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Immersive History Experiences

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If you’re a history buff, try an immersive history experience this summer. Instead of just reading about history, these sites help you feel like you’re living it through their knowledgeable staff, period appointments and historic venues.

• Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford ( is the state’s largest living history museum and the third largest in the nation. Stroll among 68 authentic and reproduction vintage buildings that have been gathered on tree-lined streets to form a village of homes, shops, stores, farms, gardens, churches and a school, all peopled by costumed history interpreters busy about their occupations. As visitors stop by, they pause a moment to answer questions and demonstrate their trades, including blacksmithing, tin smithing, weaving, creating pottery, farming and crafting barrels. The three zones of Genesee Country represent different eras: Pioneer Settlement, 1795-1830; Center Village, 1830-1870; and Gas Light District, 1860-1900. Bring along your grandchildren so they can try their hand at making a tin ornament, rolling a hoop with a stick and balancing on stilts. The hands-on emphasis at Genesee Country engages children. The gift shop is worth a visit, as it features replica vintage items, gifts and treats.

Genesee Country offers three eateries or you are welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy on the tables in the meadow. The website features special event days.

• Motherland Connextions in Buffalo ( provides a variety of history tours, including Underground Railroad Heritage tours, replete with historic facts, costumed guides and tales of bravery. The Underground Heritage Re-Enactment Tour allows guests to experience what it was like to escape through the woods as a Freedom Seeker in the 1800s. Beginning at dusk, the tour guide leads the group with lanterns as “bounty hunters” and dogs follow. Underground Railroad Heritage Tour of the United States and Canada represents another Motherland tour. It examines the connection between western New York and Ontario, Canada and how they played roles in the pursuit of freedom. As these are group tours, make a reservation to bring along friends and family. Or, you could join one of the daily tours, Freedom Seekers Daily Heritage Tour of Niagara Falls or Freedom Seekers Tour of Canada. Each tour travels to key sites of the Underground Railroad where people like Harriet Tubman crossed the border and helped others find freedom.  

• Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua ( is a bit less immersive than Genesee Country and Motherland Connextions tours. Sonnenberg offers no interpreters; however, its scope makes it worthy of a daylong visit. Designated as a New York State Historic Park, Sonnenberg boasts a rare Queen Anne Victorian-style mansion open for tours along with several themed formal gardens. The mansion’s period-furnished rooms whisk visitors back to the late 1880s, when Frederick Ferris and Mary Clark Thompson built the grand structure as their summer home overlooking Canandaigua Lake. Choose a guided tour among the varied gardens and rooms or guide yourself with optional audio tour via your smartphone. Bring along a picnic to enjoy at one of the many picnic tables or grassy areas in the park or buy a lunch at the High Noon Café. Wine is available for sale at The Finger Lakes Wine Center on-site.