State History
Learn about the history of Massachusetts and find fun and interesting things to do and see all across Massachusetts. We've also found the best books, guides, websites, and other resources to make your study of Massachusetts fun and educational.
Things to See & Do in Massachusetts
Boston National Historical Park
Boston National Historical Park is an association of sites that together give the visitor a coherent view of the city's role in the nation's history. Each site brings to life the American ideals of freedom of speech, religion, government, and self-determination. Most of Boston National Historical Park's sites are connected by the Freedom Trail, a 3-mile walking tour of 16 sites and structures of historic importance in downtown Boston and Charlestown. In addition to the sites along the Freedom Trail, the National Park Service maintains an important part of the Charlestown Navy Yard, one of the nation's first naval shipyards, where the USS Constitution (also a stop on the Freedom Trail) is berthed. Located in South Boston and separate from the Freedom Trail, Dorchester Heights is significant for its role in the evacuation of the British from Boston during the Revolutionary War.
Springfield Armory National Historic Site
Begun as a major arsenal under the authority of General George Washington early in the Revolutionary War, the first national armory, the Springfield Armory, began manufacturing muskets in 1794. Within decades, Springfield Armory had perfected pioneering manufacturing methods that were critical to American industrialization. The Armory represents nearly two centuries of continuous production of rifles and muskets used by America’s armed forces in every war in the nation’s history. Reopened in 1978 as the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the original 1840’s arsenal houses the world’s largest collection of American military firearms. Year-round public programs, exhibits, and special events are hosted on the grounds of the National Historic Landmark.
Boston Fire Museum
Located in an old firehouse, the Boston Fire Museum displays antique fire apparatus, fire alarms and artifacts, photos, and firefighting equiment.
Adams National Historical Park
Adams National Historical Park is located in the City of Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, approximately ten miles south of Boston. The Park comprises 11 historic structures and a cultural landscape totaling almost 14 acres. The story encompasses five generations of the Adams family (from 1720 to 1927) including two Presidents and First Ladies, three U.S.Ministers, historians, writers and family members who supported and contributed to the success of these public figures. The site's main historic features include: John Adams Birthplace, where 2nd U.S. President John Adams was born on October 30, 1735, and less than 75 yards away the John Quincy Adams Birthplace, where his son, John Quincy Adams, 6th U.S. President was born on July 11, 1767; the "Old House," home to four generations of the Adams family; the Stone Library contains more than 14,000 historic volumes and includes the book collection of John Quincy Adams; no tour is complete without a visit to the United First Parish Church, where both Presidents and the First Ladies are entombed in the Adams family crypt. There is an off-site visitor center located within one mile of the historic structures.
Essex National Heritage Area
The Essex National Heritage Area begins just 10 miles north of Boston and extends for 40 miles along the scenic coast of Massachusetts. The Area is characterized by white, sandy beaches interspersed with rugged granite outcroppings, and overlaid by 400 years of New England history and culture. From the Atlantic Ocean up the Merrimack River, this 550-square-mile region features historic seaports, white clapboard buildings, renown art and cultural museums, antique farms, wooden boat-building shops, early industrial mill complexes, and significant wildlife refuges - both on-shore and off-shore. The Area is instilled with authentic Yankee character. Three significant themes of American history can be easily experienced within its boundaries: early colonial settlement, maritime commerce and sailing, and New England’s early Industrial Revolution. The Area contains two National Park sites and hundreds of historic structures, museums, and natural resources, and it is within an easy day trip of Boston by train or car.
Minute Man National Historical Park
At Minute Man National Historical Park, the Battles of Lexington and Concord are brought to life through the preservation, restoration and interpretation of significant sites from "that famous day and year" when Colonists took up arms in defense of liberty and touched off the American Revolution. At Concord's North Bridge, visitors can see the place where, on April 19, 1775, Colonial militia men fired the famous "shot heard 'round the world." Reflect on the meaning of freedom in a tranquil, commemorative landscape that includes Daniel Chester French's Minute Man Statue. Along our five-mile "Battle Road Trail" you can travel back in time through a restored colonial landscape and retrace the steps of the British Regulars as they made the long and deadly journey back to Boston under fire from thousands of Colonial militia men. Parts of this trail follow the original route of the old "Battle Road" of April 19, 1775. Along the way, stop in and visit the Hartwell Tavern, a restored 18th-century tavern on Battle Road. It is now a "living history" center staffed by costumed Park Rangers who can offer you a glimpse of life in Revolutionary times. At the Wayside: Home of Authors, learn about Concord's "second revolution" as you visit the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of America's most famous authors of the 19th century who helped define our American identity.
Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site
Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) is recognized as the founder of American landscape architecture and the nation’s foremost parkmaker. Olmsted moved his home to suburban Boston in 1883 and established at “Fairsted” the world's first full-scale professional office for the practice of landscape design. Over the course of the next century, his sons and successors expanded and perpetuated Olmsted's design ideals, philosophy, and influence. Visitors may tour the recently restored “Fairsted” historic landscape and a century-old design office that remains virtually unchanged from the days when the Olmsted firm’s activity was at its height. Housed within the office complex are nearly 1,000,000 original design records detailing work on many of America’s most treasured landscapes including the U. S. Capitol and White House Grounds; Great Smoky Mountains and Acadia National Parks; Yosemite Valley; New York's Central Park; and whole park systems in cities such as Seattle, Boston, and Louisville.
