New England’s Old Sturbridge Village, Part 1

I love open air museums. Reading about history is nice, but when it’s three dimensional it comes to life for me. As a child, one of my family’s favorite destinations was Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. The village depicts life in historic New England from 1790-1840. Visitors stroll across 200 acres that contain 40 mostly original buildings and over 50,000 artifacts. It’s the northeast’s largest open air museum.

One year Uwe and I went to New England. I insisted that our trip include a visit to Old Sturbridge Village. In retrospect, it wasn’t just because the spot is so much fun, and it would be interesting (I hoped) for my European husband to learn about early New England history. A big part of the draw was my desire to revisit a favorite piece of my own childhood.

Revisiting places can be a letdown, but the autumn weather couldn’t have been more beautiful. The seasons were about to change and the leaves were coming into their glory. It was perfect.

Old Sturbridge Village autumn
Old Sturbridge Village autumn

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The entry price is steep, $24 a person. But parking is free, and a second day’s visit is included. I was delighted that Uwe was willing to return the next day! [1]

Old Sturbridge has a large staff and lots of volunteer docents, folks who dress up in period costumes and chat with visitors. These volunteers go through a training period first and either demonstrate crafts (the blacksmith) or share knowledge (the bank clerk). All of them are enthusiastic and fun to talk with.

Asa Knight Store Originally from Dummerston, Vermont, c. 1826 and 1838-39
Asa Knight Store
Originally from Dummerston, Vermont, c. 1826 and 1838-39

Only 25% of those first store patrons could afford to pay cash. Most customers bartered for store goods. The store owner kept a careful ledger of customers’ names, purchases, and what they owed. The young woman behind the counter explained that while ‘her’ father would have run the store, it was likely that a daughter would drop her other duties to help out if she was needed.

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Goods from around the world as well as local products were for sale even two hundred years ago.

Tin Shop Sturbridge, Massachusetts, c. 1800-1850 Reconstructed by OSV, 1985
Tin Shop Reconstruction
Originally from Sturbridge, Massachusetts, c. 1800-1850

Tinplated sheet iron was imported from Great Britain and formed in New England tin shops.The Old Sturbridge Village gift store has handmade items such as dippers, lanterns, etc. for sale.

Thompson Bank Thompson, Connecticut, c. 1835
Thompson Bank
Originally from Thompson, Connecticut, c. 1835

The bank’s single employee was the cashier, open for business in the morning. Afternoons were spent doing paperwork and bookkeeping. This terrific volunteer regaled us with his knowledge and said that yes indeed, the bank clerk would have sat at the window waiting for business and chatting with people passing by…

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Cider Mill Brookfield, New Hampshire, c. 1840
Cider Mill
Originally from Brookfield, New Hampshire, c. 1840

A farm family drank about 300 gallons of hard cider each year. Hic!

Carding Mill South Waterford, Maine c. 1840
Carding Mill
Originally from South Waterford, Maine c. 1840

DSC_6406This is the only New England water-powered carding mill still in existence. It did a day’s work of hand-carding wool in a mere 20 minutes.

Part 2 will be posted shortly.

NOTES: [1] Of course, for Uwe a big draw was the unique photo ops…

All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s pictures from New England and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

5 thoughts on “New England’s Old Sturbridge Village, Part 1”

  1. I lived in New England (Massachusetts) for awhile, and my ex was from there. We visited Old Sturbridge Village a few times. Loved it. My best friend from university ended up living in the area too. She was an amazing quilter and she was asked to replicate a white-on-white quilt they had in Sturbridge Village; it was deemed too old and fragile to display in public and they wanted a beautiful replica made. She made it and it was displayed. I’m not sure if it’s still on display there since I haven’t been there since the mid 1970s.

    1. What a cool connection to an amazing place. I always associate you with the NW and SW. Your friend must be a master quilter. I’ve admired quilts at shows and exhibits. They can be real works of art.

  2. I agree! Living history museums are the best. We love the Beamish museum near Newcastle in the north of England–complete with coal mine and villages. Particularly fun was the dentist who explained that how much his patients could pay would determine whether they got the newfangled anaesthetic or have to rely on more liquid forms of relief.

    1. A museum that includes a real coal mine is fascinating. Old Sturbridge Village didn’t have anything on a dentist but maybe he was the reason families drank 300 gallons of hard cider per year!

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