I don’t necessarily seek out historical places to visit – it’s often an outcome of being in the area and on a whim stopping by (like the Flume Trail or Warren Peak, both in Wyoming). Other times we do go out of our way to see historical sites, especially if it’s free and it looks really interesting (for example, the Boston Public Gardens in Massachusetts or the Medicine Bow Aircraft Arrow in Wyoming). Either way, I often enjoy the local history and it’s a nice change of pace from (hopefully) fantastic views.
At any rate, in honor of today being free museum day (which honors the Smithsonian Institution and all of its free museums), here are 10 of my favorite (always) free historical sites in America!
10 of the Best Free Historical Sites in America
1. Creede Bachelor Loop. When it comes to free mining history, the Becholor Loop just outside of the charming town of Creede, Colorado has most others beat. The 17 mile loop road (gravel; suitable for passenger cars) takes travelers past real mining relics, through steep-sided canyons, past old mine buildings, and even by the door of more than one entrance to real mines. The highlight is the Last Chance Mine (I assume it still exists!) where you can enjoy historical objects, as well as buy all kinds of pretty stone jewelry, etc.
2. Faraway Ranch. Located in the (now free) Chiricahua National Monument in southern Arizona, Faraway Range was once a dude ranch, and it now stands as a relic to a past where people would come out of Tausan and other cities to experience a horse ride through fantastic spires. The various buildings are worth seeing, but unfortunately you can’t go into the main house 🙁
3. Lowery Pueblo. The great thing about Lowery Pueblo in southwestern Colorado is that you can actually go inside and see a real ancient pueblo, and it’s not overrun. In fact, you could probably count the number of tourists you see during your visit on one hand. Perhaps that’s because of the remoteness of the pueblo? (If you really love old pueblos, don’t miss Pueblo Benito in central New Mexico, including the trail to the cliff above the pueblo – it’s by far the best I’ve ever seen!)
4. Farm Equipment on the Carrizo Plain. I honestly don’t know why Carrizo Plain National Monument in southern California exists, but beyond having an awesome example of how the San Andreas Fault works, it’s main interest is in the collection of antique farm equipment. The threshers, bulldozer, sulky rakes, and wooden silo are interesting any time of day, but seen in the early morning through a veil of mist, the area is remarkably photogenic…
5. White Sands Missile Range. Now for some really unique history, check out the White Sands Missile Range, just down the road from White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. There is a wide variety of missiles to compare from various eras, as well as a couple museums. Just remember to bring your ID with you – this is an active missile range, so you have to prove who you are before you can get inside!
6. Howell Living History Farm. If you can catch the Howell Living History Farm in central New Jersey on Saturday when there’s a living history demonstration going on, it’s well worth visiting. I went during a wheat harvest demonstration, which included demonstrations on shocking the wheat (all volunteers welcome!) and a man using a McCormick Reaper-Binder (so cool!) You might even catch a demonstration by a real blacksmith – and be chosen as a volunteer helper!
7. Medicine Bow Museum. Not too difficult to reach off of I-80 (though in a rather tiny town), the Medicine Bow Museum in eastern Wyoming has a variety of flavors – mostly 1800s through the early 1920s – whatever was donated to the museum. A sulky rake and a real caboose (you can go inside!) grace the grounds, while the two museum buildings include old kitchen appliances, a variety of women’s hats, dinosaur bone fossils (complete with a “please touch” sign), and cowboy memorabilia. Well-stocked, it’s a great place to stop for 30 minutes or an hour.
8. Larsen Tractor Museum. Speaking of old stuff, the Larsen Tractor Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska has a fine collection of old tractors. Next door sits the state-owned tractor testing facility – no tractor can be sold in Nebraska until it’s proven itself at this facility. Unfortunately, tours of the testing facility are unavailable, but the museum boasts quite a number of old tractors, most of which were simply left after the testing procedures and thus became part of the museum’s collection. There are also a few other exhibits, including a barbwire display that I found fascinating!
9. Jockey Hollow. In the winter of 1779-1780, George Washington and his troops wintered in Morristown (pronounced Mar-ris-town), New Jersey. In nearby Jockey Hollow, the troops built tents and crude houses for themselves. Two of these houses still exists, as does the Wick House (formally Tempe Wick House – apparently the Tempe Wick legend is currently being played down). Anyway, although not impressive, it was a major part of American History…and if you don’t mind spending a little money, you can also take a tour of the mansion where General Washington stayed during that winter (though if you have an America the Beautiful pass, the tour is free!)
10. Fort Stanwix. And last, but not least, is Fort Stanwix, uncommonly known as the first National Monument in the United States. The fort is a complete reproduction, but the costumed interpreters make up for any historical imperfections: they are incredibly knowledgeable, happy to share information, and thrilled to meet people interesting in learning. Add to this that the entire museum and fort is free – and you can literally touch anything as long as you ask first – and you know why I love free historical treasures!
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