Tug boats in the port of Duluth(© Richard Hamilton Smith Getty Images)

Tug boats in the port of Duluth.

Native Americans understood the importance of the river confluence or sheltered harbor for thousands of years, constructing trading villages at the mouths of northwestern rivers or upon a peninsula reaching into Lake Erie. America was also constructed upon the pilings and piers of our port cities. Ports connected the early fur trade routes, provided the theater to launch the American Revolution and tragically, support a despicable slave trade. Yet our ports also welcomed millions of immigrants to their chosen homes. The Midwest's urban landscape arose directly from its loading docks. Today, when international trade dominates the economy, a city's port remains the financial conduit to the world.

The early docks also provided young America with Dickensian settings, England's coalmines replaced with dark alley entrepreneurs and street urchin stowaways, when an opportunity or tragedy unfurled around every quayside corner. High above these corset-tight cobblestone lanes, profiteering barons built their mansions, strategic vistas from where they could keep a keen eye focused on the source of their profit yet avert the eyes of their maidens and children from the sooty underbelly of their businesses.

Today, these once unseemly wharves and their environs lure millions of annual visitors, historical voyeurs who come to peek from behind history's curtains into the romance of sordid days gone by when businesses "catered" to sailors and "artful dodgers" emerged from the shadows only to swiftly disappear back into the mist. Our diverse families comingle everyday, attending festivals nestled in among the tight maritime streets, strolling harbor promenades and chasing soccer balls across quayside greens. Today we celebrate the port city for its history, industry and culture.

Anchorage, Alaska(© Alaska Stock AGE Fotostock)

Anchorage, Alaska: More common than gridlock are moose sightings.

Anchorage, Alaska
How would history have played out had Russia not sold "Russian America" to the U.S. in 1867? Forty years later, Woodrow Wilson committed the first significant investment to the territory when he allocated funds for the Alaska Railroad at Ship Creek Landing, aka Anchorage. The port continued to grow after the 1964 Alaska earthquake paralyzed south-central Alaska's other two ports. Today's port serves this city of 277,000 as well as 80 percent of the entire state. But a quarter million people can disappear quickly within an urban boundary that matches the area of Delaware. More common than gridlock are moose sightings on the city streets and beluga whales within Cook Inlet, named for Captain James Cook, who first explored and chronicled the Anchorage area in 1778.

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