Family Travel in Boston and Charleston: A Tale of Two Cities

More than a century ago, one town sent a regiment to capture the other. Together, these two great cities introduced my kids to Civil War history—in a fun way.

Boston is a family-friendly destination.
Boston is a family-friendly destination. Photo by Janna Graber

Secret night meetings, underground railroads and painful battles that tore a young nation apart. For my kids, these stories were once relegated to the pages of history books. It can be hard to comprehend such tales when you live far from where the history took place.

Then we visited two different, but important American cities—Boston, Mass., and Charleston, S.C.—and America’s history took on new meaning.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the residents of these two towns were arch enemies—each with differing ideas, which fueled a conflict that divided our country.

The Civil War started in Charleston, S.C., when Confederate artillery fired on Union soldiers at Fort Sumter. Seven southern states, including South Carolina, seceded from the Union. Boston’s mighty industrial strength fed the Union’s war engine, and its abolitionist leaders fueled the flames of change.

Family travel in Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina is full of grand, historic homes

Charleston: A Grand Southern Lady

I had never intended to fall under Charleston’s spell. But several years ago, during a work assignment, I called a Charleston hotel room “home.”

At the time, I knew little about Charleston except that it was involved with the Civil War and that its residents spoke with a southern lilt. I did know that it was the middle of July, and that the roasting humidity was unforgiving. To boot, I had a 1-month-old, colicky baby.

After hours of pacing the halls with a crying child, soaring temperatures or not, I was getting out. Armed with a covered stroller, water bottle and sunglasses, my infant daughter and I ventured out into the open air.

The thick humidity hit like a wall, but the sweet smell of magnolias and orchids lured us into the brick-lined streets, where the salty scent of the sea greeted us with southern hospitality.

Walking along the streets of Charleston.
Walking along the streets of Charleston.

The aged avenues were more than welcoming, lined with colorful flower boxes, shapely trees and delicately crafted homes, pulling us deeper into the alleys and lanes that wound their way along centuries-old pathways.

Many of the town’s grand homes were built of aged brick, thick timbers and large stones. Many structures were even older than America itself, crafted by early British settlers who marveled at the bountiful land they had found.

Here, in the heart of a city that shone brightest in the 1700 and 1800s, it was easy to imagine grand women in hoop skirts, adventurous explorers and the men who would become America’s leaders.

The streets were neat and tidy, reflecting a sense of grace and sophistication. Charleston, it seemed to me, was a grand old colonial lady. Although she had aged a bit, she still held her head up high, clinging to her genteel manners and refined elegance.

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