Welcome to Old Sturbridge Village, one of the country’s oldest and largest living history museums! Depicting early New England life from 1790 to 1840, OSV (as it's known to its fans) guides visitors back in time with authentically costumed staff known as "history interpreters", antique buildings, water-powered mills, and even a working farm. Located approximately one-and-a-half hours (78 miles) southwest of the Hawthorne Hotel in the town of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, there's something for everyone both young and old alike at Old Sturbridge Village which has been visited by more than 21 million adults and children since first opening to the public on June 8th, 1946.
The nonprofit educational institution, whose purpose is to "provide modern Americans with a deepened understanding of their own times through a personal encounter with New England's past", traces its beginnings to a collection of early New England artifacts which included tools, utensils, furniture, glassware, and clocks, that was amassed by industrialists Albert B. and J. Cheney Wells of the American Optical Company of Southbridge. In 1935, the Wells Historical Museum was formed by A.B. Wells along with his brothers, other family members, and associates followed by a meeting in July of 1936 during which time the museum's trustees met to determine how best to present the large collections to the public. A.B. wanted to display his collections in a cluster of buildings arranged in a horseshoe around a Common but his son, George B., proposed a "revolutionary idea" instead.
Wishing to demonstrate how the items were originally crafted and used, the Wells family, upon George's suggestion, dedicated itself to the idea of displaying the collections within a working village and just one week later, the family bought farm land from David Wight in Sturbridge which contained a sawmill, gristmill and mill pond, the latter of which survives to this day. Within a month a curator was hired and an architect was brought in to help lay out the Village which was originally known as Quinnebaug Village but after a pause for World War II, became known as Old Sturbridge Village. If you're interested in reading a more extensive history of how Old Sturbridge Village grew from one man's collection that was "too big and too numerous to be simply one man's hobby" to a museum that has attained international recognition for its innovations in research and education, be sure to check out the Early History of Old Sturbridge Village on the museum's website.
Unlike a lot of other New England attractions, Old Sturbridge Village is open year-round offering a wide variety of different programs and activities depending on what time of year you're visiting. An average visit lasts between three-and-a-half to four hours but you're invited to take your time and give yourself the chance to see as much as you want while you're there. Should you wish to return another day, you can take advantage of a second visit free within ten days of purchasing your ticket plus if you bring other guests back with you, they can get 25% off their admission! For the latest operating hours and admission prices, visit OSV's Admission Hours and Rates.
Currently consisting of more than 40 structures that include restored buildings brought from across New England as well as some authentic reconstructions, the Village contains homes, meetinghouses, a district school, country store, bank, law office, printing office, carding mill, sawmill, gristmill, pottery, blacksmith shop, shoe shop, cooper shop and more. While it's certainly not practical for me to show you all of the buildings that encompass Old Sturbridge Village as I'd be writing forever and I'd really rather encourage you to go see them for yourself, Nathaniel and I would like to show you just some of the buildings that you'll see on your own visit to OSV.
We'll start with one of the first buildings that you come across after entering the village through the Visitors Center which is The Society of Friends, or Quakers, 1796 Meetinghouse, a building that was moved to Old Sturbridge Village from Bolton, Massachusetts in 1953. In early 19th-century New England, there were approximately 100 Quaker Meetinghouses from Maine to Rhode Island, all of them severe and devoid of ornamentation and often located in small Quaker neighborhoods that were set off from the larger community in which they lived.
In stark contrast to the Friends Meetinghouse, the slightly more ornate Center Meetinghouse dates from 1832 and came from Sturbridge itself in 1947. The church belonged to the Sturbridge Baptist Society which was joining with another denomination so they agreed to exchange the structure for an organ in their new church. Soon after the deal was struck, the Meetinghouse was taken apart, moved, and reassembled as a museum exhibit where it stands as a symbol of both town authority and spiritual power.
A favorite of both young and old alike is the circa 1800-1810 District School from Candia, New Hampshire, a one-room school house which was moved to OSV in 1955. Back in the time of this building, school was generally in session between December and March when the children’s labor was not needed on the farm while younger children who were too small to help with chores and likely to be underfoot, also attended school between May and August.
Outside of the schoolhouse visitors have a lot of fun trying to master the homemade stilts which are a lot harder than you might think! Trust me on that one!
Just down the road a bit from the District School is the 1819 Pottery from Goshen, Connecticut which was moved to the museum in 1961 with the kiln built by OSV in 1979. Hervey Brooks (1779-1873), who kept detailed accounts of his life as a potter from 1802-73, came to the town of Goshen as a 16-year-old apprentice in 1795 and practiced the potter’s craft in this building until his death in 1873.
Down at the Freeman Farm, the modest one-and-a-half story gambrel-roofed house was home for Pliny Freeman, his wife Delia, and a varying number of their seven children and kin. The circa 1810-1815 house came from nearby Sturbridge and became a part of Old Sturbridge Village in 1950. Additional buildings at the farm came from various other places - the 1830-1850 barn came from Charlton, Massachusetts, the corn barn of about the same vintage arrived from Thompson, Connecticut, and the circa 1800 smokehouse came from Goshen, Connecticut.
