Old Sturbridge Village
When most of us think about the "good old days", we recall a time when telephones were hooked into the wall, music was recorded on records, Coca-Cola was sold in a bottle and milk was dropped off on your doorstep.
Times have changed so much, so quickly, that it’s hard to recall the history lessons of what life was like in the real "old days" when change was the theme of the century. Flashback to early 19th century America: the setting: Massachusetts.
In the 1830s, there was no electricity. Homes were heated by a fireplace, cooking was done hearthside and the next meal came from farm work on the countryside. You can learn what life was like back then at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, MA, a museum and historical site featuring the lifestyle of rural New England during the late 1700s to mid 1800s.
"Probably the biggest word that works for us here is change," said Walter Buckingham, one of the museum’s several costumed historians. He leads visitors on guided tours of the Village, which consists of 40 original buildings, three working water mills and two restored farm houses, each spot offering a taste of early American family. "There are a lot of different reasons why people come here. A lot of it is for the connection to history."
Visitors of all ages are quickly reminded of that history on the first stop on the tour, a very small house.
"We like to call it cozy," said the costumed interpreter as she stirs a pot of soup warming over the coals, which are also used as a heat source, along with the hand-woven wool blankets placed on each bed.
The tour continues along the Common to the Congregational Church. Originally built in Sturbridge in 1832, it was acquired by Old Sturbridge Village in the 1940s. Next is the Country Store, which during the 19th century was considered the meeting place for townsfolk.
"Going to the store was like going to the mall today," said Buckingham, as the storekeeper greets visitors and points out the textiles and yarn goods for sale. The store is reminiscent of Olsen’s Market from "Little House on the Prairie", with one remarkable difference, however: "We’re much nicer than the Olsen’s," said storekeeper Katie Hill.
In the 1830s, a more diversified economy was beginning to emerge. To illustrate that, a small, white-framed building is set up as a lawyer’s office. Just across The Common, stands a bank. At this time, it was issuing currency to farmers, phasing out the barter system. There are also re-creations of traditional trade shops. A tin shop was a popular place, as it became a popular commodity in this era.
"Back then, tinsmiths mostly made kitchen stuff, like pots and pans," said Phil Eckert, another interpreter who spends time making those items, still used today. "It’s hard to improve on a funnel," he laughed. With Eckert’s assistance, visitors have the opportunity to make an item of their own. Other shops in the village include: a blacksmith shop, printing shop, candle shop and shoe shop.
At the edge of the Village, referred to as the countryside, sits a gristmill, sawmill and covered bridge. During the warmer months, visitors can hook a ride on the re-created stage coach.
On your way out of the Village, be sure to stop at the Miner Grant General Store, a 200-year old building. Here, you can browse the pottery and tin products made at Old Sturbridge Village and taste homemade breads, cookies and fudge.
"It’s a great place to find the past," said Buckingham. Those looking to take a piece of the past home should stop by the museum gift shop before leaving. It’s located right next door to the Oliver Wright Tavern, which hosts weddings and a several-course brunch on Sundays.
Since it’s a two-hour trip to Sturbridge, you may want to stay the night. A mile down Route 20 is the Publick House Historic Inn. Built in 1771, Publick House maintains 18th-century ambience, with modern-day comforts. The 17 guest rooms and suites are charming, decorated with period antiques and reproductions. Some rooms have canopy beds and others have tiny twin beds, reminiscent of the historical time.
It’s easy to be lured out of your room to Publick House’s restaurant and its renowned Bake Shoppe, both located downstairs. The restaurant, where "everyday is Thanksgiving Day," features all of the comforts of home: cozy fireplaces, plush wing chairs and food that will leave you happily full. It’s not surprising that the most popular meal on the menu is the "Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner", which, you guessed it, consists of turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and whole-berry cranberries. The menu also features pot roast, chicken pot-pie, lobster-pie, prime rib and a host of seafood selections. If you have room, you have to try their sweet rolls, which they are known for. They’re sticky, sugary and nutty, made fresh several times a day.
On the recommendation of our waitress, I tried the Indian Pudding. Sweet and full of molasses, this pudding is the perfect end to a perfect meal. If you can’t get enough of the pudding, no worries: you can buy it downstairs in the bakery. Be warned, however. You will be tempted by their sweet rolls, big and small, whoopee pies, an array of fruit pies, muffins, breads, tarts and cookies. You name it, they have it. All of the desserts are baked everyday in the Yankee ovens of the Publick House. You will no doubt leave here with a full belly, bag of sweets and real taste of life in the 18th century.
For more information on visiting Old Sturbridge Village call 508.347.3362 or visit www.osv.org. For lodging and dining information at the Publick House Historic Inn call 508.347.3313 or visit www.publickhouse.com.