There are two ways to experience America's history: By cracking open a history textbook, or by visiting places that have been preserved in the name of said textbook history. While it might be easier to skim through a few pages, it's way more impressionable - and realistic - to visit a living history center, which are usually some of the best open-air museums in the world. These museums are all family-friendly, and while they might not be the oldest museums in the world, but they are some of the oldest landmarks in the US.
There's something about watching real people go through the motions, having the chance to speak to experts, and witnessing the preservation of historic buildings and villages, that opens our eyes to what once was. The US hasn't always had a flawless history, but it's through these historical scenes come to life that we can learn from mistakes, recognize the true values the country was founded on, and appreciate the sacrifices made to get to where we are. History will never be irrelevant, and it's better to learn from the past than to repeat it, in order to shape a brighter future.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Ohio
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center pays tribute to the enslaved African-Americans who fought for freedom, and against slavery, in the mid-1800s. Visitors will witness an intense and cruel aspect of American history, one that's portrayed through reconstruction and immersive theater experience.
The Freedom Center also offers current history panels that offer insight and education to those wanting to better understand the struggles and racial injustice that still continue to this day. Two of their major and eye-opening exhibits include "The Underground Railroad" and "The Mission of Modern Abolition", which includes "heroes from then and now."
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Walking through Colonial Williamsburg is like stepping back in time. Virginia pays homage to the country's history in a myriad of ways, but no location in the state has greater historical relevance than Williamsburg.
Setting the stage during the 1700s, this village is a reconstruction of how it would have been under British colonial rule, prior to the Revolutionary War. Political reenactments take place at the governor's mansion, while actors representing real historical figures take center stage on street corners, ready to answer questions from time-traveling visitors.
Even the food in Colonial Williamsburg is period-accurate, providing a truly authentic experience.
Genesee Country Village And Museum, New York
This living history museum consists of a total of 68 buildings, all preserved in their historically-accurate glory. The livestock visitors will see are part of a living, working environment, complete with walkable gardens and open fields.
Visitors can tour the settlement as they progress in time through three different eras: 1790-1820, 1830-1860, and 1860-1900. To dive even further into the settlement experience, visitors can take part in a variety of crafts and games, and also witness vintage baseball games along with traditional housekeeping and chores.
Plimouth Plantation, Massachusetts
In Plymouth, Massachusetts, visitors can find a sleepy seaside town, full of New England charm. However, they can also find Plimouth Plantation: A fully-reconstructed 17th-century settlement. From farmland to traditional homes and Native American land, visitors can witness what life would have been like for the first early settlers to this region.
The museum pays tribute to the native Wampanoag tribe as well as the first English settlers, showcasing how both lived and cultivated a homestead on this coastal shore.
The Mayflower II, which is a reconstructed ship resembling the original Mayflower, can be toured as well. While walking through various homes and trade centers, visitors can engage in conversation with period-accurate actors, working every day to maintain the working settlement.