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Posts Tagged ‘Living History Pioneer museums’

Making new friends at the The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument.

The American pioneers were people who possessed incredible courage, determination, and hope.  With all of our modern conveniences today, it is hard to understand how people lived from day to day without what we consider essential.  Our children, who have never known life without air conditioning, microwaves, cell phones, and computers, have an especially difficult time imagining a world without electricity, cars, and satellite TV.  On the first leg of the Year Long Adventure, we discovered several places which helped us to step back in time and really experience the pioneer world.

The Ingalls Homestead, childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in De Smet, ND and the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island, Nebraska, are two wonderful places to help children visualize pioneer life.  Both offer very interactive programs which encourage participation by the whole family.  You can read about our visits here and here.

The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Kearney, Nebraska, was very informative and entertaining.  The entire museum is housed in a massive archway spanning Highway 80.  The tour takes you through life-sized scenes depicting different eras.

Joining the pioneers on the Oregon Trail

The audio tour highlights the importance of this route in Westward Expansion, starting with pioneers on the Oregon Trail and ending with the building of Interstate Highway 80 after WWII.  As expected, we learned about hardships faced by the pioneers, but we also discovered that this area of the country was key in the development of the Pony Express and the Transcontinental Railroad.   What Mom found most interesting was the development of the national tourism industry, fueled by the popularity of the Model T.  Coast to coast travel in those early days involved driving along dusty roads, most of which became impassable,  muddy messes in heavy rain.   Having driven along a few roads meeting that description on this trip, Mom has new appreciation for those early tourists.

The audio tour brings the Oregon Trail to life

Our kids enjoyed the audio component of the tour.  They were entranced by the sound effects that made the still displays seem to come to life.  Hearing the people of the era tell their story was a nice break from reading traditional museum displays.  If necessary, you could hear a section again by just walking back to the beginning of the exhibit.  This is a very nice feature when you have wandering four year-old in your party.

After the tour, head outside and try your luck in the wooden “Trailblaze Maze”.  This is similar to the human maze in the Fort Worth Stockyards that was featured on the Amazing Race.  It was a great way to burn off some energy before getting back in the car for another long drive.

Which way do I go?

We highly recommend these Living History museums if you are interested in experiencing the life of the pioneer.

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Handmade rope and corncob dolls

In August, we visited the Homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The kids had such a good time, we let them write the blog!

Allison’s viewpoint (age 11):

We went to visit the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder in De Smet, South Dakota.   We saw the house her father built and added on to three times.  It was still very small, but nice.  Also there was a barn, covered wagon rides, a dugout (a house made of sod and “dug out” of a hill), a shanty, and a garage for the farm machinery. I liked this museum because it was hands-on and not “This is Laura’s stuff.  Don’t touch it.”  We twisted hay, held kittens, made corncob dolls, fed a colt, made rope, petted cows, and experienced an 1870 school session in a real schoolhouse.  We even got to drive the mules pulling the covered wagon, and it is harder than it looks. I was going down a hill and made extremely curvy tracks in the dust.  It was like making modern art!

Curving wagon tracks in the dust

That night we had our first family tent-experience.  There were SO MANY mosquitos!!!  Andrew, Audrey, and I chased prairie gophers and helped set up the tent.  We had s’mores and hot dogs for dinner.    Camping there was lots of fun!

Audrey’s view (age 8):

My favorite part was the trip to the schoolhouse on a covered wagon.  It was exciting.  The girls had to put on dresses and bonnets like Laura would have worn, and the boys wore straw hats.  I got to help the teacher read aloud to the class and with the math lesson.  We played a game called “wring the dishrag” where everyone holds hands and spins around with a partner.  We sang “Pop Goes the Weasel” and twisted around on the “Pop” part.  We learned about what kids used to bring for lunch.  They had strange things like lard sandwiches, and apples were a special treat because they were hard to get.  After school was over, we got back on the covered wagon and I got to drive it to the church.  The church was really pretty.

Driving the covered wagon is harder than it looks.

At Ma’s house we learned to do laundry.  They took soap and rubbed it across a washboard and then rubbed the clothes across it.  Then you rinse it in a bucket of water and put it through a wringer.  Last we hung it on the clothesline with two clothespins.  It was not easy.  We also learned to make a toy with a piece of thread and a button.

Doing laundry the hard way.

We camped on the prairie in the tent and made hot dogs and s’mores.

Andrew’s view (age 4):

I had fun making my rope.

The truly cool twist their own rope.

I loved roasting the marshmallows on the campfire and eating Cheetos.  I really liked making my corncob superhero.  In the barn was the first time I ever got to hold a kitten.  I saw a baby horse and I saw his mommy poop a whole bunch.

Mom adds:

This was a really neat place.  I highly recommend it, even if your kids are not big fans of the Little House books.  There are so many hands-on activities and experiences that everyone in the family will have a great time.

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We awoke on Day 4 in Omaha, and the girls were able to get in 30 minutes of morning waterslide time at the hotel before we packed up the van.

Waterslide at Omaha hotel

We drove from Omaha and through Lincoln; home of the University of Nebraska.  Dad originally wanted to stop on the campus wearing his Longhorn gear and walk around shouting 13-12 over and over again, but it was a little too far out of the way.

Our first stop was Grand Island, Nebraska.  Our original plan had us staying at a KOA Campground in Grand Island for our first night of tent camping on this trip (and the first ever as a family).  We drove up to the site before our first scheduled activity and found a desolate, rundown place straight out of a horror movie.  Dad went inside to check out the details of the KOA cancellation policy, and he soon found out that he was going to be eating $26 to find the family a better place to stay.  (It must be mentioned here that Mom was willing to take one for the team and stay but Dad insisted, and who is she to argue when the family’s safety is at stake?)  The decision was made to move on.

We arrived in Grand Island proper and went to the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer.  The main part of this museum is a recreation of a pioneer town with homes and businesses from the 1880s.  They have people in the buildings that tell you what life was like at the time.  The houses were interesting, but the real fun started when we hit the business part of town.  Our first stop was the Planing Store, where they used to make windows and doors.  Mom and Allison got to use a pedal-powered jigsaw to make sky hooks.

Then the kids made Christmas Tree ornaments at the Tinsmith by twisting thin tin strips into an icicle shape.

We also confirmed that Pioneer Life in August in Nebraska could get VERY hot.  The museum was very interesting, but the thing that we remembered most was how extremely difficult it must have been to live without A/C.

We then drove to Kearney, Nebraska, where we planned to see another museum in the morning.  We had no scheduled place to stay since we ditched the KOA, so we did a quick Hotels.com search on the greatness that is the iPhone.  We found one place that seemed reasonable, so Dad went inside to check it out.  After seeing that we could probably do better, we drove to the Holiday Inn Express of Kearney.  We had seen on Hotels.com that they had a water slide, and we really needed to cool off.  Dad went in to see if they would match the hotels.com price.  They matched it, and we checked in happily.  Dad later heard a quote for the walk in rate that was $40 higher than the rate that we had received.  Thanks Hotels.com.

We discovered that a lot of the hotels in the region have waterslides/indoor water parks.  Compared to what we had already seen, this was a water slide on steroids!

Everyone had a blast including Andrew (age 4), who went down the three-story water slide by himself after he and Dad got busted by the lifeguard for going down at the same time.  The only problem with a hotel with amenities such as this is that there are three kids who will no longer be pleased with anything less.  The next KOA doesn’t stand a chance.

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