Mar 21 2011
When I look through guidebooks from state or local tourism offices, inevitably many of the attractions listed are local history museums, whether they be sponsored by a city, a county, or an interested group of historians. And as we travel, I’ve sometimes taken those museums off our itineraries because they’re not as interactive as the bigger, flashier state and national history centers, and, in some ways, they all begin to look the same after a while. After all, if you’ve seen one recreated 1800′s village, you’ve seen them all, right?
While not always exciting for kids to visit, each local site has its own unique characteristics. You may have peeked inside a dozen one-room schoolhouses, but then you encounter one where the kids can sit in the seats and try out the slate boards. You may have walked through historic house after historic house, restored with period items, and suddenly find one where kids are allowed to explore the nooks and crannies. Finds like these make it fun for kids to visit local sites.
There’s another reason, however, to visit your local history museum even if it’s not the biggest or most exciting museum around. That’s because it’s LOCAL. It showcases the history of your area–your county, your town, where your ancestors lived or where you live now. You just might recognize some of the names on the World War I roster, or locate your home on a hundred-year-old map of the area. You might see the bell that was hung in the one-room school that used to be just down the road from you. You might learn how your community was involved in national issues, or was at the forefront of something regional that was important at the time but has since been nearly forgotten. You might see the tools and artifacts that were common in your particular area, as opposed to those of all of the other museums you’ve visited.
My tiny little hometown in North Dakota (and by tiny I mean tiny–its current population is about 65) has an active historical society that takes care of four buildings: a one-room schoolhouse, a log cabin, a church, and a jail. When I was a kid, we drove past those old buildings regularly, and it was exciting when we got to visit during community celebrations or by calling Richard to get the key for a self-guided tour. These buildings weren’t that much different from ones found throughout the Midwest, but they were ours, part of our community’s history, right there in front of us.
This year, I challenge you to take your children to your local history museum, even if its hours are limited, even if it’s a “no-touching” museum, even if it is tiny and not at all exciting and maybe even smells a bit musty.
It won’t cost you much–most are cheap for adults and free for kids. You might find that one of the dedicated staff members or volunteers knew your great-grandfather, or can tell you something you didn’t know about your town or even your house. You might find something fun to do nearby. (We enjoyed a new park and a soda fountain when we visited our county museum.) It likely won’t take up your entire day. It will, however, give your family a bit of a picture of local history and the way things were done in the “old days” by people who live right where you do now.
What could be better than that?