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The prolific Ken Burns has become a household name, offering up exquisite documentaries that tackle some of the most gruesome — and most beautiful — chapters in American history. Burns has made his home in Walpole, New Hampshire and, whether by chance or design, prominent New England towns crop up frequently in his work. Take the Burns tour of New England history and visit some of the most historic towns in America.
When the spirit of adventure aligns with a slightly overactive sense of competitiveness, wild and wonderful things can happen. Such was the case for Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, resident of Burlington, Vermont, who drove a 20-horsepower Winton touring car from San Francisco, California to New York City in 1903, all to win a fifty-dollar bet. Truly, it makes perfect sense that Dr. Jackson was from Burlington — full of opportunity for adventures of all kinds, this northweatern Vermont city is a destination for sports enthusiasts, boat lovers, and hip, young folks of every ilk.
Ken Burns’ documentary on the Shaker movement in America chronicles the small religious sect from inception onward. Known for many of their unique traditions, including a robust legacy of craftsmanship, Shaker history is an important part of New England history, and restored Shaker villages across the region provide a window into the unique lifestyle. The Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts offers tours, harvest suppers, and workshops, among other events. The village features original Shaker architecture and furniture, as well as a gift shop stocked with items made in the Shaker style. A trip to Hancock Shaker Village is a perfect, hands-on way to experience New England history!
Truly Burns’ career-making documentary, The Civil War is a nine part film spanning the course of the war. Some of the northernmost action of the war was seen in Saint Albans, Vermont in an event referred to as the Saint Albans Raid. Today, visitors can tour the St. Albans Historical Museum to learn more about the raid and other city history, go camping in nearby Burton Island State Park, explore the beautiful Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, and indulge in a maple creemee at the Vermont Maple Festival, which takes place annually at the end of April.
Acadia National Park spreads across much of Mount Desert Island, creating a pristine haven on the beautiful island. Over on the northern shore, Bar Harbor offers all the shops and amenities you could hope for, including excellent restaurants and fresh, Maine lobster! The winner of two Emmy Awards, Burns’ National Park series highlights the importance of the parks in our nation’s history and future.
Not For Ourselves Alone follows the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony was a New England native, born in the small town of Adams, Massachusetts. Part of Berkshire County, Adams offers beautiful hikes, such as the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, and trails throughout the Mount Graylock State Reservation. Other attractions include the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum and the Quaker Meeting House, making this town a heavenly little slice of New England history!
The War covers WWII by exploring the war’s impact on four American towns, and the soldiers who called those towns home. One of these towns is Waterbury, Connecticut. Waterbury, also known as “Brass City,” was famous for its production of quality brass and copper throughout the 19th century and part of the 20th, as well as its production of clocks and watches. Today, Waterbury boasts the post-industrial charm that defines many riverside New England towns. Take a stroll along the Naugatuck River, pick up a sweet treat at Fascia’s Chocolates. Don’t worry about getting there — Waterbury is just and hour and a half away from New York City, and about 45 minutes from Hartford.