National Historic Landmarks: 2,600 Locations and Counting

From sea to shining sea, these are 15 of America’s best historic landmarks

Since 1960, the National Historic Landmark program has marked around 2,600 locations of special significance to the foundation and development of the United States. The sites range from The Alamo in San Antonio to the Historic Williamsburg in Virginia.

Almost all locations are found within the U.S., its territories, or areas the U.S. used to control such as the Federated States of Micronesia. Only one site lies in a completely sovereign nation that has never experienced any U.S. administration—the North African country of Morocco. 

Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the U.S. as a sovereign nation by order of Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah on December 20, 1777. Due in part to the treaty of peace and friendship the two nations signed in 1786 (which created the longest unbroken diplomatic relationship in U.S. history), Morocco bestowed a sprawling mansion (now called the Tangier American Legation) upon the young nation in 1821.

The mansion is situated in the medina or walled city of Tangier, once Morocco’s diplomatic capital. The building has served many purposes throughout the years including acting as a consulate, espionage headquarters, and Peace Corps training facility. It became a historic landmark in 1982 and is still officially owned by the U.S. It is leased to the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies which continues the nearly 250-year friendship between the two countries.

National Historic Landmarks Program

National Historic Landmarks are historic properties that illustrate the heritage of the United States. The over 2,600 landmarks come in many forms: historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts. Each National Historic Landmark represents an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.

King Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. King Ranch

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 5, 1961

Location: Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, Willacy Counties, Texas

Description: In 1853, Captain Richard King purchased a creek-fed oasis in the Wild Horse Desert of South Texas. King now covers 825,000 acres—more land than the state of Rhode Island. Over 160 years, King Ranch led some of the first cattle drives, developed the Santa Gertrudis and Santa Cruz breeds of cattle, bred the finest Quarter Horses, and produced champion Thoroughbreds—all under its iconic Running W® brand. Today’s King Ranch is a major agribusiness with interests in cattle ranching, farming (citrus, cotton, grain, sugar cane, and turfgrass), luxury retail goods, and recreational hunting.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Tombstone Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona

Description: It would be hard to get more Old West in Arizona historical towns than Tombstone (The Town Too Tough To Die). It is one of the most frequented destinations in the state for history buffs since this is home to the famous OK Corral where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday gunned down the ornery Clanton-McLaury gang. But there’s a lot more to Tombstone including a rich silver mining history and clashes with the Apaches.

Tombstone has done much to preserve its Old West atmosphere. The main street is still dirt and cars must share the road with horses, Western wear shops, restaurants, and saloons line the wooden sidewalks. Historic sights include the Birdcage Theater and Tombstone Courthouse.

Fort Adams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Fort Adams

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 8, 1987

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The second largest bastioned fort in the US, Fort Adams was the key to Narragansett Bay area defenses, from 1799 to 1945. It was designed to be the most heavily armed fort in America and to garrison 2,400 troops. Three tiers of guns defended Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. Situated at the mouth of the Newport Harbor, the fort offers a panoramic view of both Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. USS Lexington 

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 31, 1903

Location: Corpus Christi, Nueces County, Texas

Description: The Fore River Shipyard of Quincy Massachusetts built U.S.S. Lexington for the US Navy in the early days of World War II with the ship being commissioned in 1943. Named to commemorate the earlier Lexington which had been lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington would serve the US Navy until the 1990s. Lexington was decommissioned in 1991. During its career, it received eleven Battle Stars and the Presidential Unit Citation. It was donated as a museum ship and is moored in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Breakers

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 12, 1994

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue along the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer cottages and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in the turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

Read more: Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Alamo

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Description: In San Antonio, five missions were constructed between 1718 and 1720. Appropriately, the first of these was Mission San Antonio de Valero, later to be known as the Alamo. Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. It was a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission-turned Texas fort. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

Read more: Remember the Alamo?

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Williamsburg Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Williamsburg (City), Virginia

Description: Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres featuring iconic sites, working tradespeople, historic taverns, and two world-class art museums. The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.

Read more: Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Skyline Drive

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 6, 2008

Location: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Description: The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain-top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. 75 scenic overlooks offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Read more: Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Painted Desert Inn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Painted Desert Inn

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: Navajo County, Arizona

Description: In its almost 100 years overlooking the Painted Desert, the inn has undergone many changes. The original building from the early 1920s was made of petrified wood. Today’s adobe facade dates to the 1930s renovation of the Painted Desert Inn.

