This article covers small town museums in Northeastern US, including Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. Please also see Fascinating Small Town Museums in Southeastern US and Fascinating Small Town Museums in Western US, and Fascinating Small Town Museums in Midwest US.
There are over 35,000 museums in the United States but most travel articles consistently cover the same 50 or so. I have been to many fascinating museums in many small towns across the United States and think they should be recognized and visited.
In addition to highlighting lesser known museums, I also will include only museums located outside of major US cities. None of the listed entries are located in the 30 largest US cities.
The following fascinating small town museums in Northeastern US are listed alphabetically by state, city, and museum name. Hours of operation or prices are not included, so please check the respective website for that and any other desired information.
Fascinating Small Town Museums in Northeastern US
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, in Boothbay, has stunning ornamental gardens and exceptional natural beauty, waterfalls, and incomparable stonework and sculpture. Miles of trails allow you to experience waterfront and woodlands that are quintessentially Maine.
Farnsworth Art Museum, in Rockland, is not far from beautiful Camden Maine. The biggest surprise at this museum was that one of the most foremost Pop Artists, Robert Indiana, lives nearby and his works are displayed at the museum. While his name may not be that well known, his iconic LOVE sign is. You have seen it in New York and nearly every other major city in the world. [ Submitted by Paula McInerney of Contented Traveller ]
Maine State Aquarium, in West Boothbay Harbor, features extraordinary lobsters of all sizes (up to 23 pounds!) and colors. Experience the thrill of petting a live shark and discover the roughness of a skate’s skin in an open 850 gallon tank. A 20 foot long elevated touch tank houses invertebrates—feel the spiny skin of a sea star or sea urchin and get squirted by a sea cucumber or scallop. Or hold a couple of horseshoe crabs, like I did!
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, in Hagerstown, has been recognized as one of the finest small museums in the United States. Perhaps its most important piece is a marble bust of President Abraham Lincoln, a half sized version of the one at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. The artist, Gutzon Borglum, considered this bust among his finest work. You may have seen his most famous art project—Mt. Rushmore.
William Didusch Center for Urologic History, in Linthicum, offers an exciting tour through the history of medicine and the specialty of urology. The Didusch Center encompasses a rich and varied collection of drawings, photographs, and instruments of historical importance to urology.
The Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, is one of the oldest museums in the United States. Initially, the permanent collection housed diverse artifacts from sailors (the East India Marine Society) who had traveled around the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn.
Visitors can explore the only authentic Qing Dynasty house outside of China. The museum uniquely allows visitors to explore other cultures, making a connection to their own lives and popular trends. [ Submitted by Alison Abbott of Green With Renvy ]
Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, is home to more than 300 inductees and more than 40,000 square feet of basketball history. For the many millions of people who have played, coached, and refereed the game for more than a century, there are just over 300 people who have earned the title “Hall of Famer.”
Margret and H.A. Rey Center, in Waterville Valley, provides nature walks, literary groups, writers workshops, discussion clubs, a monthly lecture series, art shows, and of course, activities for children. Of course, that is, because Curious George, the lovable monkey whose antics have delighted children for decades, was born in the imaginations of H.A. and Margret Rey. Curious George and the Reys spent their summers in Waterville Valley, a place that epitomizes Curious George’s spirit of fun and adventure.
National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, collects, preserves, exhibits, and interprets its collections for a global audience, as well as honors those who have made outstanding contributions to our national pastime. Under one roof is actually three entities: a museum, the actual Hall of Fame, and a research library.
Corning Museum of Glass, in Corning, cares for and displays the world’s best collection of art and historical glass. View a timeline of glass history, from the oldest known glass (from Mesopotamia 35 centuries ago) through glass being made onsite. In fact, you can make your own glass object, no experience necessary.
Plan your trip with our getaway guide to Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes.
Rockwell Museum, in Corning, is the only Smithsonian Affiliate museum in upstate New York and has a diverse collection—including a mix of contemporary Native American art with traditional bronze sculptures, landscape paintings, and other works—that embody America. Its vision is to display compelling exhibitions while challenging perspectives through art about the American experience.
National Soaring Museum, in Elmira, has the largest collection of gliders (planes without engines) under one roof. A featured exhibit has 127 models of sailplanes from 1883 to present. NSM is located atop Harris Hill, the “Soaring Capital of America,” and is adjacent to Harris Hill Soaring, where you can take a public gliding ride.
Please also see Silver Wings Museum in Museums in Western US, which honors the history of World War 2 glider pilots.
Glenn H. Curtiss Aviation Museum, in Hammondsport, celebrates an aviation pioneer—the first person to make a circular flight, first publicly announced and witnessed flight on US soil, first long distance flight, first pilot school owner, first amphibious plane, and much more. Until February 2017, the featured exhibit will be “Warehouse 53,” featuring props and costumes from iconic films and TV shows, like Indiana Jones and National Treasure.
