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Best places to see American history

Leave all the electronics behind and pick your era of American history.  

Maybe you want to be a Continental Army soldier or argue politics with Thomas Jefferson.  Maybe you’d prefer a 19th Century farm in Cooperstown New York, where hops was a major crop.  Maybe you want to pan for gold in California and learn about the discovery of the precious metal and the gold rush it ensued or walk along San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and see floating historical ships at a National Park.   

The best part when you go to these historical sights, you get to interact with interpreters in costume who are true to the era.   

Here are some of my favorites around the country:

PLIMOUTH PLANTATION  in Massachusetts is the place to see what life was like for the Pilgrims and the Native Americans in 1627, seven years after the arrival of Mayflower.  The 17th Century English Village is a re-creation of the small farming and maritime community built by the Pilgrims along the shore of Plymouth Harbor. Discover how the 17th Century Wampanoag would have lived along the coast during the growing season, planting their crops, fishing and hunting, gathering wild herbs and berries for food and reeds for making mats and baskets. Make sure to visit the Mayflower II, the recreation of the Mayflower.  How do you think you would have fared in those cramped quarters?

THE HISTORIC TRIANGLE in Virginia includes Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center as well as Colonial Williamsburg.  At Jamestown, board replicas of the ships that sailed from England to Virginia in 1607.  Explore the recreation of the colonists’ fort and Powhatan village.   At Yorktown Victory Center, visit the re-created Continental Army encampment and the 1780s farm.  At Colonial Williamsburg, meet the citizens—African American and white-- of  what was the capital of England’s oldest and biggest North American colony  in the 18th century before the American revolution.  Check out the on line Kids Zone for games and activities to enhance your visit.  Ready to join the Continental Army?

THE FARMERS MUSEUM in Cooperstown, NY  is one of the oldest rural life museums in the country  and gives you the chance to experience 19th century life through recreated historic village, a working farmstead and the historic Empire State Carousel.  Watch people cooking, weaving; visit the animals.  Here’s what I wrote about our visit.  

MYSTIC SEAPORT in Connecticut is the place to see the last surviving wooden whale ship, see the art of wooden shipbuilding and see what the Mystic River area looked like in 1870 with houses, shops barns and more. You have the chance to watch interpreters demonstrate maritime skills and maybe learn a few maritime skills.  Do you think you could properly set the sails on a square rigged ship? 

CONNER PRAIRIE  in Indiana is the chance not only to visit an 1836 prairie town, but to experience an 1863 Civil War Journey and the raid on Indiana.  Over five days in July of 1863, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and 2,000 of his cavalry rode through southern Indiana destroying railroad lines, plundering civilians’ supplies.  Thousands of Hoosiers joined with Federal forces to push the raiders out of the state.  You can step right into the town of Dupont following the raid.  How would you have responded?  Here’s what I wrote about my visit.

So where do you want to time travel first?

Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new  Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando,  LA and Chicago. Coming  later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver.