Colonial Williamsburg is the pinnacle of American living history museums. But there are many other living history “museums” — those places where costumed “interpreters” bring history to life. They are a great way to get kids tuned into history.
If the kids are lucky, the interpreters will be able to answer their questions (How do you go to the bathroom in those weird pants?) as well as teach them skills our forebears knew (planting corn without a tractor, making a wig by hand.)
My kids and I have visited several, including the greatest of them all, Colonial Williamsburg, a recreation of life as America’s earliest settlers lived it. The free daily Revolutionary War re-enactments were fascinating to me, although my daughter, Tess, then 9, got a little bored. I think if we revisited now that she has studied Revolutionary War history in school, she might be more tuned in.
We never head to Springfield from Chicago without a stop at New Salem, the recreation of the town where Abraham Lincoln lived as a young man. And my visit to the Barrington Living History Farm in Washington-on-Brazos, Texas, was a eye-opening looking at the difficult life on a Texas cotton farm.
Here is a list of just a few of the living museums around the country, each with a different time in American history.
Colonial Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Va.)
Walk the streets of America’s earliest settlers and experience life in the 17th and 18th centuries at the nation’s largest outdoor museum. Explore dozens of Colonial buildings, homes, and shops reconstructed on 301 acres – most on their original foundations.
Columbia State Historic Park (Columbia, Calif.)
Known as the “Gem of the Southern Mines,” Columbia State Historic Park comes as close to a gold-rush town in its heyday as any site in the Gold Country. Visitors can stay in the haunted Columbia Hotel, ride a stagecoach, pan for gold, and watch blacksmiths and goldsmiths perfecting their skills.
Connor Prairie (Fishers, Ind.)
Conner Prairie brings prairie history to life in its four distinct outdoor living history areas and indoor museum, where kids can milk cows, card wool and churn butter. Conner Prairie also offers special sleepover programs, ranging from arms-making to the famed and award-winning Underground Railroad experience, Follow the North Star.
Constitution Village (Huntsville, Ala.)
Capturing the history and spirit of “the heart of the Dixie,” Constitution Village gives visitors an opportunity to explore ante-bellum Alabama. The museum reconstructs six buildings on their original site, depicting early lifestyle of the South.
Landis Valley Museum (Lancaster, Pa.)
Offering a glimpse into the rural Pennsylvania German life in the early 18th century, Landis Valley has more than 40 historic structures located on 100 acres. The museum features heirloom gardens, authentic farmsteads, on-hearth cooking, demonstrations of traditional crafts and horse-drawn wagon rides.
Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth, Mass.)
At Plimoth Plantation, visitors immerse themselves in two different worlds: The Wampanoag Homesite showcases the traditional ways of Massachusetts’ Native Americans, and the 1627 English Village introduces the country’s first settlers – Pilgrims.