Historic Sites
Learn through history by visiting interesting historic sites around the state of California. Historic sites let you put a real face on the history that you've read about, making it more exciting for you and your children.
Historic Sites in California
Alcatraz Island
Out in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, the island of Alcatraz is a world unto itself. Isolation, one of the constants of island life for any inhabitant - soldier, guard, prisoner, bird or plant - is a recurrent theme in the unfolding history of Alcatraz. Alcatraz Island is one of Golden Gate National Recreation Area's most popular destinations, offering a close-up look at a historic and infamous federal prison long off-limits to the public. Visitors to the island can not only explore the remnants of the prison, but learn about the Native American occupation of 1969 - 1971, early military fortifications and the West Coast's first (and oldest operating) lighthouse. The island features many natural features as well - gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare.
Fort Point National Historic Site
Fort Point was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1853 and 1861 to prevent entrance of a hostile fleet into San Francisco Bay. The fort was designed to mount 126 massive cannon. Rushed to completion at the beginning of the Civil War, Fort Point was first garrisoned in February of 1861 by Company I, 3rd U.S. Artillery Regiment. The fort was occupied throughout the Civil War, but the advent of faster, more powerful rifled cannon made brick forts such as Fort Point obsolete. In 1886 the troops were withdrawn, and the last cannon were removed about 1900. The fort was then used for storage and training purposes for many years. Between 1933 and 1937 the fort was used as a base of operations for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. During World War II, Fort Point was occupied by about 100 soldiers who manned searchlights and rapid-fire cannon mounted atop the fort as part of the protection of a submarine net strung across the entrance to the Bay. Fort Point is the only third system brick fort on the west coast of the United States. It became a National Historic Site on October 16th, 1970.
Manzanar National Historic Site
Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps at which Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II. Located at the foot of the imposing Sierra Nevada in eastern California's Owens Valley, Manzanar has been identified as the best preserved of these camps. Manzanar is located 9 miles north of Lone Pine and 6 miles south of Independence, California.
Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
Port Chicago Naval Magazine was dedicated as a National Memorial to honor the courage and commitment of the Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Mariners, and working civilians killed and injured in the largest homeland disaster during World War II. On July 17, 1944, 320 men, over 200 of which were African-Americans, were instantly killed when a loaded munition ship blew up during loading operations. The Memorial recognizes the critical role they and the survivors of the explosion played in winning the war in the Pacific. Port Chicago National Memorial was dedicated in 1994 by the survivors of that tragic event and their families, Naval personnel, and National Park Service. The explosion and its aftermath was a catalyst, one of many, that helped persuade the U.S. Navy and the military establishment to begin the long journey on the road to racial justice and equality following WWII. The Memorial is located 45 minutes outside of San Francisco.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is one of the largest urban national parks in the world. GGNRA’s 75,398 acres of land and water extend north of the Golden Gate Bridge to Tomales Bay in Marin County and south to San Mateo County, encompassing 59 miles of bay and ocean shoreline. The park contains numerous historical and cultural resources, including Alcatraz, Marin Headlands, Nike Missile Site, Fort Mason, as well as Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site, and the Presidio of San Francisco. These sites contain a variety of archeological sites, military forts and other historic structures which present a rich chronicle of two hundred years of history, including Native American culture, the Spanish Empire frontier, the Mexican Republic, evolution of American coastal fortifications, maritime history, 18th century and early 20th century agriculture, military history, California Gold Rush, Buffalo Soldiers, and the growth of urban San Francisco. Golden Gate National Recreation Area is also rich in natural resources—it is comprised of 19 separate ecosystems in 7 distinct watersheds and is home to 1,273 plant and animal species. With 80 sensitive, rare, threatened, or endangered species —including the Northern Spotted Owl, California Red-legged Frog, and Coho Salmon— the park has the fourth largest number (33) of federally protected or endangered species of all units in the National Park System.
Presidio of San Francisco
For thousands of years, Native Americans called the Ohlone managed and harvested the natural bounty of what is now the Presidio. In 1776, Spanish soldiers and missionaries arrived, forever disrupting Ohlone culture and beginning 218 years of military use of the area just south of the Golden Gate. The Presidio served as a military post under the flags of Spain (1776-1822), Mexico (1822-48), and the United States (1848-1994). Today, visitors enjoy the history and beauty of the Presidio. Within its boundaries are more than 500 historic buildings, a collection of coastal defense fortifications, a national cemetery, an historic airfield, a saltwater marsh, forests, beaches, native plant habitats, coastal bluffs, miles of hiking and biking, and some of the most spectacular vistas in the world.
John Muir National Historic Site
The Site preserves the 14 room mansion where the naturalist John Muir lived from 1890 to his death in 1914. While living in Martinez, Muir accomplished many things: he battled to prevent Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy Valley from being dammed, served as the first president and one of the founders of the Sierra Club, played a prominent role in the creation of several national parks, and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and several books expounding on the virtues of conservation and the natural world. Muir's work laid the foundations for the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. The Muir house and historic Martinez adobe became part of the National Park Service in 1964. In 1992, Mt. Wanda was added to the Site. The 325 acre tract of oak woodland and grassland was historically owned by the Muir family. The site is located in Martinez, California.
Pony Express National Historic Trail
The Pony Express National Historic Trail was used by young men on fast paced horses to carry the nation's mail across the country, from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, in the unprecedented time of only ten days. Organized by private entrepreneurs, the horse-and-rider relay system became the nation's most direct and practical means of east-west communications before the telegraph. Though only in operation for 18 months, between April 1860 and October 1861, the trail proved the feasibility of a central overland transportation route, and played a vital role in aligning California with the Union in the years just before the Civil War. Most of the original trail has been obliterated either by time or human activities. Along many segments, the trail's actual route and exact length are matters of conjecture. However, approximately 120 historic sites may eventually be available to the public, including 50 existing Pony Express stations or station ruins.
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