Located in Washington, Connecticut in the heart of Litchfield County, the Institute for American Indian Studies celebrates the largely unknown Indigenous history of New England. Opened in 1975, the 15 acre complex includes indoor exhibits, an outdoor replicated Algonkian Village, hiking trails, and even a Wigwam Escape Room experience. The Algonkian people inhabited much of the northeastern United States up until the 1700s and includes over 100 distinct groups and communities. The museum is very hands on and docents are eager to share anecdotal stories and explain the significance of artifacts on display. (Definitely ask for an atlatl demonstration!)
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday throughout the year- more information on hours and admission fees here.
The museum is located at the end of a residential street with plenty of clear signage and a dirt parking lot for cars and buses.
Restrooms and a small gift shop are located next to the admission desk.
10 Things to Do at the Institute:
1. Practice pronouncing “Quinnetukut” the Algonkian word for Connecticut, which means “place of the long water.” The Quinnetukut exhibit is the largest exhibit in the museum and features 12,000 years of history throughout an interactive timeline.
2. Learn about the 20+ ways a family would use a deer, how sugar was harvested through maple trees, and how people stayed healthy and warm during cold winter months.
3. Try to shoot an atlatl (dart thrower) under the coaching of an Educator. Head outside to see how slowly (under 20 mph a hand thrown dart moves and how much faster (up to 80 mph) the dart can go with an atlatl.
4. Guess how many bison hides and types of bark were used to make a wigwam. In New England, the hides would rot, so Indians used bark from a variety of trees to create the structures.
5. See how many ways the “Three Sisters” were used in daily life, from making dolls to shoes to cooking utensils. Hint: the Three Sisters are corn, bean, and squash- NOT people!
6. Learn about the top fashion item of the early 1800s and how it almost caused the beaver to go extinct. Hint: it has to do with a certain type of hat.
7. Compare your height to a giant beaver and the North American beaver.
8. Step inside a recreated 16th century Sachem House both indoor and outdoors. Both replicas are accurate in size (40 feet across and over 6 feet tall) and represent the meeting house for Chief Sachem. The indoor replica showcases several items used in the village. Kids will especially love the cradle board, the Algonkian version of a baby car seat. The outdoor Sachem House is part of the village, which also includes bark-covered wigwams, and a Three Sisters garden.
9. Learn how to track a calendar on the shell of a turtle and the significance of each of the 13 full moons each year.
10. Hike on some of the trail on and adjacent to the property. Take note of the signs that provide names and details about the various types of trees.
Bonus: Try to escape in the Wigwam Escape Room. Up to seven players can compete in a 60 minute challenge and a post game discussion. Additional fee applies.
For other nearby fun, check out our post on Places to Hike in Western Connecticut, which includes nearby Hidden Valley Preserve, Steep Rock Preserve, and Mount Tom State Park. We also had a great meal at the Bridgewater Village Store and Bistro– delicious food, friendly service, great ambience, and amazing chocolate from local chocolatier Bridgewater Chocolate. Other popular local spots include GW Tavern and The Pantry.
Disclosure: My family was given a media pass to explore the museum. All opinions expressed are my own.