The United States is one of the youngest nations in the world and has gone through enormous transformations throughout its history. There are numerous living museums from different periods of housing preserved historical buildings. From the early settlements in the original 13 colonies to sites depicting life after the Civil War, there is an abundance of sites to see depicting the depth of American history. Here are 10 of the best living museums in the United States.
Located in Plymouth, Massachusetts is a living museum that replicates the original settlement of the Plymouth Colony; established in the 17th century by English settlers otherwise known as the Pilgrims. Historical interpreters are available to teach you about the life, customs, and cultures of the settlers. However, the living museum also recreates the year 1627 with a replica of the Mayflower which brought the pilgrims across the Atlantic.
Along with the Mayflower II is an outdoor history living exhibit called Wampanoag Homesite. It replicates a farming site on the Eel River and demonstrates how people grew their crops, gathered wild herbs and berries, and created mats and baskets from reeds. You’ll likely see men making a mishoon or boat using fire as tools to hollow out a tree. Additionally, another exhibit displays rare breed animals at the Nye Barn; sheep, cows, and goats with other livestock collections.
Genesee Country Village and Museum
In a small town of Wheatland New York, about 20 miles from Rochester is a historical 19th-century living museum called Genesee Country Village Museum. It features the recreation of a 19th-century village, a John Wehle Gallery of Sporting Art, a carriage museum, a baseball park, and heirloom gardens. The area covers 600 acres with 68 buildings available for a walkthrough; a simple frontier cabin to an extravagant Victorian mansion.
Also, within the historic village, you’ll find costumed interpreters doing live demonstrations craft and trade. This includes pottery, coopering, tinsmithing, gunsmithing, quilting, printing, woodworking, and blacksmithing. Old bakeries are recreated with fresh baked desserts and bread using traditional methods. Several events and classes are offered such as the Fall Survival Class teaching people how to use medicinal plants and wild edibles as well as examine extensive variety of fire-making as was done in the old times.
The automotive pioneer Henry Ford made substantial effort to restore his childhood home; saving local buildings over an 80-acre site. This eventually became the Greenfield village featuring seven historic districts taking visitors on a journey through 300 years of American history. The Henry Ford Model T district is a replica of his first factory which includes a restored Model T car.
The main street also includes all of the historic buildings of the town from general stores to apartments. You can explore the lab Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb as well as visit the workshop where the Wright brothers developed their first plane models. Also, there’s a railroad junction that features a full operations steam-powered rail line. It’s the only working roundhouse in the Midwest from this time period.
The most famous gunfight in all of American history took place at the O.K. Corral and later inspired the movie Tombstone. It is now a place visitors can explore as it appeared in the 1880s. This includes life-size replicas of the nine gunfighters including Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Virgil Earp, and Morgan Earp.
Also, the area also includes a photo gallery with historic photos of the western life in Tombstone along with portraits of the notorious Apache chief Geronimo. There is also a Tombstone Epitaph newspaper museum. It covers the history of the state of Arizona’s oldest newspaper; still in publication today.
Additionally, you can read the original 1881 reports of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and will receive a reprint of the paper included free with your admission ticket. Along with historic relics and old buildings, the site offers a 30-minute Historama show narrated by Vincent Price. Along with it is also a multimedia walkthrough of the dramatic events that took place.
Old World Wisconsin
The largest outdoor living museum in the world dedicated to the history of rural life is the Old World Wisconsin. Researchers have traveled around the state searching for historic farmhouses, building structures, and outbuildings in order to build the site. They moved them one at a time to a similar landscape with rolling hills like that of the early pioneers.
Also, the museum includes over 60 historic structures from Scandinavian farmsteads to a crossroads village with more traditional housing. Here, you’ll find costumed craftsman demonstrating various professions from blacksmithing to wood-stove cooking from the late 19th century. The living museums are organized by the different ethnic groups; African American, Danish, Finnish, German, Norwegian, Polish, and Yankee settlers demonstrating the integration of other European settlers to the country. Additionally, the weekends include more open sites with hands-on activities and complimentary tram rides.
Stone Mountain Historic Square
Stone Mountain Park’s Antebellum Plantation is a prime example off a pre-Civil War South atmosphere. It has a collection of 19 historic buildings moved from various parts of Georgia. The site spreads across 3,200 acres of nature and formal gardens. Here, you’ll find costumed demonstrators in blue trench coat war attire. The site also hosts the annual Stone Mountain Native American Festival and Pow Wow. Stone Mountain Park is Georgia’s most popular attraction offering interactive family-friendly attractions and natural sights.
The Farmyard also includes an area to pet animals and learn about the role of livestock in early Georgian life. Additionally, the area houses the most extensive collection of furniture and decorations from this period. It reflects the diversity of lifestyles in the south. Additionally, camping and lodging are offered with various cabins, yurts, and safari tent rentals. This then makes for a full experience never having to leave the park during your visit.
One of the most important centers of shipbuilding is the Mystic Seaport located on the Mystic River in Connecticut. It explores the relationship between America and the Sea in the early 1800s with more than 600 vessels constructed during the golden age of America’s maritime enterprise. The site also consists of more than 30 shops and storytellers inside of a 19th-century village. Among the Preservation Shipyard are craftsmen and boatbuilders maintaining the ship’s conditions. Here, you can explore the ships at the waterfront. This includes the last wooden whaler in the world which is the Charles W. Morgan.
Located along the White River in Fishers, Indiana is a recreation of American prairie life in the 19th century. The site is famous for preserving the home of William Conner; a listed site on the National Register of Historic Places. The site is divided into five different areas one of which is Liberty Corner; centered on the life of the rural community in 1886. Prarietown is a section recreating a pioneer village from the 1830s with stores, a blacksmith shop, and small shops.
Also, the Lenape Camp is focused on Native American life from 1816 with wigwams, a trading post, and tomahawk throwing. The Conner Homestead is known as the first brick home in Central Indiana. It offers free tours that educate visitors about the history and architecture of the home. The Smithsonian Magazine day, September 21, offers free admission with tickets that can be bought online.
Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum situated in the city of Williamsburg, Virginia. It began in 1926 by Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin and John D. Rockefeller Jr. It encompasses 301 acres of restored historically furnished buildings that recreate Britain’s largest New World outpost. Additionally, costumed employees work and dress in colonial attire often using colonial grammar when speaking.
The employees are said to be more than actors as they take special interest in developing the craft in recreated trade shops. They also provide an educational overview of Colonial America from everything from firearms to cultural traditions. Exhibits include the process in which African-Americans were freed from slavery making up half Williamsburg’s population. The Historic Area also offers horse-drawn carriage rides with 18th-century style carriages. This then offers a truly authentic way to experience the streets of the original Williamsburg.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate
Mount Vernon is known for being the grounds of the plantation George Washington and his wife, Martha Washington owned. The area was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960; it contains everything from Washington’s mansion to greenhouse slave quarters. Also, all of the buildings are also filled with costumed interpreters giving stories on the history of Washington’s life.
Visitors can walk through four gardens, hike through deep forests, and explore a recreation of our founding fathers’ 16-sided treading barn. The mansion was built of wood in a loose Palladian style, completely restored with furniture and fixings.