A Tangible Reminder

school group in front of the Colony HouseSomerset Place may seem the unlikeliest of places for young people of different racial, ethnic, and economic groups to find common ground. It symbolizes both a lifestyle and mindset they find nearly impossible to understand, and that many adults find difficult to explain to them. As one of the rare remaining examples of a large-scale pre-Civil War southern plantation, Somerset Place is a tangible reminder of a period in U.S. history when one group used its political and economic power to keep another in bondage, a time when that subjugation defined Southern civilization and shaped attitudes and perceptions that still exist today. This restored antebellum plantation is also a reminder of aspects of how all people lived before there was electricity, mechanized farming, mass production of clothing, machinery, and time and labor saving devices now taken for granted. One goal of the Hands-on Educational Program is to demonstrate to participants how laws, behaviors, societal beliefs, and technology have changed over time and the impact of those changes on the lives of individuals and groups. Following an interactive orientation exploring the plantation's history and a guided tour led by costumed interpreters, students participate in activities that help them understand how most families, regardless of race and legal status, carried out domestic chores. Each student makes an item in the same way it was made during the 19th century.

Our STEAM Educational Program offers 4th through 8th-grade students the opportunity to integrate concepts from science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math in ways that are naturally engaging to them and will allow them to explore the history of Somerset through a cross-disciplinary lens.  The 2.5-hour STEAM program will allow students to participate in an orientation of Somerset’s general history and engage in a STEAM-based walking tour and learning activity.

Please see our Teacher Resource Packet for field trip guidelines and expectations, program options, and classroom activities.

Schedule a Field Trip

Hands-On Activities Can Include:

Rope Making

Early rope was made in a long area of open ground called a ropewalk. Later, ropewalks were covered or completely indoors. Ropewalks could range from 80 to 224 yards in length and were sometimes referred to as ropeworks. On plantations, rope was used in securing animals, making rope beds, tying bales, and drawing buckets from wells. In this activity, students learn to use a portable ropewalk and make a length of rope to keep.

Hearth Cooking

During the antebellum period, most North Carolinians prepared their meals over an open hearth. Most used the multifunctional fireplaces in their homes or makeshift outside hearths during the summer. Hearth cooking requires a wide range of heavy cast iron utensils and cookware, as well as hot coals. Students grind corn and prepare cornbread over the open hearth in this activity.

Candle Dippingschool group dipping candles

Other than sunlight, oil lamps and candles provided the only source of light during antebellum times. The availability of light dictated daily activities and bedtimes. Electricity altered forever humankind's dependence upon natural and poor light. Students are given a length of string, which they can use to make one or two candles to keep.

Sedge Brooms

During the antebellum period, poor whites and enslaved families made their own brooms to clean their houses and yards. Gathering broom sedge during the early winter was a task set aside for children. The sedge was stored and available to make brooms all year. Sedge brooms only lasted about two months.  Each student will make one sedge broom to keep. 

Cotton Ginning

Until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, seeds were removed from raw cotton by hand before it could be made into thread or woven into fabric. Students will be given a small handful of cotton, from which they will pick out the seeds and make small pin cushions. This activity will thus allow the students to see cotton in three forms: inside bolls with seeds, woven into fabric, and as thread.

Three people standing in front of a large house holding baskets that they are weaving.


The development of baskets grew out of a need for portable containers to collect, carry, and store items. Useful baskets were lightweight, durable, easy to make, and made of         readily available materials. During the antebellum period when natural materials were plentiful many households used baskets for carrying eggs, laundry, fruit, and for storage. On rice plantations, enslaved persons made and used large flat baskets to separate the seed from the chaff of rice and wheat. This process was called fanning.  In this activity, students will make a small basket to keep.

STEAM Activities Can Include:


Measuring Tree Height

This activity utilizes basic mathematics in a simplistic version of tree measuring that would have been used at Somerset to determine the height of a tree needed for lumber. 

Butter Making

In this activity, interpreters discuss both the history and science of making butter.  Students will have the opportunity to make butter using the "shaken-jar" technique while learning about the differences between the physical and chemical changes a substance can undergo.  Interpreters also discuss emulsion, the key scientific concept applicable to making butter and how the mechanics of shaking the jar creates two different emulsions.

Candle Making/ Illumination

Students will dip candles to keep as in our Hands-On programming, but the STEAM version will include a more in-depth discussion of the science behind different sources of lighting for the Collins family and the enslaved community, as well as the chemical properties of candles and their manufacture.

Call the site to determine which activities are appropriate for your grade level.  The selection of a specific Hands-On or STEAM activity for your group is dependent upon the size of the group, the availability of materials, and weather.

Plan a trip to Somerset, and participate in our Hands-On or STEAM Educational Programs!

The Hands-On and STEAM programs are offered between March 1st and November 15th of each year. Reservations are required, so please call or email at least 30 days in advance to schedule your visit.  Phone: (252) 379-6020.  Email: somerset@ncdcr.gov

Group sizes can range from 15 to 125 students.

The fee per participant for both the Hands-On program and STEAM program is $1.00 to defray the cost of materials.