When the first European colonizers came to the Americas, they encountered Indigenous People who were very connected to the land, using nature to benefit themselves, while also remaining respectful of the environment. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to many excellent sites where you can learn about the history and culture of its American Indians.
Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, Maryland showcases many cultural resources within one landscape and reflects plenty of history about the first early inhabitants. Archeologists have found evidence of rhyolite quarry sites and base camps related to hunting or kill sites in Catoctin Mountain Park. The mountain's resources provided American Indians with materials for tools, animals for food and clothing, and a variety of nuts and berries that were gathered as an additional food source. This forested park contains part of the Catoctin Mountain ridge, which forms the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as the Appalachian Mountains. Catoctin Mountain Park has more than 25 miles of trails to hike and walk, in addition to six miles of bridle trails for horseback riding. The highest destination to reach in the park is Hog Rock overlook at 1600', giving you a stunning view of the landscape.
Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park, photo by Alicia Lafever, National Park Service
Visit this park, located in Accokeek, Maryland, to experience a natural landscape similar to when American Indians inhabited the area. This landscape, the Piscataway homeland, was the site of the political center of the Piscataway chiefdom, a large village that was able to sustain itself on the natural riches of the Potomac, nearby game, and agriculture. By 1300 AD, the settlement was a fishing village with a developed agricultural system and homes protected by a palisade. Archeological evidence from this time includes fishhooks and other hunting tools. The Accokeek Creek archaeological site, the place of a Piscataway settlement, is a National Historic Landmark. The area that is now Piscataway Park remains the spiritual center for the Piscataway people, who gather there for ceremonies.
Photo by Carly Sniffen
American Indians in the Chesapeake Bay watershed lived close to the waterways and were connected to the river systems, which provided a source of food, recreation, culture, and transportation. The Susquehannock Indians may have once resided in the area which is now Susquehanna State Park, located in Havre de Grace, Maryland. The park offers an American Indian petroglyph exhibit and interpretive display inside the Rock Run Grist Mill. Experience and learn about the ancient petroglyphs and carvings for yourself to interpret the history and meaning behind the artifacts.
The park is also home to a grist mill, an elegant waterfall, hiking trails, and outdoor recreation such as fishing, biking, and boating.
Petroglyph exhibit at Susquehanna State Park, Maryland Historic Trust photo
The Delmarva Discovery Museum in Pocomoke City, Maryland is the place to go for the Eastern Shore's cultural and natural history. This museum serves primarily as an interpretive center, providing programs on American Indian history, North American river otters, snakes, turtles, and other wildlife you can find in the Pocomoke River region. With interactive and immersive exhibits, a river otter aquarium, a cypress swamp, and a touch pool, people of all ages can find something to love about this museum! This is a great place to learn about the history of the Indigenous people who lived throughout the Delmarva region and on the Eastern Shore.
Photo courtesy the Delmarva Discovery Museum
The Handsell Historic Site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site, located in Vienna, Maryland has an historic home, now converted into an interpretive center, offering exhibits and storytelling about the American Indians and early Europeans who inhabited the area, as well as stories of enslaved persons who later lived and worked at Handsell. . A replica of a single-family American Indian homestead was constructed using the materials and techniques available to prehistoric people circa pre-1600.
Chicone Indian Village, David Harp photo
The Zimmerman Center for Heritage in Wrightsville, Pennsylvania is a fantastic resource for those looking to learn more about the Susquehannock Indians, the Iroquoian tribe who occupied the area for hundreds of years prior to European contact. Artifacts are on display here along with information about the history of the Susquehannocks. A short hike up the hill from the Zimmerman Center you will find Native Lands Park, the site of the last known Susquehannock village. Tours are available from the Zimmerman Center through the historic landscape of this last known settlement of native Susquehannocks.
Indian Steps Museum in Airville, Pennsylvania highlights the history and culture of American Indians who dwelled along the Susquehanna River, as well as the civilization of early people from all over North America. The museum contains exhibits of many American Indian artifacts with prehistoric relics embedded on the interior and exterior of the building itself. The Indian Steps Cabin is on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the main attractions on the grounds of the museum is the beautiful totem pole, a hand-carved remembrance of the Pacific Northwest Native American Tribes.
The Seaford Museum in Seaford, Delaware is a gem and must-visit place for learning about the American Indians who lived along the Nanticoke River. The museum showcases 60 alternating exhibits and galleries of the town's local history and heritage, including artifacts and exhibits on the Nanticoke Indians. Seaford Museum is a good place to discover the history of the Delawarean tribes and how they lived.
The Pamunkey Indian Reservation is located in King William, Virginia. The Pamunkey Indians have a strong presence and continue to thrive throughout Virginia. The museum, located on the reservation, educates visitors about the Pamunkey Tribe and showcases tribal art from Native artists. The Pamunkey Tribe, some of whom reside on the reservation, proudly maintain their culture and heritage, and are happy to share their stories and history with the general public.
Pamunkey Indian Museum exhibit, Carly Sniffen photo
Henricus Historical Park in Chester, Virginia hosts historical reenactments and interpretive programs to honor and represent the tribes who lived within the Tidewater region of Virginia. Visitors can tour Arrohateck, a re-created Virginia Indian community once located on the James River, and experience the Eastern Woodland Powhatan Indian culture just prior to contact. In the canoe-making area, visitors can use an oyster shell to help scrape out the charred wood that creates the cavity of the canoe and in the outside cooking area pound corn into meal. You can enter the Virginia Indian long-houses or “yehakins” and sit on the traditional pole beds lined with fur blankets and enjoy traditional Virginia Indian artifacts found inside.
Henricus, National Park Service photo
Susquehanna River Archaeological Center in Waverly, New York features exhibits on the history of American Indians from the Ice Age to the Revolutionary War. The museum focuses on the prehistoric time period of the Iroquoian peoples and the Iroquoian/Susquehannock tribes, showcasing thousands of artifacts and local excavation findings. Specialized guides and historians give daily tours and interpretive programming, and if you visit you may even get to be an archaeologist for the day!
With 25 miles of trails winding through Catoctin Mountain Park, a variety of experiences are available ranging from easy to strenuous, many leading to outstanding scenic vistas.
Henricus Historical Park is a living history museum interpreting the second successful English settlement in the New World. Visit Henricus Historical Park and relive America's beginnings.
The Delmarva Discovery Center on the Pocomoke River serves as a source of learning and discovery for the public through the preservation and interpretation of its cultural and natural heritage.
Explore Pamunkey tribal culture and history along the Pamunkey River, a tributary of the York River. The Museum houses extensive displays related to the Pamunkey Tribe's history, culture, and subsistence covering the past 12,000 years.
Piscataway Park is located in Prince George's County, Maryland and encompasses 5000 acres of open fields, dense forests, and wetlands along the Potomac River directly opposite Mt. Vernon, the land and home of George Washington.
The Susquehanna River Archaeological Center (SRAC) features exhibits about Native Americans in the region dating back to the Ice Age through the American Revolution.
Susquehanna State Park offers a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities as well as points of historical significance. The park is home to some of the most popular mountain biking trails in Maryland and the river itself beacons fishermen and boaters alike.
The Zimmerman center showcases river history through historical displays, exhibits and programs, hiking trails, and provides public access to and from the river for power, sail and paddlecraft boaters.