MASSACHUSETTS: STURBRIDGE VILLAGE
Old Sturbridge Village, Route 20 . Sturbridge . Massachusetts, not unlike Plimouth Plantation, is a living history site. It functions very much as a New England town of the 1830s would have,
and it's fascinating and enlightening to see how skills—long
forgotten by most of us—were employed in a variety of ways to make
such a village thrive.
Perspective | Exhibits | Contact Info |
As a historical site, Old Sturbridge Village brings the early to mid 1800s to life vividly with considerable detail and historical accuracy. Here one can learn about the emphasis on the agrarian lifestyle that characterized much of the nation during the period. Each building was brought to the site from around the region to make
up a Village typical of the period in rural New England.
Much more than a museum or historical site, Sturbridge, Massachusetts is quintessentially New England in its essence and character. It can deliver a powerful learning experience at the old village, provide a wonderfully romantic weekend or fully satisfy the insatiable curiosity of an ardent site seer.
There's a great deal to do throughout the town, where quaint houses and village shops provide a marvelous microcosm of the New England one often imagines at mention of the region. It's steeped in Yankee ethics, tradition and ingenuity and the surrounding area is peaceful and inviting.
Old Sturbridge Village itself is about as complete an early 1800s town as one can find anywhere. It's exhibits are living characterizations of a far simpler time; a lifestyle replete with differing beliefs, religious and philosophical, that blended here into a unique, harmonious environment that flourished as the nation grew. In fact, a visit to the village gives one a hint of utopia, a social concept carefully nurtured in nearby parts of New England during the 1800s.
Staff members here, laboring at early American chores in authentic period dress, are happy to demonstrate their crafts and trades and are very knowledgeable about the lifestyle, technology and culture of the era they represent. Having them as living, oral-history interactors with the exhibits and visitors adds enormously to what one sees in each building, field or common. Helpful, too, is that they answer visitor
questions in the context of the modern world, stepping in and out of
character. Using nothing but a "thee and thou" dialect with no subtitles can make you and your children bolt for the Golden Arches, so it's refreshing to get answers in both period and contemporary vernacular.
The Asa Knight Store at Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Copyright © Sturbridge Village. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
The village complex comprises two parts: The common and center village, where social interaction occurred, and the countryside, where the farming was done.
One learns best by doing and Old Sturbridge Village knows well how to teach. Visitors may build a stone wall (using lightweight foam "rocks") and small-scale snake-rail (zig-zag) fences; assemble a small-scale post-and-beam structure; pump water using a hand pump on the Common; "raise" a bucket from its various components in the Cooper Shop; try on a straight-lasted shoe in the Shoe Shop, and more. There are also various opportunities to interact with the times at the farm, including harvesting activities
(pulling root vegetables, digging for potatoes, picking corn, threshing and winnowing grain, etc.). In January and February, visitors can take a turn at dipping tallow candles.
Old Sturbridge Village is open
year-round and each season brings related special events. With
snowfall in the winter, a horse-drawn sleigh for visitors is pulled
around the Common and those who bring skates may take a spin around
the ice skating area on the Common.
As for holidays, special focus is
given to Washington's Birthday, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving,
the three major holidays in the Village's period.
Also new to the
Village is an exploration of the history of Christmas traditions in
December. The Village is decorated for the month of December, known
as "Spirit of the Season," and offers several candlelight evenings.
And like Plimoth, Old Sturbridge Village is a Thanksgiving destination for families to
enjoy a traditional dinner.
If you're interested in a way of life long since past, you can recapture it here in all of its fullness. It's a must stop on any New England tour.
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Exhibits and Attractions
The Common and Center Village
The Common and Center Village at Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Copyright © Sturbridge Village. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Quakers, a minority in New England during the period, congregated here to practice their religion here.
Lengthy Sunday services, town meetings, elections, lectures, and political events were held here.
This represents the home of an elderly widow and her unwed daughter.
Built in the 1700s, this house was residence to a printer. Additions were made to it into the 1820s.
Bank branches in the 1800s were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are today. In fact, this bank served several towns. They issued their own bank notes and gave loans to farmers, merchants and manufacturers.
Here, books were printed and bound for national consumption. For the local populations, the printer would have printed broadsides, bills and pamphlets.
Being a staple in New England, cider was (and still is) produced here. The apples were pressed into cider using horsepower in the 1800s.
Salem Towne House
This house reflects the domestic life of a successful farmer whose family members would likely have been community leaders.
Particularly New England, covered bridges fascinate us today as architectural art forms. In the 1800s, they were vital connectors that, in this case, linked the center village to the mill neighborhood. Interestingly, the roofs weren't built to protect travelers from rain and snow, but rather to lend strength to the bridge's structural integrity.
In the age of stainless steel, tin seems somehow insufficient, but in the 1830s tinware competed with pottery and was sold from the shops that made it, by peddlers or sold to other shops for sale.
Considered a "lean-to" house, this is where a Congregational minister and his family lived.
In the 1800s, attorneys often practiced at home. The lawyer living here likely handled legal matters involving property, litigation, inheritance and debt collection.
While this conjures images of swords, coats of mail and suits or armor,
the Asa Knight Store was the country store in 1800s Sturbridge. Here transactions
were often made through barter or trade rather than an exchange of cash
for goods. Here one could trade farm produce for products brought in from
near and far.
Like the contemporary dog pound, this was built by the town but the incarcerated in the 1800s were often were livestock running loose or grazing other farmers' fields.
Even though these were small, they served both local and distant clientele
by producing large quantities of footwear.
The Countryside at Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Copyright © Sturbridge Village. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
In the 1800s, children attended school starting at the age of four. The
school year was very different from that of today. School was in session
from December until March and then from Mid-May to August to accommodate
children who helped on the farm. The latter session was attended only
by those who could attend.
Traditionally, the countryside potter was a redware potter who fashioned earthenware vessels from local clay then exchanged it for goods and services.
Agriculture was far and away the largest industry in the 1800s pre-Industrial Revolution. Families typically worked 70 or so acres to produce vegetable and livestock crops for subsistence as well as for trade. Farmhouses, outbuildings, chickens, sheep, cattle and pigs were common New England features, as they were in much of the rest of the country.
Barrels and pails were necessary storage and carrying vessels and farmers
often crafted their own part time. Nonetheless, coopers were kept busy
in thriving agricultural communities.
Home to a blacksmith's family, the people living here away from the city and center village were more apt to adhere to traditional values.
Traditionally cast in the role of a horse shoer, the blacksmith actually played a much wider role as he hammered out and repaired farm implements and other hardware in addition to shoeing horses and oxen.
The Industrial Revolution budded in myriad ways small and large. Here wool-carding machines were tasked with an important step in the manufacture of clothing. The tub wheel and belt drive were powered by flowing water in a mill stream.
Millers were responsible for grinding grains into flour, meal for baking, and feed for animals. The 3000-pound millstone used in the process relied water power to turn and grind the grain.
Here logs were cut into lumber for building and other purposes. This was an "up-and-down" mill powered by an 1830-patented cast-iron "reaction" waterwheel.
Address: Route 20 . Sturbridge . Massachusetts
The Tavern at Old Sturbridge Village
Bake Shop Daily
The Museum Gift Shop
Museum Online Gift Shop
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