Plymouth is one of the East Coast’s historical jewels; rarely will you find a small town with equal parts quaint New England charm and 400 years of visible history. Naturally, it’s packed with museums showcasing various aspects of the town’s past. Visit at any time of the year, but it is particularly magical to visit during the month of November as the locals gear up for the much-beloved Thanksgiving holiday.
When you visit Plymouth, here are five essential museums you should be sure to check out.
Plimoth Patuxet Museums
Plimoth Patuxet Museums are in charge of multiple attractions, including the Plimoth Grist Mill and the Mayflower II, but more on those later. The main museum – the site of Historic Patuxet and the 17th Century English Village – is located about ten minutes outside of downtown Plymouth.
This living history museum is perfect for history buffs and casual fans alike. As you make your way through the (mostly outdoor, so be sure to dress for the weather!) museum, you will pass through a replica Native American homesite on the Eel River, complete with a wetu (house), a garden, a campfire, and a mishoon (dug-out canoe). Museum staff will share knowledge of 12,000 years’ worth of Indigenous history, tradition, and culture.
Next – or first, depending on the path you choose to walk – you will come across a fully-realized replica of a 17th-century English colony in the Americas. Docents in full garb will guide you through everyday life in the Plimoth Colony, and yes, they speak with accents. See frolicking baby goats and watch out for chickens weaving between your feet as you walk.
Mayflower II is another Plimoth Patuxet attraction, located in the center of downtown Plymouth on the waterfront, just past the Plymouth Rock building. Explore a replica of the original Mayflower and discover what the journey was like for the Pilgrims from the Netherlands to, first, Provincetown, and then Plymouth. The ship is surprisingly small for the number of Pilgrims that it carried (102), and you will learn where on the ship they slept, ate, prayed, hung out, and worked. Also featuring plenty of antique way-finding and nautical tools.
Pilgrim Hall Museum
Pilgrim Hall has been open since 1824 is the oldest continually-operated public museum in the country. This is an intimate experience unlike any other museum in Plymouth – it makes the history personal. You will learn the colonists’ names, how they lived and died, and what happened to the colony itself as time passed. Explore genuine Native American and Pilgrim artifacts from the 17th century. The Museum also pays particular attention to the distance between the Pilgrims of our collective memory, and the actual historical Pilgrims – how we misremember their fashion, religion, and everyday life.
The Jenney Interpretive Center is dedicated to the legacy of 51 specific Pilgrims, whose descendants played important roles in shaping American history throughout the centuries. Explore the historic house and wander through rooms dedicated to various aspects of the Pilgrims’ life and legacy, including abolition and the five pillars of the Pilgrim’s faith. The Jenney also leads tours through Plymouth to look at historical monuments.
Plimoth Grist Mill
The Plimoth Grist Mill is another site run by Plimoth Patuxet Museums. (Pro-tip: its parking lot is huge and centrally-located, and you can leave your car there while you explore the rest of the town.) This is a reconstruction of the Plymouth Colonists’ original 1636 corn-grinding mill on Town Brook. Learn not only about the historical mill and how it works, but also about the Town Brook’s ecology, including its annual springtime herring runs. Afterward, walk behind the mill along the brook toward the waterfront and enjoy a beautifully preserved piece of nature.