What child hasn’t come home from school complaining about the brain-sucking boredom of sitting in history class? Despite colorful, inspiring stories of human struggle, courage on the battlefield and political intrigue, textbooks and lesson plans can only go so far when it comes to recreating the richness and texture of these culturally-defining events. For families who wish to supplement their child’s education and have a great time in the process, New York State abounds with vacation options that support learning, understanding and empathy about the people and events that shaped our past, and therefore, our present and future. Here are some examples of what New York has to offer the littlest historians in your life.
Travel the Underground Railroad – In the years leading up to the Civil War, fugitive slaves made their way up from the South to freedom with the help of a network of individuals guided by Abolitionist principles. These people operated secretly, using code, and were called conductors and station masters. They gave shelter to fugitive slaves in safe houses, also called stations. This covert, loosely-knit network became known as the Underground Railroad. Many locations along this route were in New York and are open to visitors, where you can learn more about the plights of individual slaves and the men and women who helped them. Some interesting stops along this route include the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, the John W. Jones Museum in Elmira and the Howland Stone Store Museum in Sherwood.
Tour Historic Huguenot Street – New Paltz is more than just a beautiful vacation spot. It is also rich with a historical legacy, built upon the quest for religious freedom. The heart of New Paltz is Huguenot Street, a 10-acre national historic landmark district, which includes seven stone house museums, a visitor center, an early burial ground and a reconstructed French church from 1717, utilized by the first European settlers in the area. These town founders were described as Huguenots, or Walloons, the French-speaking Protestants of Northern France who came here to escape religious persecution in their home country. These early settlers were followers of the Protestant Reformation leader, John Calvin.
Discover the Bronx’s Real Roots – The very oldest structure in upstate New York can be found in Green County and is now called the Bronck Museum. Built in 1663, this national historic landmark was constructed by Swedish colonist Pieter Bronck and his Dutch wife, Helletje Jans, on land they purchased from the local Mohican tribe. Guided tours and information about special events at the Bronck Museum and its surrounding structures can be scheduled by calling (518) 731-6490. The Bronx was named after this early colonial family.
Sail the Seas of Historic Long Island – Nineteenth century Long Island was a hub of maritime activity. Sag Harbor was a magnet port for whalers from all over the world. The Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum commemorates this diverse and colorful legacy through special events, exhibits and an astonishing whale show. About an hour’s drive away is the not-to-be-missed Long Island Maritime Museum, situated on the historic waterfront district of West Sayville. This 14-acre landmark houses nine historic buildings devoted to chronicling Long Island’s maritime history. Take to the waters by reserving your spot on the restored 1888 Oyster Sloop, Priscilla by calling (631) 447-869.
Experience the Civil War – New York was the wealthiest and most heavily populated state in the country during this tumultuous period of American history. Albany, our state capital, houses the New York State Museum, which features poignant and dramatic exhibits highlighting the Civil War. Included in the current exhibit, “An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” are artifacts such as the doctor’s notes from Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed, stained with Lincoln’s own blood. Also in Albany is the Visitor’s Center, home to the Henry Hudson Planetarium. Less than two hours away is the historic U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where notable Civil War figures are buried, including George Armstrong Custer and Dan Butterfield. West Point graduated commanders and leaders that fought for both the North and the South during the conflict and schools many of our military leaders to this day.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.