping in the Great North Woods or enjoying summertime fun at the beaches and resorts of the state’s 18-mile-long Seacoast Region, New Hampshire offers plenty of outdoor adventure. There’s also lots of history to explore. In Portsmouth, you can visit Strawbery Banke, a site that depicts four centuries of community history. The capital city, Concord, is home to the Museum of New Hampshire History and 20 minutes away from the Canterbury Shaker Village.

A trip to the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee Region offers the chance to tour a historic summer estate at The Fells in Newbury and the campus of Dartmouth University in Hanover. Art and architecture buffs might be interested in the Currier Museum of Art and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Zimmerman House in Manchester.

If you bring your passport, you can take an international day trip just across the Canadian border to Quebec.


One of the most interesting places in New Jersey’s African-American history was the town of Lawnside in Camden County. This historically Black community came to be when a Quaker purchased land and resold the plots to former slaves. Today, visitors to Lawnside (originally called Free Haven) can tour the home of freedman Peter Mott, which served as a station on the Underground Railroad.

Other Underground Railroad sites in New Jersey include the Goodwin Sisters House in Salem City, Mount Zion AME Church outside Swedesboro, Macedonia AME Church in Camden, Croft Farm in Cherry Hill, the Burlington Pharmacy in Burlington and Jacobs Chapel AME Church in Mount Laurel.

The historic homes, beaches, shops and restaurants of places like Cape May and the Wildwoods make the Jersey Shore a popular recreational retreat. The shore provides the setting for several food and music festivals.

With its famous Boardwalk, gaming resorts and quirky area attractions like Lucy the Elephant already making it one of New Jersey’s favorite destinations, Atlantic City is adding more to see and do. A brand new hotel and casino resort, the Revel, is expected to open in spring 2012. Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City has completed its 45-story Waterfront Tower addition with 961 rooms, 80 suites and 18 super suites. The Water Club, a new property by Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, offers 18,000 sq. ft. of meeting space along with 800 guest rooms and the 36,000-sq. ft. Immersion Spa. A favorite local shopping venue, Atlantic City Outlets-The Walk, has added 40 new stores.

The city’s Civil Rights Garden features a reflecting pool and 11 columns of black African granite etched with quotes from civil rights leaders. Other points of interest include the Absecon Lighthouse, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum and the Atlantic City Aquarium, located in historic Gardener’s Basin.

The largest area meeting venue, the Atlantic City Convention Center, has 486,600 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, 45 meeting rooms, a roof-top solar power system, a recycling program and other green initiatives. For lodging, the city offers approximately 20,000 hotel rooms.

Among the most interesting places to see in New Jersey’s largest city are African-American heritage sites like the Polhemus House, which once served as an Underground Railroad station, and the Kreuger Scott Mansion, which was once owned by the city’s first Black millionaire.

The Newark Museum is the city’s most prominent and prestigious cultural attraction, encompassing a planetarium, an 1784 schoolhouse, the Ballantine House — a restored 1885 Victorian mansion once that once belonged to the beer-brewing family — 80 art and science galleries, a miniature zoo and a sculpture garden.

A night on the town might feature a concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and dinner in the Ironbound District, known for its Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish restaurants. Those traveling to Newark in the spring might catch the Cherry Blossom Festival in Branch Brook Park. The park’s grove of more than 2,700 cherry trees is actually larger than the more famous one in Washington, DC.
A wide range of meeting facilities can be found at area hotels and larger venues like the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, near Newark Liberty International Airport. The nearby Gateway Region is home to the state’s largest convention venue, the New Jersey and Expo Center in Edison, which offers 150,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space.

New York has launched new tourism initiative focused on promoting visits to upstate Underground Railroad sites. A major exhibit on the Underground Railroad is housed at the Onondaga Historical Museum in Rochester.The Apollo Theater and jazz clubs in Harlem famously represent New York City’s place as an African-American cultural center. The museum at the famed 369th Regiment Armory, also in Harlem, is a must-see historical site, while another notable Black heritage attraction not far from the Big Apple is the African American Museum located in the Long Island town of Hempstead.

The Women’s Rights Historical National Park in Seneca Falls spotlights the state’s claim as the birthplace of the women’s rights movement.

Visitors looking for an outdoor New York experience might choose to hike part of the 563-mile Finger Lakes Trail, which extends from the Catskills to the Allegany Mountains, or go on a tasting tour of one of the state’s more than 250 wineries. The 6.1 million-acre Adirondack Park is larger than Yellowstone, Glacier, Everglades and Grand Canyon National Parks combined.

The most prominent sites on Buffalo’s historically Black Michigan Street Heritage Corridor are the Michigan Street Baptist Church, once an Underground Railroad Station, and the Nash House Museum, the former home the church’s legendary pastor, who was the son of freed slaves. In nearby Niagara Falls, you can join an Underground Railroad tour in addition to enjoying a Maid of the Mist boat tour of the falls and other popular attractions.

