There’s a lot of history in New Jersey, and all it takes is an easy day trip to visit it. There are battlefields and monuments, but, to be honest, they can be pretty boring. Instead, take the kids to a living history museum, like Allaire Village.
The living history concept came into being about four decades ago when the folks in charge of historic places realized that people of today could understand the people of the past much better if we could see them. And so they got workers to dress up in period costumes and learn to demonstrate the crafts and activities of yesteryear. A lot of Verona residents have made the trip to Colonial Williamsburg, which is probably America’s biggest living history site. But there are several living history museums in New Jersey and they all make easy day trips. If you have a third grader about to be a fourth grader, a living history trip will give him a major leg up on the New Jersey curriculum in the fall (but don’t tell him that before you go).
Allaire Village is the recreation of the company town that was developed in the early 1800s around the Howell Works, which made brass fittings for ships. A New York City businessman bought a large piece of land in Monmouth County and turned it into a bog iron works. The blast furnace doesn’t work any more, and if it did, I think the village would look much less bucolic despite its Pine Barrens setting.
But there are plenty of other things to see and do, from the blacksmith and tinsmith shops to the carpenter’s shop, which was a big hit with my 9 year old. It turns out that what I always thought was a simple child’s toy was actually a way to teach them the right way to milk a cow. If you did it right, you got milk; wrong, you got kicked. Suffice it to say, we would have spent a lot of time in the Howell Works’ General Store, which was where the limited medicines of the day were kept.
The best part of Allaire, however, is its calendar of special events. You can see a 19th century wedding or a funeral, and even experience a Temperance Day rally (excess alcohol was a big problem for early industrial workers and their families). Just don’t waste your money on the little train ride; it wasn’t worth it. Here’s a video snippet on Allaire’s history for the grownups.