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I lived in Alabama for years, about an hour north of American Village, and actually drove by it countless times on my way to my brother’s college basketball games. I spent time there at my cousin’s wedding, at which time I discovered the breathless beauty of the grounds. But I never ventured there to actually learn what it was about.
That all changed when I visited with another homeschool mom over the summer, during one of American Village’s open visit days. The price was right, costing around $5 per person to get in, and we ended up having the place to ourselves, which is a homeschooler’s dream fieldtrip.
I will admit that I had actually avoided going to American Village because I assumed that since it was a recreation of America during the Revolutionary War era, that there would doubtless be the same old African slave narrative that you typically get at pre-civil war reenactment sites. But I was wrong and was absolutely, pleasantly surprised at the wonderful, memorable experience that our kids enjoyed over the course of several hours on a sweltering July day in Alabama.
The Grounds and Buildings
ALL the buildings were frigidly air conditioned, so despite their old appearance, you won’t die of heat stroke on a 95 degree day. The grounds are simply….amazing. Meticulously manicured lawns with a forested backdrop and lake. No wonder they host so many weddings. All the buildings are in great condition. Bathrooms were clean. There is absolutely nothing wanting or lacking in the sheer beauty or cleanliness of American Village.
If you have strollers, there are paved paths where you can use your stroller to move from place to place but once you arrive at your building, you’ll need to carry your littles. The buildings are spread out so I recommend taking a stroller if you have a child who can’t handle the walking or who will need a nap. If you go in a group with mixed ages, I recommend you have someone available to let the littles run and play on the vast lawn while the older kids listen to presenters.
This is important because American Village is located in Montevallo, Alabama and is sort of out in the middle of nowhere. A strip mall has sprouted up nearby so you can drive there for food before or after your visit. But other than a very limited snack selection (think chips, candy bars, bottled water and soda) there is nothing to eat on-sight. Completing a tour can take a few hours and I guarantee that your kids will get hungry while you are there. So, pack snacks and a picnic and spread out under a tree overlooking the lake.
The American Village specializes in school field trips. If you can get a large group together and book a day to go, they can provide an engaging experience for your students. From their website:
“Young people "step into history" and discover the power and drama of America's journey for independence, liberty, and self-government through experience-based academic programs related to American history, civics, and government.”
When we arrived at American Village, we entered the gift shop, paid and were given a map of the grounds and a list of activities with times. We arrived when they opened at 10:00 and activities went on until around 4.
The first thing we did was learn about the Stamp Tax and why we should be incensed about having to pay it. We then went outside and participated in a Stamp Tax protest, complete with a mock effigy burning.
Since the King was obviously unimpressed and undeterred by our numerous protests and pleas, the kids then signed up for the Continental Army, were trained and received their payments and rations.
After risking their lives in the army, the kids got to be kids again and learn how to play some games from the era. I loved how all the cast members stayed in character the whole time and only had knowledge of historically relevant facts. Which meant the young man in character had no knowledge of baseball or football or any other modern day sporting activity that the kids suggested they play. The kids were completely baffled by that.
After playing in the stifling heat, everyone was ready for a cooldown so we headed inside to learn about and reenact the night the British landed at Boston. The kids donned costumes, were assigned roles and acted the story out as the Matron (a black woman who was NOT a slave!) told a grand story of suspense and intrigue. The kids were totally engaged and were able to actually retell the story after we complete the lesson.
After helping warn the colonists that the British were coming, we headed over to the beautiful full sized replica of the Oval Office, where we moms got to take a break while the kids took turns being the next president.
Playing president was fun but playing house and Colonial board games was probably more fun for our crew. They learned about colonial living and got to play house and games while we moms. . . took another break.
At this point, everyone was running out of gas but we stopped by the Randall Museum. We debated going here but were glad we did. What is the Randal Museum? From the American Village website: "Dioramas depicting significant events in American history, as well as figures of all the American Presidents and First Ladies are presented in miniature."
Our final stops of the day were to the chapel and to listen to Blackbeard tell a. . .colorful . . .story about his pirating.
The lights were dim, we had sound effects that made you feel as though you were on a ship and a gentle breeze to top it off. Be warned that this was NOT a Disney-esqe version of pirating. No worries, though, because the kids were half listening, but the gentleman in character gave it his best. At this point the kids were ravenous and we'd had to purchase some water and snacks from the gift shop - their primary focus was on their food. It had been a long day for everyone.
As you can see, there is plenty to do at American Village - you can definitely make an entire day of it and it is worth a few hours drive to visit, especially as there are other great activities available in nearby Montgomery and Birmingham. There were additional activities that we could have attended but we chose the ones that we felt would be most interesting to kids our kids' age and we had to cut it off early because the kids were done and hungry.
I highly recommend American Village to anyone who enjoys learning about history, for schools, homeschools and for family outings. It was a great value and a great outing.