The national historic landmark functions only as a museum now, with no overnight accommodation and food service. Interior displays highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and Civilian Conservation Corps. There are also restored murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Mount Washington Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Mount Washington Hotel

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: June 24, 1986

Location: Carroll, Coos County, New Hampshire

Description: While the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods is tucked away from the main drag, it’s almost impossible to miss it with Mount Washington hovering over like a halo. Once you walk into the lobby, you’re transported back to 1902 when the hotel first opened. It’s even rumored that the owner’s wife, Carolyn, still lives in the hotel (don’t worry, a friendly tenant), and ghost aficionados jump at the opportunity to book her old quarters in Room 314.

Read more: The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Palace of the Governors

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Description: Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal. But inside is a historic gem as well—the New Mexico History Museum which covers centuries of life in Santa Fe and hosts exhibitions related to the tri-culture of the Native Americans, Spanish, and Anglo peoples and cultures of New Mexico.

Read more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

The Strand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Strand Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 11, 1976

Location: Galveston, Galveston County, Texas

Description: Galveston’s Historic Strand District, or The Strand, is the heart of the island and a great place to shop, dine, and be entertained. Fronting Galveston Bay, The Strand is a National Historic Landmark that harkens back to Galveston’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the buildings here are more than a century old, stunning in their detail and craftsmanship. Storefronts here are a mix of antique shops, art galleries, souvenir shops, and more. The Strand serves as the commercial center of downtown Galveston. Places of interest include the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center and Museum, Pier 21 Theater, the Texas Seaport Museum, and the tall ship Elissa.

Read more: I Still Dream of Galveston

Presidio la Bahia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 24, 196767

Location: Goliad, Goliad County, Texas

Description: Presidio La Bahía is a fort located in Goliad, Texas. Its official name is Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía and it was built and utilized by the Spanish Army. The fort was originally founded in 1721 and it was home to many Texas Revolution conflicts including the Battle of Goliad and the Goliad Massacre.

Mesilla Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Mesilla Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: La Mesilla, Dona Ana County, New Mexico

Description: Mesilla did not become part of the United States until the mid-1850s but its history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soon after, the sleepy border town would become one of the most important towns in the West, playing a key role in Western expansion. By the mid-1800s, Mesilla’s population had reached 3,000 making it the largest town and trade center between San Antonio and San Diego and an important stop for both the Butterfield Stage Line and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Lines.

Read more: La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience

Worth Pondering…

The past itself as historical change continues to accelerate has become the most surreal of subjects—making it possible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.

—Susan Sontag

8 of the Creepiest Place to Visit

From haunted hotels to abandoned asylums with a few clowns for good measure

You don’t need to wait for Halloween to visit a haunted house. There are plenty of sites and ghost towns that are reportedly haunted year-round in America. Every state has its own urban legends and places where only the brave tread (and ghosts are reported to patrol). We’re talking old state hospitals, murder sites, homes with talking dolls, and hotels so disturbing they’ve served as the setting for some of the most iconic horror movies.

No matter what scares you, there is a place to freak you out. Whether you want to take a guided tour or a bone-chilling solo walk into the darkness, I’ve got the spots for you. Here’s where you can go to truly embrace the Halloween spirit this year—no costumes required.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome Grand Hotel, Jerome, Arizona

Located in the scenic hillside town of Jerome—an old gold mining hub once known as the Wickedest City in the West and today, one of Arizona’s coolest small towns—is the Jerome Grand Hotel formerly known as the United Verde Hospital. Originally built in 1917 (and rebuilt in 1926 after a mine explosion destroyed the first), the Great Depression caused the hospital to take a serious downturn; by 1950, it had been abandoned entirely.

The hospital sat essentially dormant until it reopened as the Jerome Grand in 1996. Much of the building’s original structure and facilities have been restored and many of its spirits still linger: the specter of a maintenance man found dead in the basement in the 1930s, human-shaped figures that roam the hall, children who run and laugh in the corridors, and even the spirit of a cat who scratches at guests’ doors at night begging to be let in.

The Clown Motel, Tonopah, Nevada

Long a destination for people who can’t say no to a dare, this old-school motel is home to a collection of 2,000 clown figures and some seriously ghostly vibes (owner Hame Anand says he’s seen ghosts but most of them are friendly, if that helps).

That’ll happen when you park a decades-old motel next to a dilapidated cemetery in a small town dotted with mining ruins. But hey, there’s a bonus: When Anand bought the motel a couple years ago he did some renovations to make the rooms more comfortable so at least you’ll be wetting a very comfortable bed. He also embraced the scariness by converting some rooms into horror themes, in case clown motel in the middle of the desert wasn’t creepy enough

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

The tale of Carolyn Stickney sounds like the worst Disney princess story ever: She married the hotel’s founder who died right before construction was completed. She then remarried into European royalty, but alas, she too passed soon after.

