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9 spots where Pittsburgh kids can take a journey back in time

Kristy Locklin
June24/ 2019

Summer is in full swing, but that doesn’t mean your kids have to take a vacation from learning. The region is filled with historic sites and museums that bring humdrum textbooks to life and make learning fun. Grab your tri-cornered hat and take a day trip back in time!

1. Senator John Heinz History Center

Billed as “The Smithsonian’s Home in Pittsburgh,” the Senator John Heinz History Center is a time capsule of Western Pennsylvania’s heritage. The Strip District facility has six floors of long-term and rotating exhibits spanning 250 years of innovation, sports, politics and pop culture. (Bonus: Admission is free for kids 17 and younger on June30!)

As soon as you walk in, you’ll see this isn’t some stuffy institution where kiddos are instructed to look, but don’t touch. They’ll literally have the run of the town at Kidsburgh, a two-tier play space that’s Pittsburgh in miniature. Pint-sized visitors can pretend they’re scooping ice cream at Isaly’s Deli, milk a fiberglass cow and zoom down a 12-foot spiral slide, a.k.a. the Liberty Tube.

Stop at Discovery Place on the third floor. The area features hands-on, high-tech displays that give young ‘Burghers background on what makes their hometown so cool.

Head up another flight to spend some time in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The History Center boasts the largest collection of original artifacts from the beloved show, including King Friday XIII’s castle, the Great Oak Tree and a life-like figure of Fred sporting his iconic sweater, necktie and sneakers.

The smallest history buffs can join the monthly Hop into History series. The July 10 episode investigates a 1939 Westinghouse time capsule replica kids can fill, bury and dig up on their own. The session, led by museum educators, is designed for 2- to 5-year-olds and their caregivers.

2. Fort Pitt Museum

Fort Pitt stood at the Point from 1759 to 1792. The British fort-turned-Continental Army HQ, is Pittsburgh’s birthplace and a key site in the French & Indian War and the American Revolution. In 1969, the city opened Fort Pitt Museum to share the city’s history from 1754. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the museum is holding special events throughout the summer in addition to regular tours and exhibits.

On June 30, take the family to the fort and pay throwback admission prices: 50 cents for adults, 25 cents for kids ages 6 to 17. Kids 5 and under always get in for free. There will be tours, activities and 18th-century military demonstrations by costumed reenactors.

On select dates, exciting outdoor programs are free for everyone. Fourth of July programming includes a flag-folding ceremony and living history demonstrations. Experience a Garrison Drill, complete with the firing of the museum’s replica six-pounder cannon on July 13 and Aug. 17. Check out the schedule for more details.

3. Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village

The oldest site of human habitation in North America is right in Pittsburgh’s backyard. Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, another History Center living classroom and National Historic Landmark, is the place to go to experience 19,000 years in one day. A Washington County farmer discovered a prehistoric tool on his property 60 years ago. Since then, archeologists – and history buffs – have been having a field day on the site.

In addition to tours of the cavernous wonder, you can visit a 19th-century rural village (complete with a one-room schoolhouse) and a frontier trading post. A 16th-century American Indian village takes kids back even further in time.

On Aug. 17, kids can cheer on the Somerset Frosty Sons of Thunder and the Addison Mountain Stars at an 1860s-style “base ball” game, as it was called back in the day. Players will don vintage uniforms and follow old-fashioned rules. This throwback version of America’s pastime is included in Meadowcroft admission.

4. Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum

Pay tribute to America’s military men and women (and learn something in the process) at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. The stately building, which opened in 1910, is one of the only memorials in the United States dedicated solely to military personnel, regardless of their branch of service, status, era or conflict.

On July 16 and Aug. 17, the Museum will host free Family Fun events. Stations will be set up throughout the facility where kids can make cards for soldiers, meet historical re-enactors and/or veterans, interact with a vast collection of artifacts, go on a scavenger hunt and take selfies. All attendees age 16 and under will receive a personalized dog tag.

5. McConnells Mill State Park

The 2,546-acre McConnells Mill State Park in Lawrence County is a short drive from the city, but you’ll feel like you’ve traveled hundreds of years back in time. Located in the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge – a National Natural Landmark – it’s the perfect place to take a hike and snap scenic selfies. Download a guide to the park’s Trail of Geology, or pick up a hard copy at the office, and learn how glaciers created the dramatic topography of the park over the past 2 million years.

Along with the natural beauty of the land, there are cool manmade relics from bygone days, including a covered bridge built in the 1800s and a gristmill. It’s still grinding out historical information. Open from Memorial Day through late-September, the mill offers interpretive tours at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

6. Bushy Run Battlefield

In August 1763, during Pontiac’s War, Bushy Run Battlefield, a 213-acre tract of land was the site of a bloody conflict between Native American and British soldiers. The Redcoat victory prevented the capture of Fort Pitt and restored communication between the Wild West and eastern settlements.

Kids can learn about this crucial conflict from Aug. 3-4 during the 256th anniversary of the battle. Expect re-enactments, demonstrations, an 18th-century military encampment, and a Native American village. The trade area will include musical performances and a kids’ area with activities.

If you want to do a little shopping while you soak up all of that history, an open-air market is held at the site on the fourth Saturday of every month through September.

7. Old Economy Village

The Harmony Society, an entrepreneurial 19th-century religious community, founded the Old Economy Village in 1824. Their hope was to create a utopia where they could wait for the second coming of the Messiah. The highly successful community built beautiful structures, such as founder George Rapp’s house, and were pros at manufacturing wool, cotton and silk textiles, as well as producing wine, beer and other beverages.

Kids can attend various camps throughout the summer, including art- and history-themed experiences. Participants will explore different mediums, including reverse glass painting, silk egg dying and foil embossing. They’ll garden and bake alongside artisan demonstrators.

Old Economy Village is part of the Rural Farm and Village History Trail in the Pennsylvania Trails of History System, so once you explore the town, keep going to partake in other educational adventures.

8. Depreciation Lands Museum

Did you know there’s a Colonial village in the heart of Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs? The settlement, known as Talley Cavey, located in Hampton, is powered by volunteer docents dedicated to preserving its heritage. After the Revolutionary War, the dollar depreciated drastically, so Pennsylvania compensated its soldiers by setting aside 720,000 acres of land for them.

The Depreciation Lands Museum is open Sundays from May through October, when visitors can check out Pine Creek Covenanter Church, a replica schoolhouse, working blacksmith shop, beehive bake oven, smokehouse, tavern and cemetery.

The museum hosts a variety of events throughout the year with fun hands-on activities for kids. An old-fashioned ice cream social is planned for July 14, for example. Cool treats and lemonade will be offered along with special demos. On Aug. 8, Flax to Linen demonstrates the old-timey process of creating fabric.  Spinning wheels are the focus of a September session. It’s a great way for kids to discover life before superstores and Amazon deliveries.

9. Oliver Miller Homestead

South Park has its own Revolutionary War-era slice of history. Oliver Miller Homestead‘s stone farmhouse is a National Historic site. The six-room stone dwelling features an antique barn loom, a flax wheel, wool wheel and all the equipment needed to create a closet full of frontier fashions. Cooking demonstrations are done on the large fireplace and hearth and there are several gardens to explore. There’s a replica log cabin on the property, too, a nod to the Miller family’s original digs.

Special events throughout the year demonstrate 18th-century life with blacksmithing, militia reenactments and the kinds of games kids played around the Revolutionary War.

Kristy Locklin

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