Old Sturbridge Village: A Living History Museum in Sturbridge, Massachusetts
One of the Oldest Living History Museums in the United States
Old Sturbridge Village is a living history museum located in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Originally opened in June of 1946, it was the labor of love of the Wells family of the neighboring town of Southbridge, Massachusetts. Today it presents an amazing opportunity for visitors to step back in time and experience how life was lived on a daily basis in New England during the period of 1790 through 1840. Costumed workers and volunteers go about their days as the people during that period would have lived. They talk to visitors as though they too are also living in that period. The village consists of over 40 restored antique buildings which include a working farm, a blacksmith shop, shoe shop, law office, cooper shop, water powered mills, a schoolhouse, bank, church, tavern and various homes that are open for touring. There is even a covered bridge that visitors can walk over, or ride through on a horse-drawn wagon. One of the most exciting things for children at the village is the opportunity to see farm animals up close. This is especially wonderful in the Spring when baby animals are most prevalent. There is a hands-on children's room where kids can try on various costumes and play with toys of that time period. One can tour the village on a self-guided tour. The free horse-drawn cart is available to transport people from one part of the village to the other. This is a nice touch especially when it's very hot out or its raining. Most homes or shops have historically clothed interpreters performing jobs such as cooking, making shoes, performing black smithing duties, farming, and the like. The scents of home cooked meals waft through the air outside of some of the village homes as women inside bake pies or roast meat. Children are sometimes offered the chance to work in the barn milking a cow, or raking the animal pens. Not all are up to the challenge! Often in summer, children's games are brought out into the village green area and visiting children are given a chance to play old-fashioned games of the late nineteenth century. Some of the homes have beautiful gardens attached to them, and there is a very interesting herb garden that blooms each summer. All of the plants are marked, and it's interesting to note what plants are used to make common medicines of today. The village itself sits on over 200 acres of land and hosts approximately 250,000 visitors each year.
To spend a day at the Old Sturbridge Village is to step back into a time when life was much calmer and more peaceful. The experience gives one a view of the simplicity of life before cars, television, cell phones and computers were entertainment and when people had to rely on each other in a much more communal way.
Food and Gifts
There are two places where food is available on the Village grounds, which includes a Village Cafe and the cafeteria at Bullards Tavern. The cafe serves light fare such as sandwiches, salads, and coffee while the cafeteria serves warm home cooked meals.
Inside the Village, there is a General Store which is a gift shop that offers light snacks and coffee, as well as period gifts.
There is a much larger gift shop and New England book store just before the main entrance. One can also access this shop just before they exit the Village grounds.The gift shop is full of all types of unique New England gifts which include some that are made actually at the village. The shop carries Redware pottery, tin lanterns, folk art, home made preserves, and clothing, toys, and games of the late nineteenth century. The book store holds many books that tell of that period, as well as calendars, stationary and post cards.
Annual Celebrations at the Village:
Each season, Old Sturbridge Village holds various celebrations depending on the time of year or a nearby holiday. Some that stand out are:
February: Black History Weekend
March: Maple Sugaring Weekends, Celtic celebrations featuring Irish music, dancing, and food
April: Easter Brunch Buffets ( this can also be March depending on when Easter falls)
June: An antique carriage weekend
July: An Independence Day celebration on July 4th that ends with fireworks
November: Thanksgiving weekend with hearth cooking demonstrations, a seminar on 19th-century table manners and a Thanksgiving Day sermon at the church.
December: Christmas by Candlelight is a celebration that takes place in December at night on weekends at the Village with carolers, stories, a gingerbread house contest, Punch and Judy puppet shows and more!
Admission to Old Sturbridge Village is, as of this writing in February 2013:
Seniors, 65 and over: $22
Youth, ages three years to 17: $8
Age 2 years and under: Free
Parking is free, and with an admission ticket, visitors get a free visit as long as it is within ten days of the first. This makes a great opportunity for an overnight stay in a nearby hotel, and a second chance to see the village and all it offers the next day.
Membership options include Individual through family, but also include a bonus of getting into various other living history museums all around the country at a reduced rate. Some of these museums are:
Massachusetts: Plimoth Plantation, The Hancock Shaker Village, Deerfield Village
Connecticut: The Mashantucket Pequot Museum, Mystic Seaport
Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg
Summer day camps for children ages 6 - 17 teach children what it was like to live in the late nineteenth century.
Scout Activities: Scout troops can arrange to have group sessions where they learn crafts of the period
School groups: Tours for both public school and homeschooling groups can be arranged as a special learning tool.
Birthday parties: Children ages 5 to 15 can host birthday parties at the village
Old Sturbridge Village offers a variety or educational programs for adults which include teacher workshops, adult historical craft classes, black smithing classes, historic food preparation classes and workshops on vegetable gardening.
I wrote this article as a way to pay tribute to my Mom and Dad, who lived in Southbridge and Fiskdale, Massachusetts respectively and met each other while they worked at Old Sturbridge Village. As young adults, he worked parking cars, and she worked in the ice cream store. They have now been married for 59 years, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Check Out Another Living History Museum in New England...
- Mystic Seaport: A Photo Essay
Mystic Seaport in Southeastern Connecticut is a tribute to the whaling trade in the 19th century. A living museum, this photo essay captures the most beautiful and informative sights in Mystic Seaport.
Visit Massachusetts in the Fall and Take in The Eastern States Exposition
- Eastern States Exposition: Otherwise known as, "The Big E"
The biggest fair in New England takes place each Fall in Agawam, Massachusetts. Full of food, fun and a taste of New England it's a great family experience.