7 Small American History Museums

Get informed this election season at these small, important museums

Americans will hear many sound bites throughout the election season referring to the nation's ideals as set forth by the Founding Fathers, the American Revolution and the Constitution. Cut through the rhetoric by visiting these 7 small museums which explore American history subjects including the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the brutality of slavery and the history of finance.

While the Smithsonian National Museum of American History provides an excellent educational experience, these smaller museums offer more focused, nuanced views as well as a chance to immerse yourself in history. Follow Paul Revere's ride in Boston, stand where the signers of the Declaration of Independence stood in Philadelphia and unpack the history of slavery in Wallace, Louisiana. 

  • 01 of 07

    Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, PA

    Independence Hall in Philadelphia
    Independence Hall National Park. Rdsmith4

    Philadelphia is the best city in the United States to begin exploring early American history. The Independence National Historical Park contains the Liberty Bell, the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the most important site; Independence Hall.

    Independence Hall (then the State House Province of Pennsylvania) was the meeting place for the Second Continental Congress. Then on July 4, 1776, Congress accepted the Declaration of Independence there. The Constitutional Convention met in the Hall from May to September 17, 1787. 

    Independence Hall

    520 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19106

    Entrance is through a security screening area on Chestnut Street, just west of 5th Street. 

    After passing through security, visitors line up behind the East Wing of Independence Hall for their timed tour.

    Hours and Fees
    Summer hours: daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from May 28 - September 5, 2016. Open 'til 8 p.m. July 1 - 4. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from September 6, 2016 to May 2017.

    Open 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. on...MORE Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day. Open 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Closed Christmas Day.

    The security screening area closes 15 minutes prior to the building closure time. Visitors should arrive at the security screening area approximately 30 minutes prior to the time on their timed entry ticket. The tour begins at the time on your timed entry ticket. 

    Independence Hall tickets are FREE. There is no charge for same day distribution (non-reserved) tickets obtained at the Independence Visitor Center on the day of your visit. Tours begin every 15, 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the season and are mandatory.

    There is a handling fee of $1.50 per ticket for advance reservations

  • 02 of 07
    Constitution Center
    Constitution Center, a non-partisan center in Philadelphia. Public Domain

    Nominating a candidate to the Supreme Court is among the most important and powerful acts of the United States President. Once confirmed, these lifetime appointees are the guardians and interpreters of the Constitution. Immerse yourself in the history of this critical document at the National Constitution Center, established by Congress to “disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a non-partisan basis in order to increase the awareness and understanding of the Constitution among the American people.” Through interactive exhibitions, talks and lectures, the Center aims to inspire active citizenship through greater awareness of the Constitution. 

    The Center's works hard to highlight contemporary constitutional debates and serve as America's town hall. In addition to rotating exhibitions, the Constitution Center offers seminars, course materials and digital resources for students and teachers. 

    National Constitution Center

    525 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA...MORE 19106

    Hours and Fees

    Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m, Sunday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.

    Adults: $14.50

    Senior Citizens (65 and over), Students and Youth (13-18): $13

    Children (Ages 3-12) $8

    Active Military and Members: Free

  • 03 of 07
    Explore America's cultural roots at the APS
    American Philosophical Society Hall. Beyond My Ken

    To learn more about America's cultural roots, visit the museum of the American Philosophical Society. Today the APS is an eminent scholarly organization that "promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and community outreach." It is America's oldest learned society and has played a vital role in shaping the cultural life of early America.

    Founded after the American Revolution, many of the founding fathers were members including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine and James Madison.

    In the eighteenth century natural philosophy, the study of nature, was the focus of the APS's activities. The Society gained international fame in the field of astronomy when David Rittenhouse plotted the Transit of Venus from a telescope propped up behind Independence Hall. Until about 1840 the APS was a de-facto...MORE national academy of science, national library and museum and patent office and became the model for which many of the United States's learned societies are based.

    The APS museum has exhibitions drawn from the Society’s collections including Thomas Jefferson’s hand-written draft of the Declaration of Independence, a Lewis and Clark’s notebook from their explorations in the West, and botanical drawings by William Bartram.

    American Philosophical Society (APS) Museum

    Philosophical Hall (adjacent to Independence Hall)
    104 South Fifth Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19106 USA
    Tel: (215) 440-3440

    Open from April 15, 2016 to December 30, 2016.

    Regular hours:
    Thursday-Sunday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

    Memorial Day-Labor Day:
    Thursday-Sunday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

    $2 donation appreciated

  • 04 of 07
    Boston's Freedom Trail
    Walk the Freedom Trail in Boston. Ingfbruno

    The very best way to introduce your kids to American history is by walking the The Freedom Trail, a fun and active way to see the museums, homes and sites that tell the story of Boston around the time of the American Revolution.

