Old Sturbridge Village, Winter break 2017

When I was little my parents sometimes took me to "living museums" to experience historical interpretations of America in the 1800s. You know the kind, with the ladies in bonnets and the ox-carts and the cheese-making demonstrations? Where I'm from, the nearest such museum was the Genesee Country Village & Museum near Mumford, New York. We typically went there on the 4th of July to visit the period houses, talk to the interpreters, and experience the cannon being fired and the fife & drum parade. I LOVED IT.

One winter my parents took me to a similar museum in Massachusetts, where we experienced old-fashioned maple sugaring, New England snow, and splinters from the rustic flooring. I also remember getting into an argument with a slightly older boy about the correct pronunciation of "Archeopteryx." I was 5, so he was probably 6 at most. (The dinosaur story may be slightly beside the point, but it's an early indicator of my didactic tendencies.)

Anyway, it turns out that in adulthood, I live a mere 90 minutes away from this second museum: Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. I LOVE IT. We've gone there for July 4 several times (more cannon firing!). This past 4th of July we were so charmed by it all that we became annual members, meaning we could go any time. So this past February on an unseasonably warm day, we decided to stop by during winter break. Here's what we saw!

Fresh new baby lambs

Demonstration of a well sweep (this display in front of an actual well sweep)

There is a potter on-site and they fire all of the pottery in this tremendous kiln several times a year.

Scene with chicken

At the shoemaker's exhibit, there are many sizes of old-fashioned shoes to try on.

The shoemaker's workspace

Authentic handbills tacked up outside the general store (which sells souvenirs and snacks, and is air-conditioned/heated)

The interpreter at the printer's office was very chatty--we learned a lot, including the fact that there was no black ink. Instead it could be very dark blue or red or brown.

Winter view out the window of the attorney's office on the main square.

 The attorney's desk

This is the Towne House, the fanciest in the village. At one point it was inhabited by a family with 9 children. It has two parlors and two kitchens.

One of the parlors--note pianoforte in the background.

Dining room at the Towne House

I believe this is upstairs at the Towne house (my daughter took some of these photos)

One side of the long upstairs room in the Towne house, with crib placed before fireplace

Another part of that same long room. Apparently they would have held balls or meetings or quilting bees here on special occasions.

Behind the great room on the second floor is the servant's bedroom. Just out of sight on the left are stairs down to the kitchen.

This is down TWO floors from the previous photo, it is the second kitchen built right below the main kitchen. There is also an indoor well in this area.


A modern-day sitting area (not an exhibit) in the building that houses the cafeteria.

Glass case holds old-fashioned ice skates. 

Display of period winter-wear, including a quilted hood.

The tinsmith was doing some very precise work to affix the handle-ring to a conical candle snuffer.

Tinsmith scenes

Your average bed... I don't remember where this one was, but likely a one-storey house on the square.

This stove and the coin display above are all in the Thompson Bank building, also right on the square.

Another favorite spot is the farm house, way out in the "country" part of the village. When we visited on this February day, they were making candles from actual tallow (beef fat). We learned that the method is to chop up the fat (see bowl), place it with water in a cast iron cauldron, and heat until melted. Then they dipped strings affixed to a dowel into the water/fat, and the fat clings to each string with each dip. My son got to try dipping. You place the dowel on a rack to dry/cool between dips, doing 12-24 dips in total to make a candle. (This is great knowledge for the end times!)

A wonderful in-between spot between the farm kitchen and back shed, full of kindling and drying herbs.

The Rooster in Charge

The cooper's workshop, another building in the country part of the museum

At the end of our visit we stopped by the main building to see the exhibit called "Make No Little Plans," about the family that started Sturbridge Village. The quote was excerpted in the brochure that we carried around all day, and by the end of our visit we had it memorized. "Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's blood... Make big plans, aim high in hope and work." What amazing advice to give anyone!

The Village founder, A.B. Wells, worked closely with his grand-daughter Ruth on the village, though he lived in California. They exchanged "Audiograms" from time to time, which are short records sent by mail carrying voice messages. The "Make No Little Plans" exhibit played some of this audio on a loop and also showed reproductions of their letters back and forth. (They were very dear.)

Parting view of Old Sturbridge Village. These interpreters were finishing up for the day. I adore such scenes with zero modern paraphernalia on view. This could be taken anytime since color film was invented, right?!

What do you think of these historical villages? What about the idea to "make no little plans" ?

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