The Northeastern region of the United States, New England, is one of the best places to visit in the country if you want to learn some local history. With its Colonial and Revolutionary past, the region is chock full of battle sites, museums, former trading hubs, homes of famed writers, and more. New England comprises the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. We’ve compiled the best historic sites in New England to visit the next time you’re in the area. You’d be remiss to visit the area and not check them out!
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What else is there to do in New England besides visit historic sites?
In addition to discovering the region’s history, New England is known throughout the country for having some of the best fall foliage to check out during the autumn months. In the summer, New England’s Atlantic coastline is home to some of the best beaches in the United States. Hiking enthusiasts will love exploring the White and Green Mountains in New Hampshire and Vermont. During the winter, get your lift pass and check out some of the best skiing and snowboarding trails the country has to offer. Regardless of what season you visit, you’ll love visiting New England.
Best Historical Sites to Visit in New England
Wethersfield, Connecticut is a beautifully-preserved town that was founded in the 17th century. Today, its many houses, churches, and businesses are all reminiscent of their original state. Exploring Wethersfield allows you to travel through time and learn the stories of the town and its people hundreds of years ago. The town is one of the best historic sites in New England.
You can also take the Wethersfield Heritage Walk. This is a three-mile trek that is marked with exhibits, panels, and interpretive markers. You’ll walk through Main Street, the Cove, and Broad Street Green. Along the way you’ll learn of the Wangunks, a Native American tribe indigenous to the region. You’ll also learn of the farmers, settlers, sea merchants, slaves, patriots, politicians, and soldiers of yesteryear.
The Ancient Burial Ground in Wethersfield has some stones that date back to the town’s founding in 1648. Other places of interest in Wethersfield include the First Church, the Webb Deane Stevens Museum, the nature center, and a whole host of public gardens. The Weston Rose Garden, the Heritage Herb Garden, and the Webb House Colonial Revival Garden are all open to the public.
Nathan Hale Homestead
In Coventry, Connecticut, you can visit the Nathan Hale Homestead. Nathan Hale was a first lieutenant in the Continental Army in the 18th century. After his assignment to gather intelligence behind British lines, he was captured at the age of 21. The British hanged him as a spy shortly after. His last words, the quote he was best known for, were: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Visiting the Nathan Hale Homestead allows you the opportunity to explore the 400 acre farm he grew up on, and the farmhouse adorned with original Hale family furnishings.
Mashantucket Pequot Museum
In Mashantucket, Connecticut, you can visit the world’s biggest Native American Museum. People of all ages will enjoy a visit to the museum. Among the exhibitions include life-size dioramas meant to take you on a journey through 18,000 years of Native American history. The exhibits change occasionally.
This is definitely one of the best historic sites in New England if you’re interested in Native American history.
You can also enjoy live performances by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in between exploring the permanent exhibits.
Head over to Foxwoods Resort and Casino afterwards for a drink, some black jack, or a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants. Even though it’s a casino, I frequently see families visiting with children. There are arcades and activities for the young ones, so don’t feel like a visit to Foxwoods has to be adults-only!
Yale is one of eight Ivy League schools in the United States (and one of four in New England). These coveted institutions of higher learning often boast rich histories, and Yale is no exception.
Founded by clergymen who wanted to build a school of advanced liberal education in the New World, Yale’s original proposal dates back to the mid-17th century. Yale’s charter, however, was not granted until the very beginning of the 18th century.
Taking a campus tour of Yale, you will be able to enjoy art, history, and stunning architecture. The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is a real highlight, and is home to the Gutenberg Bible.
Crypt at First Church of Christ
Located in New Haven, Connecticut, the Crypt at the First Church of Christ is a burial ground whose headstones date between the 17th and 19th centuries. Though it’s a bit macabre, at this crypt you can find the remains of a number of historic figures in addition to a number of anonymous people. Over one hundred people are identified in the crypt, but it’s believed that there are actually hundreds more.
You can visit the crypt from April to October on Thursdays and Saturdays only. Visiting hours are between 11am and 1pm.
Museums of Old York
In York, Maine, you can explore the Museums of Old York. A collection of nine different historic buildings, these museums take you through over 300 years of New England history. Exploring the series of museums in York is one of the best historical sites in New England to experience.
The buildings include a Colonial tavern, an antique estate, John Hancock’s old warehouse, a jail, an old schoolhouse, and more. There is also an art gallery, a nature preserve, and manicured gardens to explore on site.
There are a number of antiques and Colonial relics on display. One of the museum’s most prized possessions is a set of 18th century crewel work bed curtains, the only complete set known in existence.
The museums are open seasonally, from June to October. They are not open on Sundays.
York is the second oldest town in Maine. In addition to checking out the Museums of Old York, be sure to check out the beaches in York and neighboring Ogunquit.
In Bar Harbor, which is a popular tourist destination in its own right, be sure to visit the Abbe Museum. This museum opened in the early 20th century. It showcases the heritage of the Wabanaki Native American tribe, also known as the ‘people of the dawn’.