Being a city-slicker himself, Nathaniel quite liked the farm saying it reminded him a bit of his birthplace home on Turner Street in Salem minus the other houses crowded nearby and the harbor. Personally I think it was just the color that had him reminiscing!
Out at the barn, visitors can watch the "history interpreters" going about their chores like measuring and chopping a tree in order to make it into planks or you can head over and say 'hi' to some of the farm's four-footed residents.
Another very popular spot is the circa 1802-1810 Blacksmith Shop which came to OSV in 1957 from Bolton, Massachusetts. Blacksmiths were some of the most important artisans in a New England village shoeing oxen and horses, crafting and repairing tools, or perhaps fixing wagon wheels on carts and buggies among many other needed tasks.
From the Blacksmith Shop, visitors can then make their way to the South Waterford, Maine 1840 Carding Mill that found its new home at OSV in 1963. The machines in the Carding Mill are American adaptations of the original British technology as the exportation of carding machines was forbidden by England in the late 18th century.
Across from the Carding Mill is the Mill Pond and a covered bridge that isn't that old and not from anywhere in particular but is certainly pretty - especially if you happen to like covered bridges like I do!
In the grass by the pond is a millstone made of New England graite from the nearby Grist Mill that was built by Old Sturbridge Village in 1938. The millstone, which worked in tandem with another stone to shear the grain into a fine powder, was powered by a 16- foot-high water wheel mounted on the side of the mill - the one in front of which Nathaniel is posing!
A shot walk from the Grist Mill will take visitors to the recreated Sawmill which was erected in 1984 on the site where David Wight of Sturbridge, the man who originally owned the 153 acres that the Wells family bought and turned into their museum, built his first sawmill in the 1790s. Finding an up-and-down saw like those used before 1840 turned out to be virtually impossible as they had all been replaced by more efficient circular saws so OSV did the next best thing and decided to recreate their own sawmill following an extensive and exhaustive research on mill technology.
By this time, visitors to Old Sturbridge Village are probably getting a bit parched and hungry so it might be a good time to stop in at Bullard Tavern which was planned and built as a service building and not a historical reproduction in 1946-47. The museum's primary location for food services, you can step into the Bar Room and learn more about the role of a Tavern in early New England travel and then grab yourself some refreshments. Bullard Tavern is open for lunch 7 days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. offering both hot lunch and sandwiches.
After re-energizing, maybe you'd like to catch a ride on OSV's reproduction 19th-century stagecoach. Tickets are sold at Bullard Tavern and cost $3 per person except for children under age 3 who can ride on an adult's lap for free. Seating is limited so you might have to wait a bit if it's a particularly busy day in the Village and operation of the stagecoach is weather dependent but it's a great way to get a feel for early New England travel if you don't mind being jostled about a bit!
Prominently situated on the Village Common is the 1796 Salem Towne House which was brought to OSV from Charlton, Massachusetts in 1952 and whose grounds also feature an 1835 Cider Mill from Brookfield, New Hampshire that was re-erected at OSV in 1985, a barn that was built in 1955, and a sheep shed that was reproduced in 1980. Built to impress, this hipped roof house with its detailed cornices, moldings, and over-mantels is most definitely a looker both inside and out!
The handsome residence was the home of the family of Salem Towne Jr. of Charlton, who inherited the house at the death of his father in 1825. The house and its furnishings, which are elegant and expensive by the standards of the countryside and which blended imports with New England-made goods, reflect the tastes of Salem and his wife Sally who lived in the home along with seven of their nine children in 1830.
From the Towne Home, where Nathaniel felt quite at home, you can look across the Common or the Green - depending on which part of New England you're from! - and see the Center Meetinghouse in the distance along with the town pump and several of the other buildings that make up the museum including the 1737 Fitch House from Willimantic, Connecticut on the right and the 1748 Parsonage from East Brookfield, Massachusetts on the left.
Another of the buildings on the Village Common is the very pink 1835 Thompson Bank which was moved to OSV in 1963 from its former home in Connecticut on the Thompson Common next to the Thompson Congregational Church.
Curious as to where exactly in Thompson the brightly-colored bank building once stood, I emailed the Thompson Historical Society and asked if they could tell me; not only were they nice enough to email me back with the location but they also enclosed a photo, circa 1902, showing where the bank was originally located on the old Boston to Hartofrd Turnpike before being moved to OSV. I must say, it looks even smaller standing next to the large church but it was very interesting to see it in its original home!
|Image Credit: Thompson Historical Society|
In addition to all of the wonderful old buildings that make up Old Sturbridge Village, there are also other buildings that contain exhibits of some of the other parts of the Wells' family collection of New England "primitives" as A.B. Wells once referred to them.
Needless to say, there's a lot to see and do when visiting Old Sturbridge Village and there's sure to be something that will pique your interest. With constantly changing programs and activities, visitors can go back to OSV time and time again and always find something new as they find "meaning, pleasure, relevance, and inspiration in the exploration of New England's past". For further information, be sure to check OSV's very comprehensive website which can provide you with everything you need to know to plan a great visit to the New England's largest living museum no matter what time of year it may be and from what direction you may travel!
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