Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information. 

Just 50 minutes outside of the hustle and bustle of New York City, Westchester County, New York, offers student groups just the opposite atmosphere. Historic Hudson Valley, a nonprofit cultural organization, celebrates the history, architecture, landscape and culture of the Hudson Valley with sites that take students back in time.

Three of the five sites welcome student groups with tours and hands-on activities: Philipsburg Manor, Washington Irving’s Sunnyside and Van Cortlandt Manor. Experiences are tailored to the group’s grade level.

“These sites are so close to the modern New York City, but travel a little north and it’s a whole different experience,” said Margaret Hughes, associate director of education at Historic Hudson Valley. “It’s a total change of environment with different time periods, past and present, represented.”

At Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, students tour the estate of America’s “Founding Father of Literature” who brought the world characters like Rip Van Winkle and the Headless Horseman. Students learn about Irving’s storied past and the whimsical estate he designed himself.

“Irving’s home teaches students about industrialization,” Hughes said. “Irving was writing his stories in the early 1800s. The way he described the Hudson River Valley in his books really made this a destination for Americans and an iconic one at that.”

Washington Irving’s Sunnyside
Credit: Historic Hudson Valley

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

At Philipsburg Manor, students travel back to 1750 when it was a thriving milling and trading complex housing 23 enslaved individuals of African descent.

“It’s a really special site,” Hughes said. “We talk about slavery in the Colonial north — a lot of people don’t realize slavery existed here.

“We use the site to talk about enslaved people and refer to them by name,” she said. “History comes alive with hands-on activities, where students can help crank the gears on the water wheel or participate in open-hearth cooking with historic ingredients and recipes.”

At Van Cortlandt Manor, students learn about the domestic life of a patriot family living after the American Revolution. The site includes the stone manor house, brick ferry house and heritage gardens. “We talk to students about what it was like to live during the Revolutionary War,” Hughes said. “The house went back and forth between American and British holdings. It’s a great way to talk about the time period with hands-on activities.”

For more information call 914-366-6900 or go to hudsonvalley.org.