Two more notable Black heritage attractions are Buffalo’s Paul Robeson Theatre and the Colored Musicians Club, where Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie and other famous jazz artists performed in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. These days, music lovers can enjoy the club’s weekly Sunday night jam sessions.

Buffalo’s outstanding architecture provides some of its best sightseeing opportunities, while a cruise on Lake Erie or a tour of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens would be a good way to view some of its natural scenery.Kids might enjoy a trip to the Museum of Science, while the grownups might want to stop in at the Anchor Bar, home of the original Buffalo wings.The recently renovated Buffalo Niagara Convention Center contains a total of 110,000 sq. ft. of space, with 1,600 hotel rooms located nearby.

Canada’s first Black settlement is remembered at the National Historic Site and Museum at North Buxton, one of the stops along the African Canadian Heritage Route. The trail starts in Windsor, the site of the 1846 log cabin of John F. Walls, which, like Bertie Hall in Fort Erie, served as a haven for escaped slaves. The Uncle Tom’s Cabin National Historic Site in Dresden is the former home of the Rev. Josiah Henson, the real-life fugitive slave who inspired the fictional character in the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel.

Adventure lovers traveling to Ontario can go hiking along the Bruce Trail and see the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The area’s diverse landscape includes farms, beaches, wetlands and wildlife habitats, and there also are a number of historic inns along the trail. Pukaskwa National Park, situated on the shores of Lake Superior, offers a variety of outdoor recreation, from camping to cross-country skiing.

Ontario’s capital is the fifth largest city in North America, boasting a wide array of cultural and entertainment attractions. One of Toronto’s hottest spots is the area known as The Beaches, which beckons visitors with restaurants, shops, a lakeside boardwalk and a summer jazz festival. The Distillery District offers galleries, eateries and a brewery. Attractions like the Hazelton Lanes Shopping Centre make Yorkville another favorite escape for retail therapy and entertainment.

The National Ballet and Canadian Opera have their home stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, while Massey Hall showcases jazz. Other places to see include the Toronto Botanical Gardens, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Toronto, the Petroff Gallery and the Gardiner Museum, which is known for its impressive collection of ceramics. Kids might especially enjoy the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Toronto Zoo in the Rouge Valley or the Ontario Science Centre.

Toronto hosts more than 1,000 annual festivals and other special events. Among the celebrations are the summertime Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto and the Toronto International Film Festival in September.The Toronto Congress Centre contains more than one million sq. ft. of space, including 70 meeting rooms and Canada’s largest column-free ballroom at 30,000 sq. ft. The facility has implemented a number of sustainability initiatives, such as a zero waste option for events, energy-efficient lighting, solar faucets and a recycling program.

Other major meeting facilities have also gone green. The Metro Toronto Convention Center, offering more than 600,000 sq. ft. of exhibit and meeting space, offers zero-waste event, green electricity and local food sourcing options for meeting groups. The Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place counts a 30-story wind turbine, a green roof and waste reduction and recycling programs among its environmental conservation efforts. Lodging accommodations are provided by more than 38,000 hotel rooms citywide.

Historical attractions linked to Pennsylvania’s African-American heritage can be found in both small towns and big cities. Places like the Johnson House Historical Site in Philadelphia, the Kennett Underground Railroad Center in Kennett Square, the Blairsville Underground Railroad Museum in Blairsville and the Thaddeus Stevens-Lydia Hamilton Smith Historic Site in Lancaster highlight the state’s role as a refuge for slaves seeking freedom. That story is brought to life through an Underground Railroad re-enactment called “Living the Experience,” performed at Lancaster’s Bethel AME Church.

The pivotal Civil War battle is commemorated at Gettysburg National Military Park, while a key turning point in the American Revolution is remembered at Washington Crossing, the spot where George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River.
In the Pennsylvania Wilds region, one of the state’s top sightseeing attractions has become more accessible via a new pedestrian walkway at Kinzua Bridge State Park providing views of the Kinzua Gorge.

Black historical and cultural attractions are abundant in the City of Brotherly Love. Points of interest include the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Mother Bethel AME Church, the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors, the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia and Philadelphia International Records. Also notable is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was designed by the African-American architect Julian Abele.

Philadelphia’s iconic Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are certainly must-see attractions, as is the newest attraction on Independence Mall, the President’s House Commemorative Site, whose exhibits include a tribute to the nine slaves who worked at George Washington’s Philadelphia residence. Other picks include the new National Museum of American Jewish History, Chinatown, The Franklin Institute Science Museum, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Adventure Aquarium, the World Sculpture Garden at Penn’s Landing riverfront park and City Hall — the world’s largest freestanding masonry building.