Longfellow National Historic Site
Longfellow National Historic Site is an outstanding example of a historic site representing the themes of arts and literature. For almost half a century (1837-1882) this was the home of one of the world's foremost poets, scholars and educators, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow House is also significant in America's colonial history. General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the newly-formed Continental Army, headquartered and planned the Siege of Boston here between July, 1775 and April, 1776. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow enjoyed enormous popularity during his lifetime and continues to influence our cultural and historical perceptions. He and his immediate and extended family and friends played a central role in the intellectual and artistic life of nineteenth century America and are credited with shaping a distinctly American identity and culture. Longfellow House was a favorite gathering place for many prominent philosophers and artists including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julia Ward Howe, and Charles Sumner.
John F. Kennedy National Historic Site
John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site preserves the birthplace in 1917 and boyhood home of the 35th President of the United States. The modest frame house at 83 Beals Street in Brookline was the first home shared by the president's father and mother, Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and represents the social and political beginnings of one of America’s most prominent families. Today the National Park Service presents guided tours of the house with its display of household furnishings, photographs, and significant mementos personally collected by Mrs. Kennedy. Many pieces in the museum collection are original to the 1914-1920 historic period, reflecting the lifestyle and various pursuits and interests of the Kennedys. A narrative tour produced by Mrs. Kennedy provides visitors with an evocative glimpse of family life in the early Brookline years. Park Rangers also occasionally offer tours of the nearby neighborhood that include stops by the second Kennedy home, schools where the children studied, and Saint Aidan’s Roman Catholic Church where the family worshipped.
Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site
This is the site of the first integrated ironworks in North America, 1646-1668. It includes the reconstructed blast furnace, forge, rolling mill, and a restored 17th century house. With the archeological site of the 17th century iron-making plant, the museum collection, Iron Works House, and the reconstructed iron works complex, Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site illustrates the critical role of iron making to seventeenth-century settlement and its legacy in shaping the early history of the nation. The site's enclave setting on the Saugus River, featuring an open-air museum with working waterwheels, evokes a unique experience for park visitors. These resources demonstrate 17th century engineering and design methods, iron-making technology and operations, local and overseas trade, and life and work in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The original manufacturing site served as a training ground for skilled iron workers for what would become America's iron and steel industry. Iron making provided the infrastructure for the rise of other colonial industries. Called, "the forerunner of America's industrial giants," the site served as a center for technology, innovation and invention. The site interprets early industrial manufacturing, with its enduring social, political and environmental ramifications.
Lowell National Historical Park
The history of America's Industrial Revolution is commemorated in Lowell, Massachusetts. The Boott Cotton Mills Museum with its operating weave room of 88 power looms, "mill girl" boardinghouses, the Suffolk Mill Turbine Exhibit and guided tours tell the story of the transition from farm to factory, chronicle immigrant and labor history and trace industrial technology. The park includes textile mills, worker housing, 5.6 miles of canals, and 19th-century commercial buildings.
Boston African American National Historic Site
Located in the heart of Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood, the site includes 15 pre-Civil War structures relating to the history of Boston's 19th century African-American community, including: the African Meeting House, the oldest standing African-American church in the United States. The sites are linked by the 1.6 mile (2.5 km) Black Heritage Trail®. Augustus Saint-Gaudens', memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the African-American Massachusetts 54th Regiment, stands on the trail.
Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
Boston Harbor Islands national park area includes 34 islands situated within the Greater Boston shoreline. The islands are rich in natural and cultural resources. Imagine a place where you can explore tide pools, walk through a Civil War era fort, climb a lighthouse, hike lush trails and salt marshes, camp under the stars, or relax while fishing, picnicking or swimming...all within reach of downtown Boston. The 34 islands are managed by a unique, 13-member Partnership which includes the National Park Service and other public and private organizations. An advisory council provides a mechanism for public involvement.
Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor
The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is a region of nearly 400,000 acres located within Worcester County in central Massachusetts and Providence County in northern Rhode Island. It includes cities, towns, villages and almost one million people. The American Industrial Revolution began in the Blackstone River Valley. It changed the landscape of the Valley and transformed life in America. The Blackstone River provided the waterpower for the birth of industry in America with its 438-foot drop over a 46-mile length. Even today, the Valley retains its “wholeness” as a unique landscape with a concentration of historic, cultural and natural resources that represent 18th and 19th century industrial production in America.
New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park
New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park commemorates the heritage of the world's preeminent whaling port during the 19th century. A variety of cultural landscapes, historic buildings, museum collections, and archives preserve this history and collectively recount the stories of a remarkable era. Whaling, a leading 19th century enterprise, contributed to America's economic and political vitality. New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park was created in 1996. The park encompasses 34 acres spread over 13 city blocks and includes a visitor center, the New Bedford Whaling Museum,the Seamen's Bethel, the schooner Ernestina, and the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum. The park's enabling legislation also established a legislative connection with the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska, to commemorate the more than 2,000 whaling voyages from New Bedford to the Western Arctic.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Salem Maritime, the first National Historic Site in the National Park System, was established to preserve and interpret the maritime history of New England and the United States. The Site consists of about nine acres of land and twelve historic structures along the waterfront in Salem, Massachusetts, as well as a Visitor Center in downtown Salem. The Site documents the development of the Atlantic triangular trade during the colonial period, the role of privateering during the Revolutionary War, and the international maritime trade, especially with the Far East, which established American economic independence after the Revolution. The Site is also the focal point of the Essex National Heritage Area, designated in 1996, which links thousands of historic places in Essex County around three primary historic themes: colonial settlement, maritime trade, and early industrialization in the textile and shoe industries.
Teaching Tips & Ideas
Knowledge Quest
Knowledge Quest offers historical outline maps and timelines designed for the interactive study of world history and geography.
Featured Resources

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