She never checked out of Mount Washington, though; she appears in people’s photos as a hazy apparition, floats around the hallways, and is a regular fixture in room 314, apparently her favorite place to challenge the notion of five-star accommodations. The four-poster bed she slept in remains in the room where you can still hear her voice, some say.

Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island

Like many a campfire tale, this one begins with two drifters. They showed up at the tavern in the 1720s looking for a room. The next day, the owners found one dead by the fireplace and the other completely vanished.

A specter now chills by the fireplace daring people to solve his mysterious death. There have also been encounters with a colonial-looking dude in the upstairs bathroom and mysterious footsteps all over the place. 

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

It might seem like an obvious pick but the Alamo is far more than just a place elementary school kids’ visit on field trips. During the infamous siege of 1836, thousands of men were killed and their bodies dumped unceremoniously into mass graves so it’s no wonder a few of their disembodied spirits remain pretty pissed off.

Several security guards have reported hearing footsteps in the middle of the night, some have seen a small blonde-haired boy wandering the gift shop, and a ghastly John Wayne—yes, that John Wayne—reciting lines from his 1960 film on the subject.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

USS Lexington, Corpus Christi, Texas

Known locally as the Blue Ghost—a nickname originally given to the ship during its service in World War II—the Lexington has long been considered by Corpus residents to be occupied by spirits. An engine room operator who was killed during one of the ship’s battles is said to roam the boat at night and visitors claim to have witnessed doors slamming and lights flashing on and off at random.

That’s right—flickering lights in a 75-year-old ship with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. Luckily, this national treasure doesn’t shy away from allowing curious guests to explore the grounds so be sure to check the website for admission times and safety precautions while the truly brave can even snag an overnight reservation via a special one- or two-night program.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma, Arizona

Yuma Territorial Prison‘s population was made up of thieves, murderers, and the occasional polygamist and over 111 inmates died here making it one of the more ghoulish state parks in Arizona. To this day, guides at the park report feeling a cold chill when passing by Cell 14—where John Ryan imprisoned for crimes against nature committed suicide.

Even more unnerving is The Dark Cell which is exactly what it sounds like: a dark crypt where rowdy convicts were sent for acting up. Accounts cite that two inmates who were literally chained to ring-bolts up here had to be urgently transferred an insane asylum upon their release from isolation. More recently, one reporter tried to spend two days in the Dark Cell. She didn’t make it past 37 hours and cited she felt she wasn’t the only one in the chamber.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg. Virginia

As an early American settlement, numerous historic houses in Colonial Williamsburg are believed to be haunted by past residents. One such property, the Peyton Randolph House housed the Peachy family who rented the property to many guests during their residency including a young unnamed soldier attending the nearby college, William & Mary.

Unfortunately, the young man fell ill during his stay and never recovered. He died in the home and today there have been multiple accounts of visitors spotting a young man walking sadly through the house or hearing heavy footsteps above their heads even though no one is upstairs. Take a complete tour of Colonial Williamsburg’s creepiest locations on the Colonial Ghost Tour, a roughly hour and a half moonlit tour of the haunted historic grounds.

Worth Pondering…

Her beauty climbed the rolling slope, it came into the room, rustling ghost-like through the curtains.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night

Corpus Christi: City by the Sea

Sun, sky, sea, and sand best sum up this city by the sea

Corpus Christi is home to numerous one-of-a-kind places to see and do but the USS Lexington stands out. The Lexington is a World War II-era aircraft carrier that operated in the Pacific Theater and served until 1991 racking up more records than any other ship in the history of naval aviation in the process.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the parking lot, follow the ramp to the Hangar Deck where you’ll receive a self-guided tour map at admissions. Five tour routes cover 100,000 square feet and 11 decks. Allow up to four hours to explore all five routes. Smartphone users can enrich the tours by downloading a QR code reader app that corresponds to codes at various exhibits (English and Spanish). “Yellow shirt” volunteers, many of whom served onboard the USS Lexington, are stationed throughout the ship to answer questions.