    It is literally a 2.5- mile red-lined route that visitors can follow from the Boston Common in the center of the city to the USS Constitution in the harbor. Most of Boston's colonial sites are in the North End which is also the city's Little Italy. Immigrants may have been attracted the ancient winding streets that feel like a European village. While the area has become more gentrified in the past decade, it's still possible to pair a tour of colonial history with an excellent Italian dinner. (Let's face it, there's only so much clam chowder one can eat.) After you visit the Old North Church, be sure to get a cannoli at Mike's Pastry.

    The Freedom Trail can be done independently or you can take a 90 minute walking tour led by a costumed Free...MOREdom Trail Foundation guide. Visitors can start at any location on the Trail, but it is recommended that they park their cars at Boston Common Parking Garage underneath the Boston Common.

    It is free to walk the trail, but the Old State House, Old South Meeting House, and Paul Revere House each charge an entrance fee. King’s Chapel and the Old North Church suggest a donation, though it is not required for entrance.

    Here is a full list of the 16 sites on The Freedom Trail.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07
    Charleston Museum in South Carolina
    The first museum in the United States. Khanrak

    Charleston, South Carolina is home to the nation's very first museum, founded in 1773. Today it is dedicated to discovering, preserving, interpreting, celebrating, and sharing stories about the South Carolina Lowcountry. While much of the colonial history in American textbooks focuses on Boston, Philadelphia and New York, The Charleston Museum offers a look at life in the South during this period.

    In addition to changing exhibitions, it has two permanent exhibitions. One is dedicated to the role of Charleston in the American Revolution, from protest to independence. The second is an armory collection including hunting weapons as well as dueling pistols. There are also two historic houses to visit.

    The Charleston Museum

    360 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403

    Monday-Saturday: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm 
    Sunday: 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm

    Adult (18 years+)

    Museum: $12.00

    Historic House: $12.00
    Two Sites: $18.00 
    Three Sites: $28.00 

    Child (3 to 12 years)

    Museum: $5.00
    Historic House: $5.00 - NOTE: Children ages...MORE 2 and under are admitted FREE

    Youth (13 to 17 years)

    Museum: $10.00 
    Historic House: $10.00

  • 06 of 07
    Whitney Plantation Museum
    The history of slavery at the Whitney Plantation. Public Domain

    The story of slavery in the United States is often lumped in with larger African-American history exhibitions. There is no federally funded museum in the United States dedicated to the history of slavery nor is there any national monument honoring slaves. While there are many antebellum house museums in Louisiana, none of them is devoted solely to the history of slavery except for the the Whitney Plantation which opened to the public in late 2014.

    Originally owned by a German family in the 1700s, the plantation had sugar fields that were worked by hundreds of slaves imported from West Africa and sold at the New Orleans slave market. The property was almost turned into rayon factory in the 1990s before it was purchased by lawyer John Cummings. After years of reading about slavery, in particular writings compiled during the Great Depression by the WPA, Cummings decided the true story needed to be told in order to create a better national conversation about race relations and civil...MORE rights. 

    He began a 16-year, $8 million journey to build a slavery museum on the property. The Whitney Plantation includes the French-Creole "big house", slave quarters, a rusty steel jail, sugar kettles and other historic artifacts to replicate an authentic slave experience. Cummings has also commissioned memorials inscribed with the names of 356 slaves who lived there and an art installation that commemorates the gruesome beheadings that were the result of a slave rebellion.

    Whitney Plantation

    5099 Highway 18, Wallace, LA 70049

    The Museum is open 9:30am to 4:30pm every day except Tuesday. Tours are given every hour between 10:00am and 3:00pm.

    The Museum is closed New Years Day, Mardi Gras, Easter Sunday, July 4th, Thanksgiving Day,  Christmas Day.

    General Admission - $22.00

    Children ages 6-12 - $10.00

    Discount Admission - $17.00

    Seniors, Students, Military Personnel.

    Residents of St. John and St. James Parishes - $15.00

    Children 6-12-$10.00

    Children under 6 are free

    Discounts available for groups over 15 with a two weeks advance reservation

    There are no self guided tours at The Whitney Plantation.

  • 07 of 07
    Learn about the history of American finance
    Museum of American Finance. Alan Barnett

    Economics drive our politics almost more than any other issue yet the subject is woefully misunderstood. Though it may at first sound boring, grounding yourself in the history of American finance is one of the most useful ways to cast an educated vote. Start with the Alexander Hamilton Room to learn about the innovations of the nation's first treasury secretary. Other exhibitions cover currency, the financial markets, banking in America and famous American entrepreneurs.

    Museum of American Finance

    8 Wall Street New York, NY 

    Tuesday - Saturday, from 10am-4pm

    Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students/seniors and free for members and kids 6 and under.