Embrace a slower pace and travel back in time to see how southeastern Wisconsin’s first pioneers lived and made their homesteads. These living history museums and historical parks near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, make the past come alive for kids in a unique and hands-on way.
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1. Old World Wisconsin
W372 S9727 Hwy 67, Eagle, WI 53119
Old World Wisconsin brings 19th-century history to life like no other place in Wisconsin. In fact, it’s the largest outdoor museum of rural life in the entire country. Original structures from across the region were painstakingly dismantled and reconstructed to build this 600-acre open-air museum. There are over 60 buildings to explore, including a schoolhouse, church, and furnished houses.
In the Crossroad Village, visitors can learn iron-crafting techniques, watch shoemaking demonstrations, and experience what a typical church experience was like in the late 1800s. On the farmsteads, you’ll see horses, roosters, pigs, sheep, and other livestock, and learn about old-fashioned farm machinery, tools, and agricultural techniques.
Throughout the experience, visitors can learn about food preparation and preservation techniques in a world of harsh winters. You’ll see authentic woodstoves, outdoor cooking demonstrations, and learn about holiday food traditions. You can also learn about gardening techniques and stroll through beautifully maintained heirloom gardens filled with lavender, herbs and seasonal produce.
The best part about a visit to Old World Wisconsin is participating in hands-on activities, including ice cream making, crafts, outdoor games, churning butter, domestic chores, and walking on wooden stilts. They also host vintage baseball games during the summer.
2021 Update: Old World Wisconsin is now open for general admission Thursday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p,m., and tickets can be purchased onsite or in advance online. Guided Journeys are available on Wednesdays, and there are also special experiences such as a Family Fun Drive and Legends & Lore.
2. New Berlin Historical Park (Free!)
19885 W. National Ave., New Berlin, WI 53146
Part of the City of New Berlin park system, Historical Park is open year-around to visitors. Tour the grounds anytime on the Prospect Hill Settlement District and explore the former Freewill Baptist Church building, a carriage house and barn, a little red schoolhouse, the Alice Weston Memorial Garden, the Weston Antique Orchard, a gazebo, a charming log cabin, an old-fashioned windmill, two former homes, and a small, accessible museum. Historical information is posted on all buildings.
Open House events are held at Historical Park four times a year. There’s an ice cream social in July, Historic Day in mid-September and Applefest in early October. Group tours are available by appointment.
2021 Update: The New Berlin Historical Society expects to host the traditional Historic Day and Applefest events this year, though recommended COVID-19 protocols will be in place. The events will be subject to Waukesha County restrictions that may change, and revision to the calendar may be required.
3. Old Falls Village Historical Park & Museum (Free!)
N96 W15791 County Line Rd., Menomonee Falls, WI 53051
Nestled on the grounds of a beautiful 17-acre park, Old Falls Village features a log home, school house, barn, railroad depot and dairy, plus antiques, and artifacts from the 19th century. The highlight of the park is the 1858 Miller-Davidson House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Buildings are open to tour during Village Events, including a Saturday night beer garden, Civil War and World War II reenactments, and a classic car show in September.
4. Pioneer Village
4880 County Road I, Saukville, WI 53080
Pioneer Village celebrates Ozaukee County legacy through the experience of pioneer life. It features 17 buildings from the 19th century, including fully furnished homes, barns, and the original Cedarburg Railroad Depot. Between May 22 and October 10, the Village is open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Autumn is an especially great time to visit, as the Village is “haunted” on select Fridays and Saturdays in October.
Admission costs $6 per adult and $4 per child. Children under 5 get in FREE. Group rates available upon request.
5. Richfield Historical Park
1896 Hwy 164, Richfield, WI 53076
The 33-acre Richfield Historical Park is part of the Village of Richfield park system and is adjacent to the 92-acre Richfield Nature Park. It’s home to many restored historic buildings maintained by the Richfield Historical Society. The beautiful Coney Creek meanders among various wooded areas. Hiking trails also wind throughout the park. Picnic tables and benches are available for visitors to enjoy.
One section of the park is the Messer/Mayer Mill and Homestead, which includes the 150-year-old mill, mill house, horseshoe, woodshed, smokehouse, outhouse, and barn. On the north end of the park, you’ll find the Lillicrapp Welcome Center, a restored home that is now accessible. At the south end of the park are the Motz Log Cabin and Messer Log Barn. The Timber Frame Area includes a granary, sugar shack, and blacksmith shop. You can also learn more about the park through Adventure Lab geocaching.
The Park Hours are 7 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. , but the historic buildings in the Park are only open during Scheduled Tours and Richfield Historical Society Events. (Don’t miss Richfield Days in late August and Maple Syrup Family Day in March. Tour rates are $5 per person, $3 for kids 6-12 years old, and children 5 and under get in free.
There are two entrances to the Richfield Historical Park: 1896 Hwy 164 and 4399 Pleasant Hill Road, Richfield.
2021 Update: Some buildings may be closed due to the uncertainty of the pandemic situation.
6. Trimborn Farm
8881 W. Grange Ave., Greendale, WI 53129
Trimborn Farm is the only Milwaukee County Park with a historic theme. It includes a Cream City brick farmhouse, one of the last and largest stone barns in Wisconsin. There’s also a worker’s bunkhouse, a threshing barn, and a 75-foot kiln. It’s the perfect place to host a wedding, party or picnic
The park is open every day to take a walk or read a book, but the buildings are open only by appointment. School and adult tours, drop-in programs, summer concerts, workshops, and special events show what life was like during the late 19th century and raise awareness of the site.