10 Places that Bring History to Life

Featured Article, Iconic Communities, On the Road, Travel Destinations
on September 5, 2012
Courtesy of Land Between the Lakes Plowing with horses at The Homeplace living history farm in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which straddles Tennessee and Kentucky

You don’t need a time machine to watch American history unfold. Modern travelers can step back in time at living history museums, farms and heritage parks that re-create bygone days and demonstrate the way Americans once lived, worked and played. Here are five attractions that help preserve our nation’s cultural heritage.

Jamestown Settlement
Williamsburg, Va.

America’s first permanent English settlement, founded in 1607, is re-created at this comprehensive living history museum, located adjacent to the Historic Jamestowne archeological site. Jamestown Settlement gives an in-depth look at the everyday life of early Virginians and the native Powhatan Indians who called the area home. The journey begins in England with a series of exhibits tracing the colony’s origins as the Virginia Company of London. At the Jamestown Settlement pier, visitors can explore replicas of the ships that brought the colonists to Virginia. James Fort re-creates the settlement’s daily life, with historic interpreters demonstrating trades such as blacksmithing and tobacco cultivation. At the Powhatan Indian Village, interpreters demonstrate daily native life.

Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park
Lafayette, La.

Southern Louisiana’s Cajun, Creole and American Indian roots are re-created at Vermilionville, a heritage park located on the banks of Bayou Vermilion. Named after Lafayette’s original moniker, the attraction features 19 restored and reproduced buildings that represent a 17th- and 18th-century town typical of Louisiana’s Acadiana area. Craftspeople in period clothing demonstrate the folk life of Lafayette’s early settlers, right down to the steaming pot of crawfish étouffée bubbling on the stove.

It wouldn’t be Cajun country without music, and Vermilionville hosts Cajun and zydeco jam sessions every Saturday. Other activities include boat tours of Bayou Vermilion and signature events such as a traditional Mardi Gras celebration, Acadian Culture Day and the Bayou Days festival.

Conner Prairie Interactive History Park
Fishers, Ind.

At the 200-acre Conner Prairie, known for its interpreter-guest interaction, the focus is on immersing visitors in mid-19th-century Indiana. Guests get hands-on experiences in virtually every aspect of prairie life, from blacksmithing and weaving to milking cows and planting vegetables. Guests also can take part in 19th-century-style recreation, such as balloon ascensions or an old-time game of “base ball.”

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, an outdoor presentation by historical interpreters depicts Hoosier militia defending the village of DuPont, Ind., from Confederate troops under the command of Gen. John Hunt Morgan in 1863—the only Civil War battle to take place on Indiana soil.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
Harrodsburg, Ky.

The Shakers, America’s longest-lasting communal religious society, flourished in the mid-19th century from Maine to Kentucky. Pleasant Hill once was home to 500 Shakers; today, Shaker Village is America’s largest restored Shaker community, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Costumed interpreters re-create the community’s traditional way of life throughout the site’s more than 3,000 acres of farmland and 34 restored buildings. Artisans demonstrate historic trades such as weaving and woodworking, tend historically significant farm breeds and grow heirloom vegetables. Shaker music is performed in the circa-1820 Meeting House, while the Dixie Belle riverboat offers tours of the Kentucky River.

Pioneer Living History Village
Phoenix, Ariz.

Pre-statehood Arizona is preserved at Pioneer Living History Village, a 92-acre outdoor educational museum that focuses on the state’s territorial period of 1863-1912.

Visitors can tour 26 historic structures, including the 1878 boyhood home of Henry Fountain Ashurst, one of Arizona’s first two U.S. senators, and the circa-1880 Flying V cabin, equipped with notched gun ports to protect against Indian raids. Buildings were relocated from across the state and each represents a unique aspect of Arizona’s territorial past.

Interpreters round out the historical experience. Visitors can watch a Wild West-style gunfight, or hear from a descendent of iconic peace officer Wyatt Earp about life on the frontier.

Colonial Williamsburg
Williamsburg, Va.

Williamsburg was the 17th century capital of colonial Virginia, the most populous and influential of America’s colonies. This is where patriots such as George Washington and Patrick Henry nurtured the dream of American independence.

Today, Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum, encompassing more than 300 acres of restored historic homes, shops and public buildings. Costumed interpreters recreate Colonial society and culture year-round, while art and artifacts of the period are displayed in several museums.
Visitors can participate in historic trades such as brick making, play traditional games, or even join in a reenactment of a witch trial. Special programs throughout the year, such as Revolutionary War reenactments in June and October, highlight significant historical events.

The Homeplace
Land Between The Lakes, Kentucky & Tennessee

Located in the Tennessee portion of the 170,000-acre Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Western Kentucky and Tennessee, The Homeplace features costumed interpreters and 16 log buildings—14 of them original historic structures — that bring to life the daily activities of a mid-19th century farm family.

Kona Coffee Living History Farm
Captain Cook, Hawaii

Interpreters demonstrate the daily life of early Japanese immigrants to Hawaii’s Big Island. The farm dates to 1900 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. A farmhouse, a coffee processing center, a coffee mill and orchards are open to the public.

Living History Farms
Urbandale, Iowa

The unhurried setting re-creates the lifestyles of hard-working Iowans during three time periods-the 1700s, 1850s and early 1900s. Visitors tour a 119-year-old barn that was moved piece by piece from Stratford, Iowa. Inside, they see milking stations and farming tools and pet 1,800-pound Percheron draft horses resting in their stalls. In the barnyard, visitors shuck corn, pump water from a well, shovel manure and groom horses. Inside a framed two-story, 126-year-old farmhouse, interpreters preserve vegetables in Mason jars and cook meals on a wood-burning cook stove. Visitors join in washing clothes on a washboard, kneading bread dough and making soap.

Bonus: Profile of the Urbandale site

Poore Family Homestead and Historic Farm Museum
Stewartstown, N.H.

Bonus: Learn more about the Poore family legacy