Celebrate Constitution Day

The average lifespan of a modern constitution is 17 years. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution has lasted 227 years since its signing on September 17, 1787. We have the oldest still in effect constitution in the world.

Today on National Constitution Day, we honor James Madison, Father of the Constitution and Architect of the Bills of Rights, for his leadership in the Constitution’s creation. The individual freedoms and rights we enjoy today are direct reflections of Madison’s tireless work and vision.

Photo courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation.

Photo courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation.

These ideas, the framework that became the U.S. Constitution, emerged from Montpelier, Madison’s lifelong home located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along this corridor that is part of the Journey through Hallowed Ground. Imagine the 35-year-old Madison, a committed patriot dedicated to the ideals of the Revolution. He spends months at Montpelier reading about ancient republics and confederacies, trying to glean why they failed, and what America could do differently to succeed. While the thirteen colonies had won their independence from England, the emerging young nation could not function under the Articles of Confederation. Madison recognized this dilemma and developed the plan for addressing America’s ills.

Madison and the other founders, who were part of that hot, summertime debate in Philadelphia we now call the Constitutional Convention, are presented to us sometimes today like demigods—due with good reason to the ideological enlightenment that guided their discourse, friendships, and politics. It was this intellectual foundation that fashioned a linchpin in the axles of liberty and allowed the young United States to move from an experiment to the great country we know today.

However, it would be naïve to claim that our liberty, then and now, has been easy. After all, the Constitution was written “to form a more perfect union.” It was not perfect when created, and while it has become “more perfect” over the past two centuries, changes have often been hard won through petition and protest. We cannot ignore that a truly representative system of government was not achieved until women and African Americans entered the voting booths in more modern history.

Nevertheless, with only 27 amendments, the Constitution has proven its ability to withstand the test of time. It is the Constitution that binds us together as Americans—not where we are from, the color of our skin, or our religion.

The many voices and opinions found in today’s debates seem like fuel for anarchy. Yet time and again, out of those many opinions comes one voice—one people, under one Constitution and one rule of law—which continues to be heard as distinctly American.

The United States of America is an example to the world that a free people can indeed govern themselves. But, power demands responsibility. If we want to pass on liberty to future generations, we must ensure that each generation understands the roles and responsibilities of American citizens, including how our government works. To quote Madison “The people will have the virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom…So that we do not put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”

James Madison’s Montpelier is rooted in this far-reaching vision and a deep commitment to the ideals of the Constitution. We invite you to join us for a visit to learn more about James Madison and his vision of America. Happy Constitution Day.

Rowe, courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Kenton Rowe and The Montpelier Foundation.

Student Engagement with the Living Legacy Tree Planting Project

The Living Legacy Tree Planting Project is a massive undertaking that the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership launched in 2010. By planting one tree for each of the 620,000 fallen Civil War soldiers, we will be creating the first national memorial for the most defining time in our nation’s history. Though the planting of such a large number of trees is monumental in its own right, from my perspective the most looming aspect of this project includes our educational outreach initiatives.

From the outset, we knew that this memorial needed to honor each of the fallen as an individual—what better way to do that, we thought, than by encouraging students around the country to research the soldiers’ lives and share them with the world on an interactive map? Through a collaborative relationship with Ancestry.com and Fold3.com, we are working with youth as they use primary source documents to examine soldiers from their own communities. By learning about these men, history—both local and national—comes alive for the participating researchers. As they get to know “their” soldier, students make connections between their lives and those that came before them, ultimately allowing them to understand that this war impacted every single American.

This hands-on, student-driven approach to education has been proven to be one of the most effective and life-changing ways to teach. Students working on similar projects frequently see an increase in test scores, become more civically engaged as adults, and associate themselves as lifelong learners. To date, we have partnered with over 300 students in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Vermont in the gathering of information on nearly 800 soldiers. Additionally, over 5,000 facts, images, and stories have been uploaded to Honor Wall pages hosted by Ancestry.com’s affiliate site, Fold3.com.


Thanks to a grant awarded by the Virginia Geographic Alliance, we were able to convene numerous teachers and professors from around the state, along with industry leaders like ESRI, to a summit last October hosted at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. During this meeting, we worked to identify some of the specific needs the education component of Living Legacy must address, including geo-literacy and introductory GIS-skills. Though many of the professors were skeptical about our intentions, they all commented on how impressive it was to hear that many teachers are already successfully incorporating GIS (geographic information systems) into their elementary classrooms. From this summit, the first batch of student researchers were born, many of whom attended our planting ceremony at the historic Bliss Farm in Gettysburg National Military Park to see “their” soldiers’ tree.

Following the teacher summit and successful round of initial student research, we teamed up with Ancestry.com and Fold3.com to offer a teacher professional development seminar in January 2014, led by Senior Directors Brock Bierman and Gordon Atkinson and Genealogist Amy Johnson Crow. During this daylong session, participants learned genealogy research best practices and ways to engage their students in Living Legacy soldier research.

IMG_2246Using these experiences as a launch pad, last week we were awarded funds from Ancestry.com to develop a standardized curriculum. Known as Living Legacy In a Box, this material will be designed specifically to connect primary source-based genealogy research and local history to other subject areas, such as geography, STEM, and the language arts. During the pilot stage of implementing Living Legacy In a Box, we aim to reach 30 teachers around the country, with a target of 2,000 student researchers. If you are interested in bringing this groundbreaking program to your school, let us know. It has been an incredible start to this amazing living memorial project and I am eager to bring it to more schools, more teachers, and more students over the next couple of months.

The 30th Anniversary of the National Heritage Area Program

Sunday, August 24th marked the 30th creation of the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, which was signed into law by President Reagan in 1984.

Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.

Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.

The National Heritage Area (NHA) Program serves as a public-private partnership for the stories that are too large, or perhaps too complicated, for the National Park Service to tell. Take The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area for example, which was created as the 38th Area in the country and signed into law by President Bush in 2008. Within this 180-mile swath of land, we can tell more stories than any single park would be able to by linking several parks and the surrounding communities together and filling in the gaps in interpretation with inclusive stories about those who have lived here and helped shape the American (and local) character. We can tell a large portion of the story of the Civil War, but we also link nine Presidential sites, portions of the Underground Railroad, and the house where the Marshall Plan was written, to name just a few. Each of these sites are important in their own right, but together, they create a rich fabric that helps visitors and locals alike understand the unique history of this region.

Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.

Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.

The National Heritage Area designation is founded on two core principals – heritage tourism and education, both of which are essential to our organization’s mission. Through immersive, award-winning educational programs, we reach students of all ages to create future stewards of these national treasures. Through the Certified Tourism Ambassador Training program, we train frontline hospitality workers to turn ordinary visitor experiences into something truly extraordinary.

Although the federal budget for the NHA program has been cut over the years, it is obvious that this is still a program the public supports – it offers a solution to communities who see a need for preservation to work together and feel a sense of ownership over an important landscape. Each of the 49 National Heritage Areas currently in existence tells some portion of our American story, which is what the National Heritage Area program is all about: nationally significant large landscapes that are still living, breathing pieces of Americana.

Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.

Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.

The 30 years since the first National Heritage Area was designated have given us a lot to be thankful for – most especially that these regions are receiving recognition and now have a hope of being preserved for our children, and our children’s children. As the budget cuts loom again and more NHA’s are being designated, it is also important to look at how we are growing as a group. It is clear the program still has a lot to do to ensure the models we are creating for the program today are sustainable for the National Heritage Areas of the future.


Labor Day Throughout The Journey

Holidays are not intended to just be days off from school or work.  They should be treated as special occasions, including taking the time to pause and reflect what the holiday is about and why it was created in the first place- and Labor Day is no different.  Observed on the first Monday in September, Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country and became a federal holiday in 1894.

Within the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, a 180-mile swath of land that runs from Gettysburg, PA to Charlottesville, VA, there are several places that pay homage to the history of work in America.  Here are just a few examples you can visit to observe Labor Day :


Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership

Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership

Gettysburg may be best known for its Civil War history, but the area is also the heart of Pennsylvania ‘s Apple Country.  Therefore, it is fitting to recognize the important role that agriculture, farms, orchards, wineries and the farmers and producers of these goods have not only on this region but the entire country.  Just north and west of the Gettysburg battlefield, more than 20,000 acres of apple orchards produce over 35 varieties of apples, and many of them are sold to processing plants today for things like apple juice and apple sauce.  In fact, the are is home to the National Apple Harvest Festival, which takes place over two weekends in early October each year.  To get additional details, visit http://www.appleharvest.com.


