Plimoth Plantation | New England Living History Museum

At Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a 17th-Century English Village and Wampanoag Homesite tell the story of one of America’s first settlements.

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At Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a 17th-century English Village and Wampanoag Homesite bring the story of one of America’s first settlements to life. Using the “living history” model, visitors to the coastal museum can tour meticulously re-created settlement sites that tell the stories of the first English settlers (now commonly known as Pilgrims) and the Native Wampanoag. A Smithsonian-Affiliate museum with world-class recognition, Plimoth Plantation is one of the most popular living history museums in the country.

Plimoth Plantation

The Henry Hornblower II Visitor Center, named for Plimoth Plantation’s founder.

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation was started by Boston stockbroker and history enthusiast Henry Hornblower II in 1947 as two English cottages and a fort on Plymouth’s waterfront. In the years since, the museum has grown to include Mayflower II (1957), the English Village (1959), the Wampanoag Homesite (1973), the Hornblower Visitor Center (1987), the Craft Center (1992), the Maxwell and Nye Barns (1994) and most recently the Plimoth Grist Mill (2013).

With that list, it’s no surprise that nearly all New England children, not to mention countless tourists, credit the museum with a thorough education on the complete “Pilgrims and Native Americans” story by visiting the sites and/or participating in one of the museum’s wonderful educational programs.

We recently spent the day at the main museum site (home to the the English Village, Wampanoag Homesite, Visitor Center, Craft Center, and Nye Barns) to help celebrate its annual arts festival, now the Plymouth Bay Arts Festival, scheduled for two first two weekends in October for 2017.

The first outdoor living history exhibit was the Wampanoag Homesite, located on the banks of the Eel River. Here, Native People  – either Wampanoag or from other Native Nations – dress in historically accurate clothing and depict how the 17th-century Wampanoag would have lived along the coast during the growing season. They are not playing a role, but speak from a modern perspective about Wampanoag history and culture.

Plimoth Plantation

The Wampanoag Homesite at Plimoth Plantation.

Aimee Seavey

Food at the Wampanoag Homesite is cooked over an open fire using only the ingredients that were available in the 1600s. Here, grape leaves are being filled with a simple cornmeal “batter.” After, they’ll be placed in the fire’s embers to bake.

Plimoth Plantation

Making cornmeal-stuffed grape leaves in the Wampanoag Homesite.

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

Tootie showed me how grind cornmeal, then sift out the finer meal using two quahog shells.

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

Grinding corn using a hollowed out tree trunk mortar, and pestle the size of a baseball bat.

Aimee Seavey

There are a few different kinds of homes in the homesite, including a mat-covered wetu, the Wampanoag word for house, and a bark-covered long house or nush wetu, meaning a house with three fire pits inside.

Plimoth Plantation Wampanoag Homesite

A bark covered long house (or nush wetu) at the Wampanoag Homesite.

Aimee Seavey

Have more questions about the Wampanoag Homesite? Plimoth Plantation has a wonderful Wampanoag Homesite FAQ page with lots of detailed answers.

After touring the homesite, it was on to the adjacent 17th-Century English Village. It’s called an “English” village rather than a “Pilgrim” village, because the word Pilgrim wasn’t commonly used until the 19th century. For convenience’s sake, however, you can use it and nobody will mind. We’ll use it here, too, for the same reason.

The village is an extraordinary re-creation, sitting 2.5 miles south of the original site (now present-day Plymouth Center). Like the Wampanoag Homesite, the level of attention to detail has to be seen, touched, and smelled to be believed. In short, it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to time travel.

At the entrance to the village, there’s a two-story fort, just as there would have been in the 1620s, and the view from the top is probably the most photographed spot at the museum.

Plimoth Plantation

Armed with cannons, the fort’s second story offers a lovely view of the village and the Atlantic ocean beyond.

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

Looking out over the 17th-Century English Village.

Aimee Seavey

It was a cloudy day when we visited the village, but the day before had been a different story — check out the difference in the ocean!

Plimoth Plantation Village

What a difference a little sunshine makes.

Aimee Seavey

Down in the village, you’ll find modest timber-framed houses belonging to specific families that lived there during the 1620s, complete with reproductions of the typical furnishings the Pilgrims owned, kitchen gardens, and heritage breeds livestock. You’ll also meet costumed, accented role-players, portraying many real-life residents of Plymouth Colony. And, as with the Wampanoag Homesite, questions are encouraged, so ask away!

Plimoth Plantation

A row of 17-century English houses. Watch out for chickens!