At the museum, you can learn an extensive tribal history through the many exhibits and events. There are also immersion workshops and an archaeological field school.
Bar Harbor also serves as the gateway to Acadia National Park, which is one of the most beautiful in New England. So, if you’re looking for other things to do besides visit historic sites in New England, this would be perfect.
The Freedom Trail is undoubtedly the most popular historic tourist stopover in New England. Though it’s not exactly one destination. The walking trail traverses two and a half miles through Boston, guiding its visitors to 16 different historic sites. The sites on the Freedom Trail include different places of American Revolution historical significance.
The sites include Park Street Church, King’s Chapel, the Old Corner Bookstore, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, Granary Burial Ground, the Old State House, Old North Church, USS Constitution, and the Bunker Hill Monument.
The trail starts at Boston Commons, the city’s most popular urban park. You don’t need to worry about bringing hiking shoes, as the entire trail is paved with bricks on even terrain.
If you visit just one of the best historic sites in New England, let it be the Freedom Trail.
A stop on the Freedom Trail, the USS Constitution is worth a visit even if you don’t complete the entire walk. Situated at the Charlestown Navy Yard, the USS Constitution even offers brief river tours during the summer months.
Right next door you can learn more at the USS Constitution Museum. The exhibitions showcase 200 years of colonial history.
Faneuil Hall & Quincy Marketplace
Another popular spot on the Freedom Trail is Faneuil Hall. This place gets hoards of tourists that have never even heard of the Freedom Trail, however, so it’s usually always crowded. This is where America’s first town meeting was held, and the very place in which the Sons of Liberty declared their opposition to British oppression.
Historical talks are given every half hour.
Quincy Market is an overwhelming indoor/outdoor mall. There are a ton of shops, delicious restaurants and food trucks, buskers playing free music (don’t forget to tip if you like what you hear), and even street theater.
African American History Museum
In Charlestown, Massachusetts, you’ll find the Museum of African American History. Situated on Beacon Hill, in the center of Boston’s African American community, there is a lovely display of local African American community life and heritage.
The African Meeting House was formerly a school, a church, and a meeting point for people of African descent.
Right next door is the Abiel Smith School, which was the first public school dedicated to African American children.
Today, you will find exhibits and a museum shop inside.
Minute Man National Historical Park
Lexington and Concord are towns with very strong ties to the American Revolution – in fact, this is where it all began, in April of 1775.
At Minute Man National Historical Park, you can see reenactments of the first battle of the American Revolution, and experience the ‘shot heard round the world.’
Visit the battlefields, Lexington Green’s reenactment, parades of actors donned in traditional Minuteman and Redcoat uniforms, and more. The best time to visit is on Patriot’s Day in April.
After the Freedom Trail, this would be next on the list of best historic sites in New England.
In addition to associations with the American Revolution, Concord was also home to some of the top thinkers and writers of the literary Renaissance in America.
The historical collection at Concord Museum showcases such items as the famous Revere lantern, Henry David Thoreau’s desk, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s study, antique silver and furniture from the period, and more.
There are no guides at the Concord Museum, so you will have to take a self-guided tour. The museum also offers a bunch of different activities for the little ones.
While you’re in Concord, consider taking a visit to Walden Pond, which is the iconic place where Henry David Thoreau went into the woods to ‘live deliberately’ in his acclaimed book Walden.
Salem is one of the oldest towns in the USA, dating all the way back to the early 17th century. Its historical significance, however, isn’t in its founding date, but in its Witch Trial infamy. In 1692, this small, sleepy New England town was home to the country’s most notorious series of hearings and prosecutions. It ranks up there with the Freedom Trail and Minute Man National Park in terms of the best historic sites in New England.
Of course, visiting the Salem Witch Museum is a must when visiting Salem. You should request tickets upon arrival, as tickets are given in zoned entry times.
There are a number of historic sites in Salem. Discover the Salem Heritage Trail, which serves as a self-guided tour of the historic part of town. You’ll see a short movie at the visitor center to start, followed by the House of Seven Gables (the oldest house in New England), the Witch House (which is the only house that remains from the infamous trials), the Burying Point, and Howard Street Cemetery (these last two are where the victims from the trials are buried). Also worth a stop is the Peabody Essex Museum.
Nantucket Whaling Museum
When visiting the quintessential New England island of Nantucket, a visit to the Whaling Museum is an excellent thing to do. Nantucket served as a hub of the whaling industry, particularly in the 17th-19th centuries, when the industry was still relatively new.
Deep sea whaling didn’t begin until the early 18th century. This is when the industry really began to take off, creating fortunes for sea captains, establishing prominent towns, and inspiring such classic novels as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
At the Whaling Museum, you’ll learn all about the history of the earliest days of the industry, up until its subsequent downfall.
It’s open seasonally, from May to October.