From Gettysburg, continue south along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway into Maryland.  Arrive in the City of Brunswick, located at the southern end of Frederick County.  Situated along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Brunswick became a company town with an exploding population and reportedly had the largest and busiest railroad yards in the world at one point  Although the railroad isn’t as important to our nation as it once was, you can still see the engines whistling down the track in Brunswick.  In addition, the town does serve as a major stop on the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) Train line which takes commuters in and out of the greater Washington, D.C. area each weekday.  The Brunswick Heritage Museum is a great place to visit as it tells the stories of the railroaders and their families in the early 1900’s and houses one of the largest model train layouts on the east coast. For more information, visit www.brunswickmuseum.org.


Photos by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership

Photos by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership

In addition, the C&O Canal was a major economic engine for people living along the Potomac River, particularly in the 19th and early 20th century.  Visitors to the C & O Canal can learn stories of western expansion, transportation, engineering, the Civil War, immigration, industry and commerce.   There are several access points to the C&O within the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, but one suggested location would be the Williamsport Visitor Center.  Here, there are several examples of major canal structures visible within close proximity.  For more information, visit http://www.nps.gov/choh.


Harpers Ferry became a major industrial center during the first half of the 19th Century, particularly with the establishment of The United States Armory and Arsenal there.  During its heyday, the armory was producing hundreds of thousands of muskets, rifles, and pistols.  Not only were there over 400 workers employed at times but inventions helped revolutionize the manufacturing process from craft-based production to machines.  The town also housed other industiries, including a sawmill, flour mill, machine shop, two cotton mills, tannery, and iron foundry. Only ruins remain today of most of this history, but visitors can still get quite the sense of this once industrious town.  For more information, visit Harpers Ferry National Historical Park at http://www.nps.gov/hafe.


Gristmills once dotted the landscape of rural America, but most of them have now vanished or stand abandoned as silent witnesses of the past., However, Aldie Mill, located in Aldie, Virginia, offers visitors and students a glimpse of how life was lived in the rural South during a time when the Mill served as a vital center of the community.  Find out more at http://www.nvrpa.org/park/aldie_mill_historic_park.


Manassas is a good place to learn about our country’s rich military history..  Everyone knows about the two Civil War battles that took place there and may also be familiar with the nearby National Museum of the Marine Corps.  However, tucked away inside the Manassas Regional Airport is the Freedom Museum.  The Freedom Museum honors those Americans who made the supreme sacrifice in defense of freedom and pays tribute to those who served our country with honor and distinction.  The thrust of this Smithsonian Affiliate focuses on the 20th Century. Learn more at www.freedommuseum.org.


For more than four centuries our forefathers had been producing fresh whiskey in the hills of Virginia.  At Belmont Farm Distillery, their whiskey is produced in a genuine solid copper pot still and they have America’s oldest operating pot still.  Although this form of whiskey production had been abandoned in the United States, the folks at Belmont Farm have chosen to preserve a national tradition of copper pot still fresh whiskey (their copper pot still was constructed in 1930).  For more information, visit http://www.belmontfarmdistillery.com.


Located at Montpelier (the former home of President James and Dolley Madison) sits the Gilmore Cabin, a post-Civil War African-American’s house. Former Madison slave George Gilmore built this log cabin for his family in the early 1870s. President Madison’s nephew owned the land. George Gilmore was more than 90 years old when he purchased the house and 16 acres for $560, just before the death of Dr. James Ambrose Madison in 1901. The property offers a glimpse of what life was like for African-Americans in the years during the Reconstruction era. Museum educators will be on hand to demonstrate the techniques of 19th-century farm life.  Check out http://www.montpelier.org/visit/gilmore-cabin-open.

Photo by Shuan Butcher. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership

Photo by Shuan Butcher. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership


And finally, make sure you take a ride on the Hatton Ferry, a historic ferry across the James River and the only poled ferry still operating in the United States. A ride on the ferry is a unique opportunity to experience times past.  Two hundred years ago, there were a thousand poled ferries carrying people across rivers and streams throughout the United States.  Ferries served Albemarle County from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid- nineteenth century, and provided a means by which European settlers could communicate with other settlers and establish commercial ventures.  There’s no better way to experience the beauty and tranquility of the James River- and to get a glimpse of a simpler way of life- than by taking the ferry at Hatton.  The Hatton Ferry is located in southern Albemarle County, a few miles outside of Scottsville.  Be sure to check out their website for hours and operating conditions at www.thehattonferry.org

In addition to the sites listed above, there are several other places to visit within the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.  Those interested in other suggested itineraries or to request a map should visit www.hallowedground.org.

