New England Living History Museums
Step back into New England’s history and have fun! History comes to life in New England with a variety of “living history” museums where staff are often dressed in period costume and sometimes speak in the dialect of the time. For other historic attractions and activities, also see History & Heritage.
In the dark of night, Bostonians disguised as Native Americans creep onto three ships in Boston Harbor – and throw hundreds of cases of tea overboard. Dubbed the Boston Tea Party, this anti-tax protest is one of the most famous events in American history. But what exactly happened on December 16, 1773? And why? All is explained at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, an exciting new living history attraction, with replica 18th-century vessels and costumed interpreters. Discover the history of tea; throw boxes of tea into the harbor; then sip tea in Abigail’s Tea Room overlooking the water.
When the Pilgrim Fathers settled in New England, their first community was in Plymouth, Massachusetts. That’s why Plimoth Plantation takes you back to 1627. Not only are the buildings, the gardens and the food authentic, but the costumed Pilgrims never leave 1627, never step out of character. This really is a time machine. By contrast, the Native Americans that you meet at the Wampanoag Homesite really are members of the Wampanoag Nation. Talk about their heritage; go into a wetu (home); smell the sobaheg (stew).
In Plymouth, Massachusetts, the costumed passengers and sailors aboard the Mayflower II talk about olde England and their 66-day transatlantic voyage. Learn about the 1620 voyage and navigation in the 17th-century. Hear about life aboard the tiny vessel and how the 102 passengers fared. What you see is a detailed replica built of solid oak 50 years ago.
In Sturbridge, Massachusetts, the largest outdoor history museum in the northeast bustles with energy: coopers make barrels, farmers tend heritage cattle, blacksmiths hammer out horseshoes. As well as visiting 59 historic buildings (including working water mills and covered bridges), you can take an active role: bake bread in a brick oven, roast meat in a tin reflector oven, mull spiced cider in the hearth. Then eat the dinner you helped to prepare. A full day out.
Along the scenic Connecticut coast, Mystic Seaport is the nation’s leading maritime museum. Explore American sea-faring history first-hand as you climb aboard four historic tall ships, stroll through a re-created 19th-century coastal village or watch a working preservation shipyard in action. Take a carriage ride through the gardens in summer, or come in December for a holiday lantern stroll. In the Preservation Shipyard, see antique vessels being restored using traditional methods and tools, or rent an historic rowboat to test the waters of the Mystic River yourself.
See how a community evolved over the years in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Back in 1630, English colonists called the spot Strawbery Banke, because of the plentiful wild strawberries. Today, the museum’s 42 historic buildings, gardens and workshops reflect four centuries of Portsmouth life. Hear about the generations that lived here, from sailors and merchants to immigrants. Best of all, there are hands-on activities: try on 18th-century clothing, visit a Victorian tree house. A special place.
Take a boat out to Burnt Island, just off Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Then learn about the reality of life in a lighthouse. At Burnt Island Living Lighthouse, meet keeper Joseph Muise and his family who take you back to 1950. James Buotte, the gentleman in uniform, not only astonishes you by his stately appearance, but also by his knowledge. As a former keeper of the Burnt Island Light himself (1955-58), there isn’t a question that he can’t answer.
The clocks stopped in 1799 at Coggeshall Farm Museum, a living history farm in Bristol, Rhode Island. As well as meeting interpreters dressed in accurate reproduction clothing, you can sign up for fun, hands-on programs. Learn what it was like to be an 18th-century farmhand and enjoy the rewards of a breakfast of johnnycakes, made in a cast-iron skillet; check the livestock, from the pig and the cows to the heirloom game hens.
Think of Vermont and you think of cows. In Woodstock, Billings Farm takes you back to 1890. See how a top-class dairy farm was run…and is still run. The 75 prize Jersey cows produce wonderful milk; there are working draft horses, oxen, Southdown sheep and heritage breed chickens. Tour the Farm House, the creamery, and the ice house. Learn about farming life and work in the 19th century, with everything from horse-drawn wagon rides and quilting to how butter is churned.
Get an idea of life on the frontier – in 1754. On the Kennebec River in Augusta, Maine, Old Fort Western is not just a National Historic Landmark, it is America’s oldest surviving wooden fort. History is all around you. Learn about the French and Indian War 1754 – 1766; hear how Benedict Arnold was based here before his assault on Québec in 1775.
The Shaker sect was founded in England in 1747, but the last surviving members of this Quaker faith live in a 225-year-old community near Portland, Maine. At the last functioning Shaker community in the world, you can tour 18 buildings that trace the story of people dedicated to work and worship. The 1794 Meetinghouse is still used by the Shakers for their current services.
Once a year, in and around Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts, you can travel back to April 19, 1775 and the start of the American Revolution. On Patriot’s Day weekend, British Redcoats and farmers march to the North Bridge in Concord. To see drill and musket firing demonstrations, cooking, life in the British Camp, 18th-century surgical demonstrations, and more, visit the 18th-Century Encampment of Militia and British Soldiers and colonial life at the Hartwell Tavern and Smith House, Minute Man National Historic Park.
See also: History and Heritage