History Along the Great American Rail-Trail

There are fascinating stories about historical people, places, and events all along the Great American Rail-Trail, if you know where to look.

History Along the Great American Rail-Trail is a collection of 250 stories and points of interest that span from Washington D.C. to Washington State, from thousands of years ago to the present. Each story is based on a specific site--such as homes and buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, museums, and state parks--and focuses on the people or events that make that place significant. The points of interest are great places to visit to learn more history about an area and the people who have lived there in the past. Taken together, the stories and points of interest reveal the dynamic, challenging, inspiring, diverse, and resilient history of the people of these United States.

Explore the stories and points of interest by trail, topic, or time-period. Some stories are long, taking deep dives into a particular aspect of a place and its history. Others are shorter, offering explanations or interesting details about a site. While a few of the stories and points of interest are on or nearby the Great American Rail-Trail, others are further afield and encourage you to explore your curiosity about these places and their pasts.

Through these stories, you will see that the past is not finished--just as the end of a trail is not really an end, if you turn back around. Each person riding, running, walking, hiking, or hanging out on recreational trails has a connection to the histories along the route, personally or through their family and friends. For some, their lives may still be affected by things that happened long ago. They also may find great comfort and joy in remembering people and events in the past. It can be complex to navigate where past and present meet, but like a hard day out on the trail it is often worth the effort.

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Discovering America Reconnecting People and Places
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No project of this scope is completed alone. History Along the Great American Rail-Trail benefitted from the wisdom, advice, and assistance of so many people during its two years of development. Shari Silverstein, Jason Cooper, Kurt Kinbacher, Christopher Merritt, Jonathan Neu, Kevin C. Brown, and Emma Markham helped identify potential stories and recommended sources. An extra thanks to Chris, Jon, and Emma for lending their expertise to story drafts.

To illustrate these historical stories and places, we relied on generous photographers who made their work available in the public domain or through Creative Commons. There are too many to thank individually, but we deeply appreciate each and every one. We are especially grateful to Jimmy Emerson, who went above and beyond, providing us with images for multiple stories.

Finally, we could not have written evidence-based historical narratives without the labor of so many archivists, museum staff members, local historians, and volunteers. Thank you to Kellyn Younggren, Heather Hultman, and Jeff Malcomson at Montana Historical Society; Lemley Mullet at West Virginia and Regional History Center; Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez at Voces Oral History Center; Mack Frost and Nancy McClure at Buffalo Bill Center of the West; and Angelique Nelson at Real Times Media. Our gratitude goes out to Geneseo Historical Museum, National Library of Medicine, Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, Iowa Women’s Archives, Music Library at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Park Forest 1950s Museum, and Heart Mountain Interpretive Center as well.

Last but certainly not least, this project would not exist without the labor of Frederick Schaedtler, Amy Kapp, Cindy Dickerson, Kevin Belanger, Derek Strout, Brandi Horton, Irma Joseph, Jimmy O’Connor, Sharon Congdon, Sierra Dooley, Liz Goodwin, Nicole Friske, Ally Neutze, Scott Starke, Sophie Israelsohn, and Alexa Davidson.

Discovering America: Reconnecting People and Places

The Great American Rail-Trail promises an all-new American experience. Through 12 states and the District of Columbia, the trail will directly serve nearly 50 million people within 50 miles of the route. Across the nation—and the world—only the limits of imagination will limit its use.

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