Student-Created Vodcasts Available For Video On Demand Viewing through Partnership with Comcast

Comcast has made six new vodcasts, or mini-documentaries, created by middle school students through the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership’s innovative and award-winning Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student® program, available for free viewing through Xfinity On Demand.  The student programming can be viewed by Xfinity TV customers in the Richmond, Charlottesville, Washington, D.C., and Roanoke areas.  The programming can be found by going to the Xfinity On Demand menu and choosing either Get Local/Community Investment/Hallowed Ground or Get Local/Entertainment/Hallowed Ground.IMG_4034

Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student® is a service-learning project that connects middle school students to the American Civil War as they use primary source documents, humanities scholarship, music, dance, dramatic readings, role-playing and digital technology to create vodcasts, or mini-documentaries, for the National Parks in the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.  From beginning to end, the students serve as scriptwriters, actors, directors, choreographers, set designers, costume creators, videographers, film editors and now young history stars with deep connections to our national history.

During the 2013-2014 school year, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership completed new vodcasts with students from Orange County Public Schools.  The vodcasts covered various topics relating to the Battle of The Wilderness and the start of the Overland Campaign These student-generated vodcasts will become part of the official interpretive materials at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park and are available to educators, students and visitors worldwide through various websites. IMG_4091

Cate Magennis Wyatt, JTHG Partnership President, stated “We are so very excited to be able to share these educational vodcasts with parents, teachers and students. These works provide great insight into creative teaching as well as best practices for learning history.”

The collaboration between Comcast and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership was initially introduced through History.  “History Channel is delighted to join our cable partners in helping these local student productions reach a wider audience,” said Libby Haight O’Connell, Senior Vice President, Corporate Outreach and Chief Historian, History. “The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership’s work in preservation and education is outstanding, and the student documentaries highlight the value of local history.”IMG_4154

In addition to History, generous support for this project is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Park Service, and the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation.  In addition to placing these and previous student-created vodcats, Comcast supported this initiative by creating a Comcast Newsmakers segment from the 2013 program in Gettysburg, providing an overview of the process.  To check out that video, visit  http://youtu.be/Ms_r4E4VbRY.  For more information about the Of the Student, By the Student For the Student® program, visit www.HallowedGround.org

EXTREME Journey Summer Camp – Loudoun’s Last Session Begins!

Monday was a fantastic day on the river! As soon as we got on the bus, the campers began to de-code their Piscataway names. One of our favorite was Etchemin which means Canoe Man. The campers also spent time de-coding a leadership word to get us started thinking about the big theme of the EXTREME Journey: leadership throughout history and today.

Once we got to the boat ramp, we met Mr. Mike and Mr. Dave, who were our river guides. We learned the parts of the boat including the bow, starboard, stern, port, and thwart. After our quick canoeing lesson, we got on the river!

The campers were so impressive – no one tipped overboard and some of us became canoe experts pretty quickly! While on the river, we saw a bald eagle, many blue heron, and a few deer. We stopped for lunch at Conoy Island where we got to meet a member of the Piscataway Tribe, Hope Butler, who arrived on the island singing a traditional Piscataway song. Hope gave a presentation on the history of the Piscataway, their culture, leadership within the group, and how they have evolved as a people. She even did a traditional dance to respect the four directions: North, South, East, and West. We were so impressed that the campers remembered their Piscataway names to share with her.

Hope finished the rest of the canoe trip with us. But before boarding the buses, we jumped into the river to cool off. When using the life-vests to float, the current would take you for quite a ride!

After boarding the bus for the trip home, we stitched and decorated medicine pouches to keep the memories of this EXTREME Journey we just started together.

Wrapping Up the First 2014 Session of EXTREME Journey Summer Camp in Loudoun

This Wednesday, we ventured north on Route 15 to Gettysburg, PA. Here, we met our amazing guide, Bob, and embarked on a 15-mile bike tour of one of the most famous battles in American history. We made several different stops at Devils Den, the Virginia & Pennsylvania monuments, the area where Pickett’s Charge took place, and even went to the top of Little Roundtop! We had time for a pit stop at the bookstore and gift-shop at the visitor’s center. I’m sure all our campers were very tired at the end of the day – I know I was!

As we approach the World Premiere of the campers’ videos, the students are working on finishing up their movies–adding credits, finalizing editing, and perfecting their titles. I know they’re excited to show everyone all their hard work. But first, we headed to Camp Highroad in Middleburg, VA. Here, students worked together as a team to complete the low challenge course and the zip line!

