- Written by Andrea Gross Andrea Gross
I’m standing on a mesa 370 feet above the New Mexican desert. The sky is turquoise blue, the winds are blowing, and nearby a few people are making pottery while others are preparing food on outdoor ovens.
This is the Acoma Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America.
As my husband and I stroll the mesa’s dusty roads, we feel as if we’ve been transported to another world, one that existed a century or more ago. We want to learn more about this world, to experience it as best we can.
Thus we decide to time travel to an earlier America.
The next day we return to Acoma, and in the following weeks we expand our journey to include three other parts of the country: the antebellum South, the rugged Northwest, and the more established Northeast.
The Ancient Southwest
In my mind, it’s 1861. Abraham Lincoln has just been elected president, the country is at war, and 2,000 miles from the battlefields, Pueblo Indians are living in mud homes hardened by the sun.
Their village, part of present-day New Mexico, won’t become part of the United States for another 50 years.
Sky City, as the pueblo is often called, isn’t like most so-called living history museums, which are filled with reconstructed buildings and costumed interpreters.
It’s authentic to the core, a genuine community where about 50 people choose to live in their ancestral homes and follow ancient traditions.
Acoma offers us an unfiltered view of a time and world long gone. It’s exactly what we wanted.
The Pacific Northwest
A 45-minute boat ride from Seattle takes us to Tillicum Village, where we’re introduced to the lifestyle of people who lived in the Pacific Northwest long before white settlers began arriving in the early 1850s.
We’re greeted by a man in Native garb who hands us an appetizer of steamed clams before leading us to a long buffet table filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, venison stew, and salmon that was prepared over an open-pit fire.
“This is the same type of food that was eaten by Chief Sealth, the Duwarmish Indian leader after whom Seattle was named,” he says.
After dinner, we watch a multimedia show, replete with masked dancers and a narrator who relates ancient tales.
Like the village itself, the presentation doesn’t focus on a specific tribe but instead helps visitors understand the beliefs and traditions of a generalized group of people. To ensure cultural accuracy, the show was developed with the help of local tribes.
The Antebellum Southeast
It takes us two days to explore the Great River Road that runs 70 miles between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
In the mid-19th century, there were more than 300 plantations in this part of Louisiana; today, about a dozen have been restored and are open to visitors. Each plantation is different, and each deepens our understanding of the country that Abraham Lincoln was elected to govern.
We begin at Whitney Plantation, which is dedicated to interpreting the experience of enslaved people in Louisiana.
Although we walk through the plantation home, which has the oldest kitchen in Louisiana, it’s the memorial walls and first-person slave narratives that more fully transport us back to the past. It’s a sobering introduction to the Antebellum South.
At Destrehan we see an old sugar plantation. At Laura Plantation we tour a house that was home to four generations of a Creole family, both free and enslaved.
And at Oak Alley we get a multidimensional view of antebellum life by touring six reconstructed slave quarters as well the stately master’s home.
The More Established Northeast
Not far from the well-known living history sites of the East Coast, such as Plymouth and Williamsburg, both of which represent specific time periods, is the Bronck House, a lesser-known and truly fascinating museum in Coxsackie, New York.
Here, visitors can immerse themselves in the life of one family for 276 years.
Pieter Bronck, a Swedish immigrant, purchased the land from the Katskill Indians in 1662. The property passed from generation to generation until 1939, when the last family owner willed the entire complex to the Greene County Historical Society.
There’s a 1663 stone house and a 1738 brick house, as well as a kitchen dependency (detached kitchen).
In addition, there’s a 13-sided barn built in the 1830s, a New World Dutch barn, and a Victorian horse barn. Taken together, these structures show how the family was affected by the changing economy and new architectural techniques.
As was the case with Acoma, Tillicum Village, and the Louisiana plantations, the Bronck House is indeed a passport to another world.