Posted by Ancestry Team on October 16, 2015 in Family History Month

Farms & Museums
[Photo credit: Cliff on Flickr]
If you’ve been researching your family tree on Ancestry, chances are you’ve stumbled on a relative or two who has worked in agriculture or experienced the challenges of pioneer life. If you are looking to get a feel for how they actually lived, living history farms and museums scattered all across the U.S. that use costumed interpreters and demonstrations to bring these time periods to life in ways that just reading about them can’t.

Sure there’s the famous Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, which re-creates the Colonial era, but there are plenty of other places that will give you a slice of historical day-to-day life. It’s about as close as you can get to time traveling without a DeLorean.

Living History Farms (Urbandale, Iowa): If your family settled in Iowa or the Midwest, this 500-acre outdoor museum is a must see. It doesn’t focus on taking you back just to one era but has three completely separate farm sites highlighting different times: 1700 Ioway Indian Farm; 1850 Pioneer Farm; and 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. You can also visit 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, which features a blacksmith, general store, and print shop. While you’re there, you can see how farming techniques changed over the course of 200 years with demos on how oxen and horses were used to revolutionize agriculture.

Old Sturbridge Village (Sturbridge, Mass.): If you’ve got New England blood running through your veins, take a visit to the largest outdoor history museum in the northeast (at about 200 acres). It boasts 40 original buildings — including meeting houses, a school, country store, water-powered mills, and trade shops — that take visitors back to a rural New England town in the 1830s. Interactive exhibits feature period-costumed staffers doing everything from food preparation in a typical 19th-century kitchen to milking cows or creating goods in a blacksmith or pottery shop.

Mission San Luis (Tallahassee, Fla.): Whether you have Apalachee roots or you just want to learn more about their heritage, this Florida museum will transport you to 1703 when the Native Americans and the newly arrived Spanish settlers lived together at this mission. They have special events that recreate a traditional Thanksgiving and a Winter Solstice Celebration, as well as daily exhibits with staffers cooking traditional foods and teaching visitors about a soldier’s life at the fort.

Genesee Country Village and Museum (Mumford, N.Y.): In upstate New York, this 19th-century country village focuses on small homes and farms as well as grand estates and inns, all of which have been reconstructed to give an accurate look at their era. This museum progresses through three time periods: The Pioneer Settlement (1795-1830), The Village Center (1930-1870), and Turn-of-the-Century Main Street (1880-1920). There’s even a re-creation of a Civil War-era helium balloon, the Intrepid, that visitors can ride in. But one of the most unique aspects is the vintage baseball (or base ball as it was known in the 19th century) reenactments that take place throughout the summer.

Kona Coffee Living History Farm (Kona District, Hawaii): Coffee and Hawaii? Even if your own ancestors have no direct correlation to either, this place might be worth a visit, as the 5.5-acre spot is the only living history museum that features a coffee farm. The setting is 1920-1945 and brings to life the daily grind of Japanese immigrants. Visitors experience the hardships of farming life, see traditional crafts being created, and tour the coffee and macadamia nut orchards.

Conner Prairie (Fishers, Ind.): What challenges did pioneers face in 1836? This Indiana museum (located at the historic William Conner homestead) depicts day-to-day life to demonstrate the struggles the residents would have faced. There is also an 1863 Civil War Journey, where visitors can become completely immersed in the war, and a Lenape Indian Camp, where you can learn how to strike a deal with fur traders. And for the adventuresome, there’s an “1859 helium balloon voyage” visitors can take.

Stuhr Museum (Grand Island, Neb.): This living history village focuses on pioneer life from the late 19th century and has been used as a location for movies like My Antonia and Sarah, Plain and Tall. Some of the highlights are the 1894 railroad town; 1830s Pawnee earth lodge; a 1960s log cabin settlement; and the historic Taylor Ranch, which originally belonged to “Sheep King” Robert Taylor and was visited by President Theodore Roosevelt. And if any of your ancestors were mechanically inclined, there’s an antique farm machinery collection and trains from the Union Pacific.

This Is the Place Heritage Park (Salt Lake City, Utah): Located near the monument of Brigham Young (where he declared that his group of Mormon pioneers had found their home), this Heritage Park blends a little bit of amusement with their living history. In addition to a full village of buildings from Utah’s earliest settlements, authentic Native American teepees, and pioneer chores, there are also mini-trains, petting zoos, train robberies, salt-water-taffy cannons and a splash pad. But who says you can’t learn about how your relatives lived and still enjoy some modern day fun?

If these are too far to trek to, or your ancestors settled somewhere else, there are a host of other of local living history museums, heritage farms and other historic spots that create an immersive and interactive experience, scattered all around the country.

Do you have more living farms to add to our list? Share them in the comments below!

