The crowd cheers as revolution-minded youngsters heave tea into Boston Harbor at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.Photo Credit : Courtesy of Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
Sponsored by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism
Lucky for Massachusetts schoolkids, their state is field-trip heaven: From touching dinosaur tracks to seeing century-old industrial looms in action to reenacting the Boston Tea Party, the Bay State offers a world of experiences where history and culture jump off the textbook page and into the imagination. And it’s not just students who are spellbound, but also visitors of all ages who discover that in Massachusetts, the learning never stops — and never stops being fun.
Get a glimpse into prehistory at Holyoke’s Dinosaur Footprints, a Trustees of Reservations property studded with fossilized tracks left by some of the earliest known dinosaurs. At nearby Amherst College, the Beneski Museum of Natural History boasts the world’s largest collection of dinosaur prints, along with other awe-inspiring fossils that stop visitors in their own tracks.
A more modern but equally famous animal inspired the Massachusetts Whale Trail, a collection of nearly 40 maritime museums and other attractions that include Nantucket’s Whaling Museum, Maritime Gloucester, and the New Bedford Whaling Museum, home to a rare 66-foot blue whale skeleton.
Speaking of trails, Massachusetts is threaded with routes that help tell stories that for too long went untold. While Boston’s Black Heritage Trail, with its connection to the Museum of African American History, may be the best-known of these, trails celebrating Black history can be found everywhere from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to the Berkshires, where W.E.B. Du Bois’s boyhood home in Great Barrington is among the key stops on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail. Also in Western Massachusetts, the African American Heritage Trail in Florence highlights an abolitionist legacy anchored by the enduring influence of Sojourner Truth, a former resident. And in New Bedford, sites on the city’s Black History Trail pay homage to figures as diverse as Cape Verdean mariners, Frederick Douglass, and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
History buffs have long been drawn to Massachusetts as the site of the Pilgrims’ landing in 1620, a watershed moment that’s explored at Plimoth Patuxet Museums and Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, and the Provincetown Museum. But theirs is not a one-sided tale, as the exhibits and presentations on Indigenous peoples make clear. A deeper dive into the history of the continent’s original residents—from local Wampanoag and Mohican to tribes across the continent — awaits at places such as the Mashpee Wampanoag Museum and, on Martha’s Vineyard, the Aquinnah Cultural Center; the Hall of the North American Indian at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum; the Berkshires’ Native American Heritage Trail; and The Trustees’ Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, whose Native American Gallery is slated to reopen late next spring after an extensive reinterpretation and reorganizing of the collection.
Explore the history of the Salem Witch Trials era, when nearly 200 innocent people were accused of practicing witchcraft, at the Salem Witch Museum and see artifacts from the trials at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. Moving ahead in Massachusetts history, you’ll find another set of stories to compare and contrast in farm life and factory towns. At the largest living history museum in New England, Old Sturbridge Village, visitors can wander a re-created 19th-century rural community where fields are plowed with oxen and butter is churned by hand.
Then they can discover the flip side of that era, the Industrial Revolution, by heading to sites such as Lowell National Historical Park in Lowell, whose mills were once a hub of textile production; the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation in Waltham; Haverhill’s Museum of Printing; and the Wood Museum of Springfield History, part of the Springfield Museums.
In less than three years the U.S. will celebrate a milestone birthday, marking 250 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Get into the spirit now at Revolutionary War sites like Boston’s Freedom Trail and Lexington and Concord’s Minute Man National Historical Park, as well as Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, honoring founding father John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, both of whom served as president. But on December 16, the place to be is Boston Harbor, where the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum will kick off the semiquincentennial party with a large-scale reenactment of the most important event leading up to the American Revolution, as the Boston Tea Party turns 250 years old this year.