The past is one of the greatest teachers of all. And the best living history museums in the U.S. do exactly that. They bring history alive for everyone, especially young people. If you have any young RVers on board, you can’t miss America’s best living history museums in your travels.
Why RVer Grown Ups and Kids Can’t Miss America’s Best Living History Museums
Living history museums are great for all RVers. And they’re among the very best ways a roadschooling family can learn about America’s history.
I have enjoyed all of the living history museums we’ve had the pleasure of visiting during our full-time RV travels. But a few stand out from the rest. Below is a list of the best living history museums in the country. Each of these is an incredible place where history lessons come to life. I hope you add them into your roadschooling travel itinerary!
Plimoth Patuxet Museums (Massachusetts)
By far my favorite of all the living history museums, Plimoth Patuxet Museums. This is a magical place where you can step into a 17th-century Wampanoag village. Watch as they tend to their gardens. Cook or chat with them in their traditional home.
Once you’re done talking with the folks in the Wampanoag village, you can head over to a re-creation of Plimoth Plantation from the 1600s. It’s where interpreters have become specific colonists from the past who actually lived and worked on the Plimoth Plantation. The interpreters will talk to you as those individuals without ever breaking character. In this area, you can talk with the pilgrims. Help them with their day-to-day chores or join in a military training exercise.
This museum is also the home of Mayflower II, a recreation of the original Mayflower ship. Unfortunately she wasn’t in port when we visited, but we will return to see her someday!
Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia)
Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg might just be the most well-known living history museum in the world. This is for good reason—the open air museum is very, very well done. It allows guests to feel what it might have been like to wander the streets of a mid-18th-century colonial town.
This recreated historic town is 100% complete. It features acres of homes as well as artisans and businesses. There’s even a coffeehouse where you can try the kind of drinking chocolate that might have been consumed in the 1700s. Practically every building has an interpreter inside. While these interpreters don’t always stay in character, they are costumed. And they do the work they might have done in the 1700s. They’re also very knowledgeable.
One of our favorite buildings was the courthouse, where we got to attend trial reenactments. This was so informative and a little bit entertaining as well.
Note: Colonial Williamsburg is a part of the “Historic Triangle”, one of the largest living history museum destinations. It includes Jamestown and Yorktown as well. Be sure to visit Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Battlefield, and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown to round out your time in the area.
Old Sturbridge Village (Massachusetts)
We visited Old Sturbridge Village a bit more recently. After visiting so many living history museums over the years, I wasn’t expecting this Massachusetts’s destination to stand out much. Boy, was I surprised. We absolutely adored this museum, and I can’t understand why it isn’t as well known as many of the others on this list.
The museum depicts rural life in a New England town around the 1830s. You’ll find a variety of historic buildings, most with interpreters who are happy to answer questions or just talk about how life was lived during the 1800s.
It’s fun to just wander and see what you see. But the reason this museum stands out from the others was actually because of the scheduled programming that happens throughout the day. Buggy rides, lawn games, storytelling sessions, and crafts were happening throughout the day. We got to chat with a “midwife. ”The kids even played a hurdy gurdy (an instrument that was popular in the 1830s).
These hands-on, interactive experiences were amazing. They make it easier for more reserved RVers—who may not normally start a conversation with an interpreter—to experience the museum in a whole new way.
Greenfield Village (Michigan)
Greenfield Village is a part of the Henry Ford museum complex. Itis yet another top-notch living history museum that is worth adding to your bucket list. This one is a bit different in that it doesn’t just focus on one part of history. Instead, guests can wander through time and experience different time periods as they do so.
We loved the Main Street area that seemed to be set in the early 1900s. Here we watched a group of singers perform, visited the Wright Bicycle Shop, and attended a lesson in the Scotch Settlement School.
Another area of the park that was neat was Edison at Work, where you can attend a lecture presented by an interpreter (playing the role of Edison himself) and then have a walk through a recreation of Edison’s lab.
You can go to the working farms area to see what Michigan homesteads were like in the 1800s. Head to Liberty Craftworks to learn about trades throughout history. Or check out Henry’s Model T to learn about the life of Henry Ford. Meanwhile, Porches and Parlors features historic homes. Railroad Junction was cool for the kids because of the working turntable that they could help move.
Conner Prairie (Indiana)
Easily my favorite thing in all of Indiana, Conner Prairie is another living history museum that chooses to offer a little bit of everything rather than focusing on just one time period. That said, they do every section well, and being able to walk through time made the museum memorable for sure.
There is an indoor section of this museum. But honestly, if you’ve been to science museums and children’s museums before, it’s better to skip this part and head straight outside.
Once outside, you will be greeted by a beautiful hot air balloon. This section of the museum has a whole exhibit about the history of flight, which we found quite interesting. You can also pay to fly in the balloon, but we chose not to do that.
From there, we headed to the Lenape Village. This was on the small side but was well done. The village featured a very knowledgeable interpreter who is actually a member of the Lenape tribe and was able to demonstrate some traditional crafts.
Other historic areas included the Conner Home. This is where we enjoyed petting livestock. The Prairie Town wis here interpreters were in the buildings. They also wandered the streets looking to answer questions and involve guests in their activities.
The last area we visited was the 1863 Civil War Journey. The presentation here was staged and a bit intense for little ones. But it was very immersive. It really puts you in the shoes of those who lived through similar historical events.
Mystic Seaport Museum (Connecticut)
Last on my list is Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut. I have to be honest with you guys, this one was a little bit disappointing for us personally. I’d heard so much hype about the place. I think we visited on an off day, as it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Still, it was a good one and deserves to be on this list.
The focus of this museum is the history of port towns. The recreated waterfront town includes the typical shops and homes. It also has historic ships and an entire shipyard where the ships are made and refurbished. Our favorite living history experiences were touring a historic ship, checking out the shipyard, and exploring the historic home with exhibits focused on prohibition.
In addition to the recreated town, this museum also features some more traditional museum exhibits. Plus, there are some hands-on areas for the kids. We thoroughly enjoyed all of this, especially the exhibit on the history of whaling, which dove deep into the topic. It left us with all kinds of new knowledge.
As a mom who is always seeking great roadschool destinations, I am a big fan of living history museums. At this point, I think we’ve visited all of the major ones in the country. There are always those hidden gems that make themselves known at the most unexpected times. I’ll keep exploring the world of living history and I encourage you to do the same!
How to Plan Your Living History RV Road Trip
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