46 Comments

  1. Ed

    I enjoy reading this blog very much. There is another one located south of Cleveland, OH. It is called Hale Farm and is sponsored by the Western Reserve Historical Society.

  2. Linda

    I highly recommend Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Beautifully restored and furnished houses that were purchased, rescued and/or relocated to the location where NH was founded and takes you thru time from the founding to modern day with docents in period clothing who interact according to their era.

  3. Paula

    I’m so glad to hear about Hale Farm near Cleveland. In Columbus there is a history museum with attached Ohio Village; it is open a few days a week and for special events and such. About 20 years ago they had a terrific staff of artisans who demonstrated old crafts like blacksmithing and printing, but all those wonderful artisans were axed during budget cuts. The village is still here and is staffed by volunteers; it is worth a visit if you are in the area.

  4. Lois

    Don’t forget the museums at Cooperstown, NY…a village, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the James Fenimore Cooper Home.

  5. Andrea

    There is a great place to visit jn Michigan that Henry Ford created, Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford Museum. The village includes a working farm and entire historical village.

  6. Michael

    These look great but I was hoping there would be more in the south. Is there a full list of these types of Museums anywhere?

  7. Janet Craig

    Don’t come to Texas without visiting the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas, one of the largest in Texas.

  8. Kathy B

    Don’t miss Mystic Harbor in Connecticut. They sell a 2 day ticket and we went both days. Just to much to see in 1 day.

  9. Helen A

    In Columbia State Park in California, every weekend you can experience the gold rush of California in an authentic restored ghost town. Music, stage coach rides (hold-up bandit included), blacksmith, gold panning, and living history costumes. A step back into history!

  10. Donna

    I would like to second Greenfield village and museum, all so the Old Ford Factory tour. All run by the Henry Ford fondation. To do them and yourselves justice you should plan for a whold day– Each for the Village, the museum, and the ford factory. In Dearborn, Michigan

  11. The Depreciation Lands Museum is great. It is very small but very thorough in its knowledge. They also have records regarding land depreciation in PA.

  12. Jannette

    Another place in New York worth visiting, although it is smaller than the major ones listed is the Bement-Billings house in Newark Valley, NY. The house is in its original location and has been restored with out buildings added. It is furnished with the appropriate furniture, some original. The docents dress in period clothing and demonstrate how cooking and chores were done in the late 1700’s to early 1800’s. As for the south- we enjoyed visiting Magnolia Plantation. Beautiful when the azaleas and camelias are in bloom.

  13. Candi

    Don’t miss the Banning Family Residence and Museum in Wilmington, CA, south of Los Angeles, off the Harbor 110 Freeway. In early December every year there is a Victorian Christmas celebration, which is family friendly. The Phineas Banning family residence, which is maintained in the style of the Victorian era, can be toured with a docent, as can the barn and the parklike grounds. Fascinating!!

  14. Karen McGuiness

    Don’t forget about Harpers Ferry in West Virginia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpers_Ferry_National_Historical_Park) –on the National Registry of Historic Places and a full town mostly preserved from the late 18th century (oldest house from 1785) and lots of civil war history occurred there including the Abolitionist John Brown’s Raid and lies on the border between the Union and Confederate Forces. Not to mention it’s stunning scenery between the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Mountains.

  15. Barbara Jean

    Thanks everyone for these great suggestions and keep ’em coming! I’m in California and didn’t know about the Banning museum in Wilmington. I”m bookmarking this blog post for future reference.

  16. Dana

    This is a great list of living history museums, many of which I have been to and now I have more to look forward to!! The Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton VA is an excellent museum–it shows the Irish, German, and early English settlers of the Appalachian area–each culture showing what kinds of tools and farming techniques they initially used, and then how that changed/merged over time. And Plimoth Plantation is amazing–really recreating 1628, the Mayflower and subsequent pilgrims, complete with accents–it is wonderful!

  17. Old World Wisconsin’s more than 60 historic structures range from ethnic farmsteads with furnished houses and rural outbuildings, to the 1880s Village with its traditional small-town institutions. If you ever travel to southeastern Wisconsin, this museum is worthy of your time! The efforts of countless historians have preserved an amazing slice of true Americana — one that will be enjoyed for generations to come. To create this museum, researchers traveled throughout Wisconsin in search of authentic historic buildings hewn by generations of Wisconsin settlers. From Lake Superior to the Illinois border, and from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan, historians documented many old farmhouses, outbuildings, and small-town structures. Once the research was complete, the amazing construction process of Old World Wisconsin began.
    Piece by piece, workers painstakingly dismantled the old structures. They numbered bricks, boards and logs, and moved them to the site of Old World Wisconsin. In a setting largely unchanged from the rolling prairies the first pioneers found, the buildings took shape once more, reconstructed precisely as they had once been built. Today, Old World Wisconsin’s historic farm and village buildings comprise the world’s largest museum dedicated to the history of rural life.

