An employee of Plimoth Plantation portrays Edward Winslow at Plimoth Plantation's 1627 English Village. (AP/Lisa Poole)
In this storied harbor town where the Mayflower landed nearly 400 years
ago, generations of Americans have claimed and reinterpreted the
Part of the fun for 21st century visitors is sampling the various layers of history.
Any itinerary should include Plymouth Rock (carted ashore in 1774), Pilgrim Hall Museum (open since 1824, renovated this year), the National Monument to the Forefathers (dedicated in 1889), the Mayflower II (built in 1957), and of course, the area's premier attraction, Plimouth Plantation (open since 1947).
Take a cranberry farm tour while you're in the area and cap off a perfect autumn day with a seafood dinner.
Start your visit at Plimoth Plantation, a living history attraction
with a settlers' village that recreates everyday life in 1627. Here you
might encounter a costumed interpreter portraying Priscilla Alden
making hasty pudding over a fire in a timber-frame house with a
thatched cattail roof. Nearby, her neighbors tend goats, pull weeds or
share gossip from nearly 400 years ago.
"We had some trouble with the minister," confided one villager,
referring to the true story of the Rev. John Lyford, who was banished
from the colony. "We had to send him off."
Denise Van Geel, visiting from Belgium, was impressed by the reenactment. "It's so real, you can imagine people have lived here like that."
A wooded path leads from the English village to the Wampanoag Homesite. This part of Plimoth Plantation is staffed by Native Americans
in traditional dress, though they are educators, not actors. Visitors
can learn how trees were hollowed out with a slow fire to make canoes;
step inside a large dwelling that housed several families in winter;
and watch as patties of corn meal, ground hazelnuts and blueberries are
wrapped in corn husks for cooking.
"It's 17th century Reynolds Wrap," joked Carol Wynne as she tended the snacks in an outdoor fire.
But the Wampanoag site is also designed to help people realize that
when the colonists arrived in the New World, "there was already a
society that had been here for 12,000 years," said Plimoth Plantation
spokeswoman Jennifer Monac. "So many people don't understand that the
Pilgrims were immigrants."
A statue of the 17th century Wampanoag leader Massasoit is located
in downtown Plymouth and a ceremony is held near there each
Thanksgiving to mark the holiday as a "National Day of Mourning" for Native Americans.
Also downtown you'll find a reproduction of the Mayflower, which
carried 102 passengers across the Atlantic in 1620. Nearby sits Plymouth Rock, which was identified during the Revolutionary War
era as the Pilgrims' point of disembarkation. The boulder's protective
portico is under renovation (though scheduled to be completed by Oct.
1), but you can peer through the construction to see the famed but
rather ordinary-looking gray stone.
You can lay your hand on an actual chunk of Plymouth Rock at nearby Pilgrim Hall Museum,
where it bears a "please touch" sign. While Plimoth Plantation offers a
recreation of 17th century life, Pilgrim Hall offers glimpses of the
real thing, including a chair and Bible brought over on the Mayflower,
an ornate bride's shoe from a 1651 wedding, and the oldest needlepoint
sampler in America, dating to 1653. And in case you thought the
Pilgrims were teetotalers, guess again. A beer tankard is also on
"We don't want to debunk things, but we try to let people know where
their misconceptions come from," said director Peggy Baker, who
describes Pilgrim Hall as "the oldest continuously operated museum in
America." But the building is no musty repository; a $3.7 million
renovation completed in June made it handicapped accessible, air
conditioned and appealing to the modern visitor.
A detail of the National Monument to the Forefathers. (AP/Lisa Poole)
A five-minute drive from downtown Plymouth on Allerton Street is the National Monument to the Forefathers,
a grandiose granite structure the height of an eight-story building.
Formidable figures represent Youth, Mercy, Morality and other ideals;
dramatic carved tableaus depict scenes like the landing at Plymouth and
treaty-signing with the natives. The names of the Mayflower's
passengers are also engraved.
Bettyann Archambault calls the monument "the best-kept secret in America." She leads tours of historic sites around Plymouth
in the summer and cranberry farms in the fall. Because Plymouth is on
the coast, it does not get as much colorful foliage as New England's
woods and mountains, but the cranberry bogs do turn bright red in autumn.
"That is our fall color," said Paula Fisher, spokeswoman for the Plymouth County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Even the cranberry industry has layers of history. The fruit is native to North America,
but commercial cultivation began in the early 1800s, according to Jack
Angley, who owns Flax Pond Farms in Carver with his wife Dot.
At one time, the region's wet, sandy soil was a source of iron
ore, used in cannon balls. After the ore was extracted, the excavation
sites began to fill with water, making them ideal for growing
cranberries. "By the 1850s, there was an industry," Angley said. "They
call it red gold."
Flax Pond, which supplies cranberries to Ocean Spray, has been in operation since the 1890s, and visitors can see a 19th century
machine in the gift shop that separates the berries from the stems.
Cranberry soap, cranberry tea, and cranberry candy are a few of the
products you'll find in the store, which also ships boxes of berries
and other items around the world.
End your day in Plymouth with dinner downtown. The Weathervane,
located on the Town Wharf, offers divine fish chowder and a view of Plymouth Harbor, where boats take tourists out on whale watches and fishing expeditions.
But it's the Pilgrims who are the area's biggest draw.
"I liked the history," said Jeff Baar, who visited Plymouth from Shawnee, Kansas, with his wife. "It was inspiring."