There’s only one Plymouth Rock.
History plays a central role in many destinations around the country. But few can boast the iconic status of Plymouth, Massachusetts, which was settled by the Pilgrims almost 400 years ago.
This history inhabits nearly every aspect of Plymouth and the surrounding area. Groups can engage with it firsthand by visiting the city’s most famous attraction, Plimoth Plantation. This living-history site, just a few miles from the site of the original settlement, tells the story of both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians they met when they arrived.
“You begin your journey in a Wampanoag home site, and it gives you a sample of how a Native family would have lived in the 17th century,” said Paula Fisher, director of marketing and group services for See Plymouth. “The staff are both native and nonnative. They address the past and talk about what life was like prior to the Pilgrims. But they also talk about what’s going on today with their own lives and cultures.”
From there, visitors proceed to the English village, where about a dozen different homes are staffed with historic reenactors representing Pilgrim families.
“The people are addressing visitors from the 17th-century standpoint,” Fisher said, “so if you ask them about something from the Civil War or even the Revolution, they’re not going to have a clue, because it’s 1627. The amount of training that goes into portraying the Pilgrims is amazing.”
Groups that visit Plimoth Plantation can also spend time in the visitors center, the craft center and the museum shops. The staff can also arrange for groups to have special barbecues, clam bakes or turkey dinners.
Plimoth Plantation also oversees the Mayflower II — a replica of the Pilgrim’s ship — that is moored on the Plymouth waterfront.
“When you board the ship, you are once again met by role-players,” Fisher said. “They might be sailors or some of the passengers who came over on the first ship.”
After leaving the Mayflower, groups can visit the reproduction of Plymouth’s 1636 gristmill. After that, there are many more ways for travelers to immerse themselves in the area’s distinctive history and natural scenery.
With 400 years of history, Plymouth has an impressive list of notable landmarks and other sites worth seeing. Numerous organizations around town offer tours of various types to highlight historic spots and other notable stops.
Groups can take walking tours organized by the Jenney Museum that include stops at the famous Plymouth Rock and the National Monument to the Forefathers. Another option, Explore Natural Plymouth, focuses on the natural environment of the area and how the Wampanoag people lived in it. After hours, groups can indulge the spookier side of the city with the Dead of Night Ghost Tour or the Plymouth Night Paranormal Tour.
For a deeper look at the history of the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims and others who have made their homes in the area, groups should plan to visit several museums in and around Plymouth. Opened in 1824, the Pilgrim Hall Museum is the oldest continuously operating public museum in the United States. It features a large collection of Pilgrim furniture, household items and other possessions.
Another interesting museum in the city can be found at the Plymouth Cordage Company, a 19th-century rope-maker. And not far away in Brockton, the Fuller Craft Museum is New England’s only art-collecting institution focused exclusively on crafts.
None of the original structures built by Pilgrims exist anymore — they were intended as temporary structures. But there are still numerous historic homes in Plymouth that give visitors snapshots into life in the city during various periods of its history.
Among the oldest is the 1667 Jabez Howland House, the only remaining structure in Plymouth that was lived in by a Pilgrim: The Howland family lived there until 1680. Other homes include the 1677 Harlow House, built by a local militia leader; the 1749 Spooner House, which was occupied by the same family for 200 years; and the 1809 Hedge House, an example of Federal period architecture.
It would be a shame to visit coastal Massachusetts without spending some time on the scenic waters of Plymouth Bay. There are a variety of ways to do that. Many groups enjoy cruises on the Pilgrim Bell, a paddle-wheeler that offers 90-minute sightseeing cruises in the harbor and the bay. Groups can take the cruises during daytime or at sunset, and full-ship charters are also available.
Many visitors to Plymouth enjoy whale watching cruises, and several companies in town offer these excursions. Most last several hours and feature onboard naturalists to teach travelers about whales and other marine life. Groups can also take Highline Cruises to Cape Cod and back.