Be sure to grab your GPS and car snacks because this trip through the Mid-West is full of beautiful, historical, and educational sites.
We’ve compiled a list of historic locations for eager, westward-bound travelers to visit. In addition to learning the stories of settlers traveling west, we’ve included some suggestions for you while you’re visiting; site tour options, events, things to do nearby, and local eateries to make your road trip through the Mid-West one to remember.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- Liberty Hall Historic Site – Frankfort, Kentucky
- Travellers Rest Historic House Museum – Nashville, Tennessee
- Centre for French Colonial Life – Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
- Historic Indian Agency House – Portage, Wisconsin
Liberty Hall Historic Site
Let’s begin our road trip through the Mid-West in Kentucky, the 15th state established in 1792 and home to the Cumberland Gap. Originally used as a hunting ground for Cherokee and Shawnee tribes, Kentucky is home to historical sites with unique stories. On your road trip out west, visit Frankfort, Kentucky, and take a tour of the Liberty Hall Historic Site.
Liberty Hall will transport you back to 19th Century America with accurately restored rooms and household items. Explore the houses, stroll through the four acres of grounds and gardens, and learn about the families that lived here for nearly two hundred years.
During your visit, you’ll learn how Liberty Hall was built in the early 1800s by Senator John Brown and provided an elegant lifestyle for him and his family. You’ll also learn about the Stepney family, the enslaved family who made that lifestyle possible. Visit the home’s luxury first-floor rooms, restored work areas, the Senator John Brown Library and Archives, the home’s furniture exhibit, and the bedroom where the Grey Lady Ghost has been known to haunt.
After walking Liberty’s hallways of history, get some fresh air and take a stroll through the four acres of lawns and gardens on the property. Bordering the Kentucky River, the garden has been home to vegetables, fruit trees, ornamental plants, vineyard grapes, trees, and fresh flowers since its inception in 1802. In 1987, the garden was refurbished to what it is today to resemble the earlier designs based on the gardening experiences of the Brown family.
Other Liberty Hall Attractions:
Take an hour-long tour of Liberty Hall:
- Monday – Saturday at 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM
- $9/Adults, $7/Seniors, $4/Youth, Free for children 5 and under
- Tickets must be pre-purchased
Take the kids to First Thursdays Family Garden Tour:
- 10 AM – 11 AM on April 7, May 5, June 2, July 7, August 4, September 1, October 6, and November 3
- $5 per child, guardians are free
- Tickets can be purchased online
No kids? No problem. Enjoy the Third Thursdays Adult Garden Tour:
- 6 PM – 7 PM on April 21, May 19, June 16, July 21, August 18, September 15, October 20, and November 24
- $10 per person, tickets can be purchased online
Things to Do Nearby:
- Thomas D. Clarke Center for Kentucky History
- Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours & Museums
- Kentucky Old State Capitol Building
Places to Eat:
Travellers Rest Historic House Museum
Continuing westward to our next stop: Nashville, TN. The first settlers around these parts were American Indians of the Mississippian culture who inhabited the area from 1000 to 1400 A.D. Originally founded as Fort Nashborough around 1780 by Englishmen, today Nashville is known as the Music City. Take a break from walking up and down Broadway Street and visit the Travellers Rest Historic House Museum, one of the few federal-period homes in Tennessee that are open to the public.
During your time at this historic site, you’ll learn that Mississippian-period American Indians originally inhabited this land. Part of their culture included often laying their deceased to rest in stone or limestone coffins in the area. A few of these burials have been uncovered at Travellers Rest. However, due to laws protecting these burials, Travellers Rest refrains from any unnecessary ground-breaking activities. You’ll also learn about John Overton and the mark he left on Nashville; lawyer, a close advisor to Andrew Jackson, banker, political leader, and judge at the Superior Court of Tennessee.
As you’re touring the house, relive the history of those who once lived and worked at the home of Judge John Overton by visiting the A Past Uncovered: The Story of the Enslaved People of Travellers Rest Exhibit. Then see The Battle of Nashville: History Unfolds at Travellers Rest! Exhibit to hear the story of those who lived at home during the Civil War.
The programs and events offered at Travellers Rest cover over 1,000 years of history. The tour guides at Travellers Rest strive to share and honor the stories of all former residents of the home.
