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8 Living History Museums for Families

See recent posts by Lissa Poirot

Traveling with kids can be educational as they discover new places and cultures, but to really give them a trip in which they”ll learn, take them to visit a living history museum. These special attractions typically feature costumed historians who bring the past to present in old-fashioned settings, examining how people lived in various stages of history. The museums are interactive and allow children to try their hand at crafts, take part in historic reenactments and tour homesteads and farms with animals.

If you”re looking for a fun, educational day trip or getaway, consider these great living history museums around the country.

Written by Lissa Poirot


Plimoth Plantation

The kids all know the story about the Mayflower arriving on the shores of Massachusetts, so take them to Plimoth Plantation to see how the pilgrims and the Native Americans lived during the 17th century. Step aboard the Mayflower II, an exact replica of the original 1620 Mayflower, which crossed the ocean from England. See how the Wampanoag Indians lived beside the Englishmen and women in the neighboring village and learn about traditional arts and crafts.

The plantation is between Boston and Cape Cod, and is open daily from the third Saturday in March through the Sunday after Thanksgiving, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thanksgiving, of course, is a special time to visit, with guests welcome to join in a traditional dinner to celebrate the original meal.

Colonial Williamsburg

One of the largest living history museums is Colonial Williamsburg, which is just minutes from the Jamestown Settlement living history museum. Visit 18th century Virginia, when the colonies were forming and creating America. The 301-acre museum features costumed characters roaming the streets, managing the shops, welcoming diners to their restaurants, and performing reenactments of battles, trials and day-to-day life.

Events take place day and night with single- or multiple-day tickets available. With an entire town dedicated to the history of America, this is best suited as a multi-day destination!

Old World Wisconsin

Step back in time in Wisconsin, when European immigrants made their way to the heartland to set up farms, bringing with them new foods, new crafts and new ideas. Visit the Crossroads Village at Old World Wisconsin to see blacksmiths and general store shopkeepers showcase life in the late 1800s, and visit Life on the Farm to get a true sense of what it was like to be a farmer. Kids can visit the One-Room Schoolhouse and discover how good they have it now, and try old-fashioned games, chores and craft making.

The heritage site is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Memorial Day to Labor Day; open Thursday through Sunday in the fall; and open weekends in May.

Conner Prairie Interactive History Park

Learn about life on the American Prairie more than 200 years ago at Conner Prairie, where William Conner and his family first began in a log cabin -- working in trade with Native Americans -- then became a major landowner and wealthy businessman with a grand house. The museum, located near Indianapolis, is divided into 1836 Prairietown and 1863 Civil War Journey. Visitors encounter costumed actors who demonstrate life on the prairie and during the war. Arts and crafts, animal encounters, hiking trails, special events and more provide additional activities.

The interactive history park is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., May through October; Thursday to Sunday, November through April, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (until 5 p.m. in late April); and is closed on major holidays.

Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site

Experience life in 1840s rural Illinois, when Abraham Lincoln was still just dreaming about becoming our nation"s 16th president. At this historic site, Lincoln owned a portion of his parents" farm, as they lived here and he would visit from Springfield. The 86-acre living history site showcases life around the farm, cabin and home operated by the Lincoln family, with special programming taking place during the summer months and special events throughout the year, such as the Harvest Frolic Celebration in September.

The site is open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday through Sunday, September through March (closing at 4 p.m. during winter), and closed for major holidays.

Gettysburg National Park

While Gettysburg does not feature an actual living history museum, it does feature living history reenactments every year in July. Taking place at Gettysburg National Military Park, the first week of July finds living history encampments with costumed characters representing the north and the south. A full battle reenactment places blue against gray on the very fields where the historic Civil War battle took place more than 150 years ago. Ranger walks and tours are also provided by the site in conjunction with the events.

Although the biggest event is in July, living history exhibits and attractions are available year-round.

Vermilionville Historic Village

This 32-acre site first opened in 1990 to showcase life in Louisiana from 1765 to 1890. Vemilionville focuses on the culture and life of the Creole, Native American and Acadians who lived in the area through arts and crafts, and both original, restored and recreations of structures of the period. Special exhibits and events take place throughout the year, including the Bayou Vermilion Festival & Boat Parade in October.

Vermilionville is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; it is closed on major holidays and during Mardi Gras.

Old Sturbridge Village

Discover life in New England during the early 1800s with a visit to Old Sturbridge Village, where antique buildings, costumed characters and a working farm with animals are available to tour and enjoy. Daily activities may include watching a shoemaker make shoes, listening to old tall tales, riding a stagecoach or walking the site"s trails through the woodlands, the pasture or along the river.

The village is open daily from April to October, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday through Sunday in November and January through March, closing at 4 p.m.; Friday through Sunday in December through Christmas, 4 to 9 p.m.; and open daily the week of Christmas vacation, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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