For more Finger Lakes trip inspiration, see 8 Great Things to Do Near Keuka Lake.
Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadd’s Ford (near Wilmington, Delaware) is renowned for its holdings of the Wyeth family of artists. Featured galleries are dedicated to the work of N. C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth.
Seminary Ridge Museum, in historic Gettysburg, has four floors of interactive displays telling the story of the building’s use during the battle, as an observation outpost for Union General John Buford on the first day of fighting, and later as a hospital for the overwhelming number of wounded soldiers. The third floor exhibits tell a particularly powerful and gruesome tale of the men who had been horribly wounded and the surgeons and nurses working valiantly to save them. [ Submitted by Julie McCool of FuninFarfaxVA.com ]
Fallingwater, in Mill Run, is a masterpiece by USA’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. This beautiful home, built over a waterfall, was included in Smithsonian‘s Life List of 28 places to visit before you die. Tours of Fallingwater are available daily, except Wednesdays, and you will have an opportunity to wander the grounds.
Find more Fun Things to Do in Laurel Highlands PA.
Polymath Park, in Acme, is located about 30 minutes from Fallingwater and offers an intimate look at four more Usonian architectural houses—including Mantyla, designed in 1952 by Frank Lloyd Wright. The other houses were designed by Wright’s protégées and the onsite restaurant, Treetops, was inspired by Wright. In addition to the popular house tours, Polymath offers dining, wine, mimosa, and in-depth architecture tours. McCool Travel tip: surprise your Frank Lloyd Wright or architecture aficionado (or that special someone) with an overnight stay in Mantyla.
Ben & Jerry’s Factory, in Waterbury, offers guests the opportunity to learn about our ice cream manufacturing process and explain how the company incorporate values-led decisions to drive their business. There is, of course, also a Scoop Shop to enjoy your favorite flavors, some not offered anywhere else.
McCool Travel Tip: pay attention during the tour because you can win the trivia contest and get a free ice cream bar.
Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace, in Abingdon, houses
National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, wows visitors with some of the Smithsonian’s largest and most impressive aircraft, housed in two giant hangers that are a lot of fun to explore. The most popular museum in Virginia, the Udvar-Hazy Center is an excellent year-round destination, especially when the weather turns too hot, rainy, or cold for outdoor fun.
Library of Congress Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, in Culpeper, holds over 5 million movies, film, television shows, and sound recordings in underground storage. Experts at the center repair, preserve, store, and digitize all AV formats, including rare nitrate (1912-1951) and pre-1900 recordings. The US Government facility hosts one annual open house (on the second Monday of October) but shows historic movies weekly in its state-of-the-art, 205-seat theater.
See more great things to do in Culpeper Virginia.
Jamestown Settlement, in Jamestown, chronicles the history of America’s first permanent English colony, founded in 1607. Expansive exhibition galleries explore the convergence of Powhatan Indian, English, and west central African cultures and examine the evolution of the Virginia colony during the 17th century and its legacies. Outdoors, visitors converse with historical interpreters at a re-created Powhatan village, replicas of the three ships–Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery–that sailed from England to Virginia 1607, and a palisaded fort representing the colonists’ first home.
Freedom Museum, in Manassas, is a Smithsonian Affiliate museum and honors the history and heritage of the U.S. Military. Paying tribute to local heroes who served our country, you can find firsthand combat accounts, military art, and guest speakers. The museum also hosts the annual Manassas Air Show, held every May, to inspire the next generation of aviators.
Mill House Museum, in Occoquan, is part of the last remaining structure from the 18th century Merchants Mill that once made Occoquan a bustling center for water trade. The first automated grist mill in the United States, Merchants Mill put Occoquan on the map as a thriving industrial town, before the town burned down in 1924. Learn more about historic Occoquan.
National Museum of the Marine Corps, in Quantico, is a state-of-the-art museum that takes you step by step through the entire history of the U.S. Marine Corps. Using interactive exhibits, full size tanks, planes, and cars that were used in battle, the visitor experience is immersive. Every detail has been thoughtfully planned out to make the exhibits as authentic as possible down to the cast molded soldiers.
The Yorktown Victory Center, in Yorktown, spans the American Revolution period—from the beginnings of colonial unrest to the formation of the new nation—and features outdoor re-creations of a Continental Army encampment and Revolutionary-era farm, where historical interpreters engage visitors in demonstrations of military and domestic life. The museum transitions to American Revolution Museum at Yorktown in mid-October 2017 with the debut of a new introductory film and permanent exhibition galleries.
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, in Harpers Ferry, is more than a museum, it is an entire historic town. In addition to museums—including John Brown Wax Museum and Toy Train Museum—Harpers Ferry has great hiking trails (including the Appalachian Trail), battlefields, shops, and restaurants. While primarily located in West Virginia, portions of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park stretch into Maryland and Virginia.
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