Other Attractions at Travellers Rest:
Take an hour-long tour of Historic Travellers Rest and its exhibits:
- Tuesday – Saturday at 10 AM, 11 AM, 12 AM, 1 PM, 2 PM, and 3 PM
- $15/Adults, $14/Seniors, $14/Military, $10/Students (ages 6 – 18)
Things to Do Nearby:
Places to Eat:
Centre for French Colonial Life
Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
Next up, let’s head to the Gateway of the West: Missouri. The Gateway of the West has many french-inspired pieces as part of “New France”, the area colonized by France in North America beginning in 1534. More than 40 years before the British Colonies declared their independence on the east coast of North America, a group of colonists settled in what is now known as Missouri. The individuals who established the town had named it Ste. Genevieve after the patron saint of Paris. While you’re in the town of Ste. Genevieve, stop by the Centre for French Colonial Life museum campus.
The museum campus, consisting of four 18th- and 19th-century historic structures, tells the story of an early French settlement in the Mississippi Valley and the development of a unique French-Creole culture in the region.
- The Louis Bolduc House; a fan favorite due to its accurate log house restoration and stories from the family who resided in it
- The Francois Valle II House; a heavily-debated residence. Listen to the stories to learn whether it was the home of the Commandant of the town, a kitchen, or an enslaved house servant.
- The Bolduc-LeMeilleur House; originally built for family members, the house became the school for the Sisters of Loretto before a second story was added as a hotel.
- The Beauvais-Linden House; an example of how vertical timber houses were saved and altered over time.
The Centre for French Colonial Life offers many programs and exhibits for all ages. The history helps visitors understand the significance of this early French-Creole community and its stories.
While You’re There
- Open Thursday – Monday from 10 AM – 5 PM, Sunday from 12 PM – 4 PM
- Admission tickets to the museum are $5 for adults and $3 for children.
- Guided House Tours: $10/Adults, $5/Children.
- Hands-On History, an interactive learning “mini field trip”: Appointments only, $3 per person
- Check out all their fun events here, from dances to nights with werewolves!
Things to Do Nearby:
Places to Eat:
Historic Indian Agency House
Continuing with your adventure, make a pit stop on your road trip journey to the City of Portage, WI. Portage is unique because it lies between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers. Although it was initially used as a canoe portage for American Indians, missionaries, trappers, traders, and adventurers, the settlement grew larger and larger because of the waterway traffic. Portage was critical in the opening of the American West before the railroad. However, the location that many early European settlers had to pass through on their way westward was also the new beginning of America’s complicated relationship with American Indians. Make your way to the Historic Indian Agency House, one of Wisconsin’s earliest houses, to learn about the history that developed there.
The Indian Agency House still sits on its original site above the Portage Canal. Originally constructed in 1832 by the US Government, this residence was a critical crossroads of geography, culture, and history.
John H. Kinzie and his wife, Juliette, resided in the house. John’s title as “sub-agent” was established to fulfill the treaty of 1829 between the US government and the indigenous Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) tribe by distributing annuity payments. The lead mining boom in the area made the Ho-Chunk lands attractive to settlers. In response to the move west, the US government forcibly purchased their lands to alleviate the conflict between the tribes and settlers and open up the land for further development. The treaty promised the Ho-Chunk tribes a yearly payment in silver and blacksmithing services and goods in return for their lands.
The restored Indian Agency House tells the in-depth story of the 19th-century norms, discussions, and suffering in the town of Portage. It also gives you a look at the US and American Indian relations in the 1800s and immerses you in the era’s antiques and furnishings.
Other Attractions at the Indian Agency House:
- Open May 15 – October 15, Wednesday – Saturday: 10 AM – 4 PM, Sundays: 12 PM – 5 PM
- Admission: $7.50/Adults, $6/Seniors (65+), $3/Children (5-12), $18/Family (up to 5 people), Free for Veterans/Active Military
- Crossroads: Permanent exhibit showcasing the history of national significance that happened at the House
- Landscape of Families: Outdoor exhibit that tells the story of the 440+ Ho-Chunk member census that was recorded as the land these people lived on was sold to the US Government
- Archaeology & Frontier Blacksmithing: An interactive exhibit that explores scientific excavation
Things to Do Nearby:
- Fort Winnebago Historical Marker/Surgeons Quarters
- Wilderness Canyon Zipline
- Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area
Places to Eat:
Continue Your Trek West
These east coast sites are perfect for your road trip westward. Legendary gardens, American Indian history, a taste of French culture, a potential haunt; what else do you need? Visiting these sites will immerse you in the history of the 1800s, giving you insight to the previous tenants stories and access to their rich history.
If you’re yearnin’ for more, you’re in luck! Continue your adventure west by checking out the next batch of sites Beyond the Continental Divide.