Nearby, the Texas State Aquarium provides insight into the creatures inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico and oceans beyond. Its conservation and rehabilitation programs for turtles and dolphins, in particular, earn the aquarium nationwide respect.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most visitors allow a minimum of four hours to explore the Texas State Aquarium, an indoor/outdoor adventure spread over six acres of glimmering shoreline. Besides aquariums filled with sharks, barracuda, lionfish, and other marine species, highlights of the four-level attraction include touch tanks, interactive displays, wildlife shows, 4-D movies, and a splash park (open in spring and summer). Upon arrival, check the Visitor Map and Guide (free with admission) for show schedules. For the best seating/viewing, arrive at each venue 30 minutes prior to scheduled program times.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The attractions sit side by side on North Beach, a section of Corpus Christi located on the far north end of the city. They are next to Harbor Bridge (U.S. 181), a large, arched span that stretches across the Corpus Christi ship channel. Note: The iconic, LED-lit bridge is undergoing a major upgrade. Once complete, the new Harbor Bridge will be the tallest point in South Texas and the longest cable-stay bridge in the United States.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The new bridge design incorporates a number of aesthetic features including a shared-use path, a community plaza, nighttime LED lighting, and xeriscape landscaping (derived from the Greek xeros meaning “dry,” the term means literally “dry landscape.”). In all, the project includes the design and construction of just over six miles of bridge and connecting roadway. Before visiting, check for traffic updates at harborbridgeproject.com. Also, because of 2020 closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, check the status of each facility before you go.

Make your first stop at the Corpus Christi Visitors and Information Center where plenty of information is available. While in the area, be sure to visit Heritage Park, a collection of eight historic local homes that have been restored by non-profit organizations to their former splendor.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area in which Corpus Christi is located was first explored by Europeans in 1519. Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez identified the area as Corpus Christi (Body of Christ), giving it the name of the religious feast day. Attempts to establish missions were actively opposed militarily by local Native Americans.

When Texas became a republic in 1836, it claimed the Rio Grande as its southern border. Mexico disagreed and set the border farther north at the Nuces River. Corpus Christi was established where the Nuces River reaches the Gulf of Mexico in order to set up a base of operations to pursue the boundary dispute.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1839 US troops under the command of General Zachary Taylor set up a small tent city there in preparation for battle with Mexico. Among Taylor’s troops were three future US presidents: Taylor himself, Franklin Pierce, and Ulysses S. Grant. Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Confederacy, was also present.

The settlement at the Nuces River remained and Corpus Christi came into being. It did not become part of Texas until the Mexican war of 1846. By then it had become a supply route for US troops headed to Mexico.

Corpus Christi Heritage Park© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The person responsible for establishing Corpus Christi as a permanent settlement was Colonel Henry Lawrence Kinney, an adventurer from Pennsylvania who established a trading post in the area in 1839. After the Mexican war, Kinney aggressively promoted the town throughout the East as “the Italy of America” because of its sunny climate.

Captain Forbes Britton of Virginia returned to Corpus Christi with his wife in 1850 after retiring from the army. Their home, built on land they purchased from Kinney, (Britton-Evans Centennial House) is the oldest existing structure in the city. Built in 1848-1850, the brick house has foundations of a shell create, cement reinforced with oyster shells indigenous to the area.

Corpus Christi along the sea wall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the mid-1920s the Army Corps of Engineers dug a deep ship channel. Corpus Christi is the deepest port on the Texas coast. The city’s position was enhanced further with the introduction of the Naval Air Station and its advanced flight training school.

The two-mile sea wall running through the heart of the business district was constructed in such a way as to open the city to the Bay rather than to form a barricade. Stroll the sea wall and you’ll pass by work and party boats, cruise boats, and shrimp boats sitting at anchor in the marina.

Corpus Christi along the sea wall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Steps lead down to the water and to the popular “T” head docks for pleasure boats. The waterfront was designed in the late 1930s by Guzon Borglum, sculptor of Mount Rushmore. He worked with the city at that time on the major landfill project that created Shoreline Boulevard and Corpus Christi Beach. His design joined the beauty of the miles of blue water with the cityscape.

The revitalized downtown area provides visitors with an array of stores, restaurants, and nightlife. The center of activity downtown is the Water Street Market, a collection of places to dine, shop, and then relax with a cool drink and evening entertainment.

Corpus Christi North Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the bay is Corpus Christi’s front yard, then the beaches on Padre and Mustang islands are its backyard. The natural wonders of Padre Island National Seashore—at 130,434 acres, called the longest remaining undeveloped barrier island in the world—make it a favorite with outdoor enthusiasts. Of the world’s seven sea turtle species, nests belonging to five—leatherback, hawksbill, green, loggerhead, and Kemp’s Ridley—are found at Padre Island National Seashore. It’s also a top spot for windsurfing.

Corpus Christi North Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Henry Kinney’s vision was fulfilled in the years beyond his lifetime as Corpus Christi evolved from a smugglers’ cove and frontier trading post into a booming tourist and vacation area, modern commercial buildings, and palm-lined boulevards.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto