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