Plimoth Plantation is a sort of living history museum. Dedicated to the Wampanoag tribe and the earliest Colonial people of the 17th century, Plimoth Plantation has four main exhibits. These include the Wampanoag home, the English Village, the Crafts Center, and the Mayflower II, which is an exact replica of the original Mayflower.
If you’re at all curious about what life was like for the pilgrims and the indigenous people who first encountered them, Plimoth Plantation is one of the best historic sites in New England to visit.
There are actors in the open-air museum that really spark your imagination, enabling you to truly grasp what life was like for all involved. There are also animals here on the operational farm.
The museum is open from March to November.
Old Sturbridge Village
Old Sturbridge Village is another open-air museum that gives a sense of living history. While not dating back as far as the pilgrims, you can experience what early New England life was like from the 19th century.
The village boasts beautifully-made replicas, operational farms, hands-on learning experiences and exhibitions, and more. Like Plimoth Plantations, Old Sturbridge Village also has actors portraying rural colonial life, complete with period costumes. The little ones will love this completely immersive experience.
Adams National Historical Park
Adams National Historical Park has many sites of historical significance (though admittedly, none are that exciting). At the park you will explore the birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, former presidents of the United States. You will also get to explore Peacefield, which was the home to at least four generations of Adams family members. And finally, the Stone Library, which houses over 14,000 volumes in its massive collection.
Strawbery Banke Museum
Yet another living history museum on our list is the Strawbery Banke Museum. This museum depicts the average lifestyle of everyday Americans from the late 1600s up to the mid 1900s. On display are restored houses, different exhibitions, and period gardens. There are also hands-on immersive experiences in which the kids can partake.
There are annual events at the museum, including historical reenactments, craft workshops, hearthside dinners, and Christmas and holiday events, making it a wonderful place to visit year-round.
John Paul Jones House
If you’re not familiar with the name, John Paul Jones was known as the American Revolution naval hero. You can visit the John Paul Jones House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he spent a significant amount of time in the late 18th century. The building that is recognized as the John Paul Jones House is where he is said to have rented a room in 1777.
On display is a vast array of authentic furniture, beautiful oil paintings, period costumes, and other odd maritime artifacts.
The Touro Synagogue, located on the island of Newport, was the first synagogue in the United States. It was established in 1763 and is home to the second oldest Jewish congregation in America.
The building is situated in such a way as to allow members to face east toward Jerusalem, which means it is built on an angle. It has 12 columns on the facade that represent the tribes of old Israel. Each column is carved from a single tree.
Touro Synagogue offers tours, but you should call in advance.
God’s Little Acre
God’s Little Acre, also in Newport, is America’s Colonial African Cemetery. Newport was among the most affluent Colonial American port cities which saw tremendous growth throughout the 1700s from rum, candles, and the slave trade. This all turned around by the onset of the American Revolution, at which point Newport had a flourishing free African community.
This historically significant cemetery is located on Farewell Street. It is home to some of the oldest graves of free slaves and Africans dating back to the late 17th century.
The East Side of Providence
The East Side of Providence is full of gorgeous and well-preserved Colonial and Federal homes. Benefit Street in particular offers a stunning showcase of these architectural masterpieces.
The Rhode Island Historical Society leads guided tours of Benefit Street and the surroundings in the summer months.
The East Side is also home to the Brown University Campus, the First Baptist Church in America, and H.P. Lovecraft’s home.
Mercy Brown’s Grave
Mercy Brown was the ‘last known vampire’ in New England’s 19th century vampire panic. She was rumored to have been the influence for the character of Lucy Westenra in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The Brown family suffered multiple cases of tuberculosis, called consumption at the time. According to local folklore, when there were multiple bouts of sickness in one family, it was rumored that one of the family members was undead.
The Brown mother and both Brown children all died of consumption. The father had the bodies exhumed in order to further investigate. Following the exhumation of the bodies, Mercy’s body was still fresh with blood and showed no signs of decomposition.
Today, you can visit her grave at the cemetery of the First Baptist Church in Exeter.
Ethan Allen Homestead
A brief drive away from Burlington is the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum. The museum depicts what life was like in the 18th century and one of Vermont’s founders, Ethan Allen.
Here, you can experience immersive history, gorgeous scenery, and even a picnic area if you bring a snack with you.
Ethan Allen was most famous for his role at the onset of the Revolutionary War and capturing Fort Ticonderoga, as well as his leadership role in the Green Mountain Boys.
The grounds of the Ethan Allen Homestead are always open from dawn to dusk. The museum and the house are open from May to September.
Bennington Battle Monument
The Bennington Battle Monument commemorates the Battle of Bennington, a famous battle that occurred in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. This is where the colonists kept an accumulation of arms and provisions that the British troops were in dire need of.
The monument is a looming obelisk. Visitors can take an elevator to the observation deck for sweeping views of the city of Bennington as well as three states – it’s very close to the New York and Massachusetts borders.
There are a few exhibits on display as well as a small gift shop.
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