Summer Camp Allows Students to “Take the Journey”

EXTREME-Harpers-FerryExtreme Journey, the award-winning summer day camp organized by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, uses multimedia, local experts, and the region’s own historic resources to provide middle school students a chance to experience the nation’s 38th National Heritage Area like never before. A successful camp took place last month in Albemarle County and the first of three Loudoun sessions is wrapping up this Friday with the premiere of the camper’s vodcasts. The second camp has just begun and the third camp begins next week (the specific camp dates are July 7-18, July 14-25, and July 21-August 1). The first and third camps take place place at Smart’s Mill Middle School while the second camp is held at Harper Park Middle School. Due to popular demand, the third camp was added this summer and all three camps sold out with a waiting list before they began.

EXTREME-Journey-RangerNow in its ninth year, the Extreme Journey takes students on hiking, biking, and canoeing trips through our National Parks, historic sites and scenic rivers between Gettysburg and Monticello. After being recruited as agents in the “Journey Intelligence Agency, students spend time with National Park Service Rangers, expert historians, archaeologists, naturalists and educators to unlock the stories and lessons of leadership that are demonstrated throughout this region. They visit many of the nation’s most historical heritage sites, assuming the identities of those who actually lived there, and are faced with the same set of circumstances as they “walk in their boots” to better understand the choices and decisions of those who forged this nation.

The students record their trials, triumphs and lessons of leadership learned from the pre-Revolutionary period through the Civil War, using digital cameras to create a video documentary, or “vodcast,” of “What Leadership Means to Me.” The vodcasts are then shared on the JTHG Partnership website, Facebook, and YouTube, creating a “viral” effect of the student’s new found knowledge and appreciation of the nation’s heritage. The vodcasts will be premiered at an event open to the public upon completion of the camp.


“We transform traditional text-book learning into a truly stimulating experience that exists only outside the confines of the classroom,” said Cate Magennis Wyatt, founder and president of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership. “Coupling the latest technology with creative curriculums, on-site visits, expert accounts, with the region’s breathtaking landscapes, Extreme Journey will leave students riveted by the past and ready to discover the future.”

To find out more details about the camp, to view a video about this program, or to see examples of the work of previous secret agents, visit www.hallowedground.org/Education/Camps.

EXTREME Journey Camp, Loudoun Session II, Days 1 & 2

Thank you for sending your wonderful campers to us for the next two weeks! Our first day was so beautiful, as we canoed down the Potomac River. In total, we traveled 8 miles down the river putting in at the Lander Lockouse and ending at the mouth of the Monocacy River. Our river guide, Mr. Mike, taught the campers all about water safety and how to respect the river. He also gave them a lesson on how to canoe. It took some of the campers a bit longer than others to become master canoers, but they all figured it out by the end!

Along the way, we stopped at Conoy Island, where we met Hope, a member of the Piscataway Indian tribe. She brought with her some artifacts from her tribe for your campers to examine and wear. She also gave all the campers a Piscataway Indian name and they learned what their name translated to in English. Ask any camper you know if they remember what their Indian name meant. We even learned an Indian welcome dance before campers got some time to just kick back and relax in the Potomac River. They swam, floated, and created a camper train in the river. It was so much fun for us to watch them enjoy themselves and be kids!

Next up, our campers were in the computer lab at Harper Park Middle School, while they learned how to use their iPad minis to make their leadership movies. They also participated in a scavenger hunt to learn about the leaders we will profile as we make our “Journey through hallowed ground.” In the afternoon, we travelled to Morven Park, home of Westmoreland Davis, where they learned about the Progressive Era and developed skills critical for effective democratic involvement.

EXTREME Camp, Loudoun Session I–Exploring Monticello and Antietam

Hello! Last Friday, we had our longest journey of camp, to Charlottesville where we saw Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. We hiked the 2.5 mile trail to the entrance and then enjoyed a tour detailing the daily lives of the Jefferson family. Students also had a chance to visit the hands-on Discovery Center (and the gift shop, of course).

So far this week, we’ve braved the storms in Antietam, home of the bloodiest battle in Civil War history. Each student was given a role of a solider or someone who witnessed the destruction of this battle for the day. Campers were given the opportunity to practice loading and firing a cannon and communicating the way that soldiers did during the Civil War using signal flags! We also saw a demonstration on Civil War medicine, and the difficulties surgeons faced. Then, we marched from the north, carrying our muskets to Dunker Church. Due to the impending thunderstorms, our wonderful guide was able to extend his tour an extra two hours and allowed us to tour the Newcomer House, the Sunken Road, and the Burnside Bridge; but unfortunately, we were not able to tube Antietam Creek. If you’d like to see our adventures from the last two days, check our our Facebook page.