The Pennsylvania Convention Center offers one million sq. ft. of saleable space, including 528,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, 79 meeting rooms and a 55,400-sq. ft. ballroom, the largest on the East Coast. There are 16,000 area hotel rooms, including 7,800 within walking distance of the convention center and 3,000 at Philadelphia International Airport.

Located in Valley Forge National Historical Park, the Monument to Patriots of African Descent pays tribute to the estimated 5,000 Black soldiers who fought in the Continental Army. Besides this and other monuments to the history of the Revolutionary War, visitors to the 3,600-acre park — the site of Gen. George Washington’s winter encampment of 1777-78 — can enjoy biking, hiking, horseback riding and sightseeing on the beautifully landscaped grounds.

In the town of Valley Forge, the American Revolution Center houses the world’s largest collection of Revolutionary War artifacts. The John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, at the first U.S. home of the famous French-born naturalist and artist, is a five-mile drive away. Another artist is spotlighted at the mountaintop Wharton Esherick Studio Museum. Other Valley Forge area attractions include King of Prussia Mall, the Elmwood Park Zoo, the Abington Art Center and Green Lane Park, which offers boating, fishing and ice skating among its recreational pursuits.

The Valley Forge Convention Center in King of Prussia contains 150,000 sq. ft., including 108,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. The area has 14 full-service convention hotels, eight conference centers and close to 7,500 total guestrooms.

The Providence Black Repertory Company and a small museum at the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society turn the spotlight on the African-American history and Culture of the Ocean State. Providence also is home to the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America and the Culinary Archives & Museum at Johnson & Wales University. One of the city’s favorite family attractions is the 430-acre Roger Williams Park, which encompasses the Carousel Village, the Museum of Natural History and Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Rhode Island’s more than 400 miles of shoreline includes several prime resorts ideal for a family reunion or incentive trip. One such retreat is Block Island, located 10 miles off the southern coast.Newport’s Gilded Age mansions are among the state’s top sightseeing attractions. The International Tennis Hall of Fame and the White Horse Tavern — the nation’s oldest operating saloon in the United States — are also found in Newport.

The Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburg, near Burlington, houses exhibits on the history of the Underground Railroad in Vermont. Vermont’s number one tourist attraction is the Ben and Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury Center. Other top historical, cultural and recreational sites include the Vermont State House in Montpelier, the Vermont Ski Museum in Stowe, Green Mountain National Forest and Lake Champlain.

Agritourism is booming in the Green Mountain State, at places like the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, the Cabot Creamery Factory in Cabot and Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, where another favorite attraction is the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory. Visitors might consider planning a meeting or leisure trip to coincide with a special event like January’s Winter Festival in Bennington, the Vermont Maple Open House Weekend held at sugarhouses throughout the state in March, the statewide Vermont Open Studio, with nearly 300 artists and artisans participating, or the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival in June.

DC’s most talked about tourism attraction these days is the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the first monument on the National Mall to honor a non-president and first to honor a person of color. The centerpiece is 30-ft. statue of King carved into a block of granite called the Stone of Hope, positioned as if emerging from a split boulder called the Mountain of Despair. A 450-ft. curved granite wall is inscribed with 14 quotes from King.

Another recent tourism development worth noting is the $150 million restoration of the Hilton Washington. Located four blocks from the Dupont Circle Metro station, the 1,070-room hotel is close to several popular shopping, entertainment and dining districts, including Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Adams Morgan — known for its live music and international restaurants — and the historically Black U Street Corridor, home of the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl. The Hilton is also within walking distance of Embassy Row and a mile from the National Zoo.

The hotel offers dining and cocktails at The District Line Restaurant and Bar, the TDL Bar and McClellan’s Sports Bar. The Heights Courtyard & Gardens serves up a picturesque outdoor setting for events, with water features, fire pits and great views of the DC skyline. The Hilton has a total of 110,000 sq. ft. of function space, including 30,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, the 36,000-sq. ft. International Ballroom and the Heights Executive Meeting Center, which has nine meeting rooms. Guests staying in the 10th floor executive rooms have access to complimentary wireless Internet, daily continental breakfast and late afternoon hors d’oeuvres in the Executive Lounge.

The 2.3 million-sq. ft. Walter E. Washington Convention Center is the city’s largest meeting venue, containing more than 700,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. There are nearly 28,000 hotel rooms citywide. The tourism offices listed with this article can provide additional information to help plan your Northeast meeting, family reunion or incentive trip.
• Connecticut Office of Tourism — (888) CT-VISIT
• Delaware Tourism Office — (866) 284-7483
• Destination DC — (202) 789-7000
• 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
• Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership — (800) ONTARIO
• Pennsylvania Tourism Office — (800) VISIT-PA
• Rhode Island Tourism Division — (800) 250-7384
• Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing — (800) VERMONT