  18. Kyrsten

    Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Kentucky is great. A living history farm, inn and restaurant all within beautiful horse country that celebrates the Shaker traditions and heritage.

  19. Bobbye Henry

    In Arkansas visit Historic Washington State Park preserving the history of S W Ark . Historic homes, public buildings, and museums shown by interpretive staff in period costumes. Demonstrations and skills depicting life in the 1800’s.

  20. The McHenry Mansion in Modesto, Stanislaus Co, Calif. Remodeled back to it’s original glory when the McHenry Family first had it built and lived in it, back in the horse and buggy days. Mr. McHenry was instrumental in fighting for and creating the much needed water irrigation in Calif. The family was well loved by many around Calif., and in other states as well ! There is a guided tour and a gift shop in the mansion.

  21. Susan H

    Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia. Centuries old farm houses and other buildings brought over from Germany, England, and Ireland and reassembled are just one of the attractions. Historically accurate costumed interpreters show and tell what about our ancestors lives back in Europe and what they did here. Home sites for Native Americans, Africans, and early colonial frontier life are also interpreted. Very cool and well done.Also enjoyed the scenery getting there through the Shenandoah valley.

  22. Rod Herbig

    New Salem State Park in Illinois, restored Abe Lincoln Store and village, first National Boy Scout trail 21 miles north west of Springfield. If you walk it wear comfortable shoes. Medal for Scouts

  23. Donna Elliott

    In Tifton, GA, the Agrirama, Georgia’s Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village is a fun and educational site both of children and adults. The grounds consist of five areas: a traditional farm community of the 1870s, an 1890s progressive farmstead, an industrial sites complex, rural town, national peanut complex, and the Museum of Agriculture Center. Over 35 structures have been relocated to the 95-acre site and faithfully restored or preserved. Costumed interpreters explain and demonstrate the life-style and activities of this time in Georgia’s history. Through summer camp programs, home-school days, and Georgia’s K-12 learning programs, youngsters get to experience first-hand farm and rural life in south Georgia from 1870 to 1910.

  24. Glenn

    Another period farm is the State Sauer-Beckmann Farm near Stonewall, Texas just down the road from the LBJ Visitor’s Center and across the river from the LBJ Ranch. Wonderful guides and farm activities!

  25. Randy

    Just outside of Gossel, Kansas is a heritage museum that shows how the early Mennonites lived in the area. It has a museum and several buildings from the late 1870’s and early 1900’s including a long house where many families lived during their first winter in Kansas. Also not far from the site is the first Mennonite church in the area, Alexanderwald. It is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

  26. Randy

    In the Liberty, Missouri area is a living museum (mainly during the summer and holidays) the shows the how the people lived during the early history of the area. There are several buildings from the area preserved there. They show how people lived, and the buildings are filled with furniture and other things that are from the different eras. It is the Shoal Creek History Museum.

  27. Randy

    I’ve been the Harpers Ferry, VA. It is a great place to see. One interesting thing about the area is that a lot of the buildings have a visible history of the floods that have gone through the area. Some of the buildings have the floods marked on the walls showing how high the floods got and the dates of the floods.

  28. Randy

    Another site is Ohio, the old town of Kirkland. There are many buildings that have been rebuilt or restored from the early 1830′ and 1840’s. The last time I went through there that had found the foundation for the Ashery and School and were planning on rebuilding them.

  29. Mary Schroder

    Please add the Sauer-Beckman Farm in Texas near Fredericksburg. Costumed docents lead visitors through a working 19th century farm. House is fully furnished and the animals are fun for kids to see!

  30. Lois

    Don’t forget the Billings Farm and Museum in Woodstock, Vermont. Once the home of Frederick Billings, railroad magnate and early conservationist, it operates today as a working dairy farm and museum for 19th century farming. Well worth a visit!

  31. Virginia Ranweiler

    In Ft. Myers, Fla is Henry Ford’s home and Thomas Edison’s lab, they were great friends. Also, Genesee Co. the Village Museum dates are probably 1830 (not 1930) to 1870 and Stuhr Museum log cabin most likely is 1860. Love all the info. Genealogy is addictive!

  32. Bill Walsh

    I happily second Greenfield Village/Ford Museum, Strawberry Banke, Plimouth Plantation and Mystic Seaport. I didn’t see anyone mention my favorite: Colonial Williamsburg

  33. Cherie

    Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II in Plymouth, MA are my favorites. Here you can talk to the planters and strangers, and ask questions about ancestors. Fort #4 in Charlestown, NH is another living museum where my great-grandfather Capt. Phineas Stevens lived and ran the trading post. Read “Calico Captive” and “Enemy at the Fort” before you go.

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