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

Re-created to perfection.

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

Strolling the main “street” at Plimoth Plantation.

Aimee Seavey

If you’ve never seen a real thatched roof before, this is a great time to take in every detail, right down to the spiderwebs.

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Closeup of the thatched roof.

Aimee Seavey

All of the houses are different on the inside, with varying degrees of living, sleeping, and cooking space, amount of sunlight, and quality of items brought over from England.

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A packed earth floor in a Pilgrim house.

Aimee Seavey

I could have spent hours examining every object and testing the comfort (or lack thereof) of every bed and chair.

Plimoth Plantation

Feeling sleepy?

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

Visiting a 17-century English house at Plimoth Plantation.

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

The walls in every house are hung with herbs, corn, onions, and other drying produce,

Aimee Seavey

In houses where something is simmering over the fire, you may be surprised to find yourself feeling hungry. It seems the aroma of frying onions and bubbling pottage is something most stomachs can get behind, whether in the 17th or 21st century.

Plimoth Plantation

Drying onions dug right from the village gardens.

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

Onions ready for the pot.

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

I don’t know how they’ve made such a primitive kitchen feel cozy, but they sure have!

In another kitchen, a kettle of cornmeal samp (a very simple cornmeal porridge) cooked.

Plimoth Plantation

Stirring a pot of cornmeal samp over the fire.

Aimee Seavey

While in another, we got a look (courtesy of William Brewster) at his house’s clay (or cloam) oven.

Plimoth Plantation

The cloam oven at the Brewster house.

Aimee Seavey

Other houses had to make do with an open hearth.

Plimoth Plantation

Could you cook dinner here?

Aimee Seavey

Exploring the nooks and crannies at Plimoth Plantation is half the fun. Almost nothing here is off-limits — no ropes or objects encased in glass — and the effect is delightful. Rub a few herbs between your thumb and forefinger right from the garden, step out of the way of an oncoming chicken, chat with an interpreter about this year’s sugar shortage, or ask to help grind some corn the true old-fashioned way. It’s all allowed.

So is peeking in the window of the communal hen house.

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The communal hen house at Plimoth Plantation.

Plimoth Plantation

A peek inside the hen house.

Aimee Seavey

I didn’t see any hens inside — perhaps because there was an awful lot of corn drying in the sun during my visit, and some of the more clever hens had figured out that was a good spot to search for fallen kernels.

Plimoth Plantation

Corn drying in the autumn sun.

Aimee Seavey

Plimoth Plantation

Clever hens dig for treats under the corn.

Aimee Seavey

You’ll find other animals in the village, too, all part of the museum’s Rare and Heritage Breeds Program.

Plimoth Plantation

A Wiltshire Horned sheep at Plimoth Plantation.

Aimee Seavey

Have more questions about the 17th-century English village? Plimoth Plantation has a wonderful 17th-Century English Village FAQ page with lots of detailed answers.

Before heading home, we kept the animal theme going with one final stop at the museum’s Nye Barn.

Plimoth Plantation

The Nye Barn provides a behind-the-scenes look at Plimoth Plantation’s Rare and Heritage Breeds Program.

Aimee Seavey

Here, you get a chance to see a selection of the historic breeds of sheep, goats and cows the museum is working to preserve. Plimoth Plantation’s livestock collections include Milking Devon and Kerry cattle, Arapawa and San Clemente Island goats, wild and Tamworth swine, Wiltshire Horned sheep, Dorking fowl and eastern wild turkeys. All represent the types of animals found in Plymouth Colony in the 17th century.

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San Clemente Island goats in the Nye Barn.

Aimee Seavey

In their words, “Due to changes in agricultural practice since the 1600s, many of these animals have critically low breeding populations, and Plimoth Plantation is part of a global effort to save the genetic diversity of these endangered breeds.”

Plimoth Plantation

An Arapawa goat has a snack.

Aimee Seavey

We’re so glad they are!

I can’t think of a more picture-perfect end to a wonderful visit than the sight of a rare breed goat munching on hay, can you?

Have more questions about the rare breed animals in the Nye Barn? Plimoth Plantation has a wonderful Nye Barn FAQ page with lots of detailed answers.

Have you ever visited Plimoth Plantation? Share your memories with us!

Plimoth Plantation. 137 Warren Avenue, Plymouth. 508-746-1622; plimoth.org

MORE PLIMOTH PLANTATION:

How to Be a Pilgrim | Ask the Expert
Plimoth Plantation’s Slow-Cooker Indian Pudding
Mayflower II | Local Treasure

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