Yet Another Journal

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» Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Going Back in Time

We had a great time at Old Sturbridge Village today!

I never came here as a child and this morning I was wondering if I was going to be disappointed; sometimes when you want to go someplace so badly as a kid it isn't the same as an adult.

But this was good. A very good day!

We got up early, but left late for certain health reasons (let's say that lobster roll caught up with me, although I don't regret eating it!). On the Mass Pike we were slowed down by a really nasty looking accident involving two cars and a dump truck (it didn't look like anyone got hurt), but it wasn't that long a delay. So we got there about an hour after they opened, but this was actually fine. We got through everything without rushing, stopping to talk to all the costumed people, and were done by four.

Old Sturbridge Village began as a collection of primitive tools and other pieces by a man named Albert Wells, who did not want the old items to be forgotten. First he started a regular museum, then came up with the idea to have a historical village devoted to New England life after the Revolutionary War, but in the calm ante-bellum 1830s before the Civil War. Most of the land belonged to the abandoned Wight Farm. The Village started in 1946 with six buildings and now has sixty, mostly authentic structures moved there, but some constructed for the site using traditional methods. Like Williamsburg and Plimouth Plantation, costumed artisans and historians show you how people lived.

We began, of course, at the visitor center and worked our way widdershins around the village, starting with "the small house," which is not an authentic aged building, but was built by the Sturbridge people to represent the average small home of the time (400 square feet). It had one bedroom as well as a fold-up bed that was the precursor of the Murphy bed. From there we went on to the Quaker meetinghouse and the Center Meetinghouse (Baptist, perhaps? Or Congregational?), past the reproduction graveyard, and the town "pound," here made of stone, which wasn't for dogs in those days, but strayed cattle, sheep, and other livestock.

At the shoe shop we spoke to the cobbler, who was constructing the sole, specifically the heel, of a traditionally-made shoe, made as a "straight" (there were no right and left shoes back then; they were made straight and molded themselves to your right or left foot as you wore them), pegging the heel with an awl, wax, and tiny pegs. He told us women would sew the leather uppers and then those would come to the shoemaker for attachment to the sole. Only men did this portion of cobbling. Then we peeked into the school, which was so dark we didn't see the "school keeper" swathed in his dark cloak and dour expression until we were inside looking at the battered desks (authentic) and lectern (ditto). We were lectured by the "school keeper"--not a school "teacher," because he did not teach the children anything: he just saw that they memorized what was in their books! He made $23/month, a female "school keeper" only $12. (The docents don't pretend to be of that time, like at Plimouth Plantation, but try to keep you in mind that it's 1830 with the way they talk.)

We next chatted with the potter, who also works in an authentic pottery shop that was moved from Connecticut. They make and fire and glaze their own redware pottery in an old beehive kiln on the opposite side of the road, then sell it in the gift shop. While we were there the potter's "drunken brother-in-law" and the schoolmaster visited him, and they did sort of pretend to be of that time.

Next we walked on to the Freeman Farm and Barn. This was a prosperous family of the time, who were able to expand their house through hard work and good investment in labor. We talked to two of the farm workers about the cattle--the cows lowing in the pasture in the rear and two oxen grazing in another field--which were Red Devon/milking shorthorn crosses. I was intrigued by their tall brimmed rye-stem braided hats, under which one fellow kept a bandanna to wipe his face! Chickens wandered the yard scratching and catching bugs as in the old days. In the house, they were cooking up breakfast foods (stewed apples, pancake batter, leftover meat) and the flies were everywhere. But of course in those days they didn't know flies were bad.

On then to the Bixby home; this family was always working, even at night, but when all their neighbors lost everything in a recession, they thrived. They were not wealthy, but had a nice big house and even "indoor plumbing"--a pump inside the house!

At the blacksmith shop, I watched with delight as the blacksmith, who is still in training, practiced making simple utilitarian hooks for homes with a decorative twist to them. He made a full hook as James and I watched, and presented me with an earlier one that had come out perfectly. It was amazing what small detail work he could do simply by tapping skilfully with that big hammer. Anyway, he said that the blacksmith, like the miller, would have done most of his business in trade. He'd make some tools for the Freeman family, for instance, and get milk and cheese back.

Next was the carding mill for use with wool (it could do in 40 minutes what one woman could do in one day), the gristmill (very familiar to us with yearly visits to Nora Mill), and the big sawmill which looked like every sawmill you've seen in a cartoon, except Bugs Bunny wasn't tied to the log heading for the saw blade. :-) The land in front of the sawmill is actually a 300-year-old earthen dam, which makes a pond and supplies the water for the millraces.

I am so glad I got to see this for my first time in the fall. I'm sure it's more lush in the summer, but it was lovely now, with beautiful patches of color around every corner. I must have several dozen photos of autumn trees and trees around vintage buildings.

We started on the "backstretch" by going over the Dummerston [Covered] Bridge, which came from Vermont after it was about to be torn down. It was once washed off its piers by Hurricane Diane (there is a flood line on the gristmill of where Diane flooded Sturbridge in 1955) and moved a hundred feet to its present site. Next was the Bullard Tavern, which has a cafeteria, so we stopped for lunch (and a potty break). James had a ham dinner and I had a chicken pot pie (which didn't have enough chicken, but the crust was great).

Then, onward: we walked down the green to see the tin shop. James and I learned something new: the gentleman running the tin shop is not a "tinsmith." He is a "tinner." A smith, he says, by definition, is someone who changes the thickness of metal. The tinner just takes different gauges of tin and makes them into containers, tools, etc. His most expensive item in the shop: a tin kitchen with a rotating spit for use before the fire to roast food. It cost $3 back then, which was three weeks' wages for the average man!

The parsonage, I learned, was only a parsonage while a Protestant minister lived there. It ceased being one once the minister left and was only a regular house. This was a big home with the parlor doubling as a room for church meetings. Upstairs was a guest room for maiden ladies traveling without escort who had no proper place to stay; the minister would take her in if she had a letter of recommendation from her own minister! Next was a small law office--and law offices seemingly never change: a desk, a diploma, and a big bookcase of law books!

We stayed and chatted with the lady attendant at the Knight General Store; Knight was another merchant who prospered and was able to expand the business by building ells upon the original structure. In the back were "supplies" in casks and barrels, while out front were shelves and containers of anything you could think of, from china and books and fabric to foods and spices and dyestuffs, dancing slippers, supplies of rum, brooms, bellows and glass bottles. James asked what copperas was and me "logwood" (the store came from Dummerston, Vermont, like the bridge, with the drawers of spices and dyes already labeled) and these were both used in dying wool.

We checked out a barn, had to skip a house undergoing a roof job, and stopped at another home, the Fitch, which illustrates average family life in 1839 and had authentic outbuildings behind it, including a corn crib (barn) from Rhode Island, and finally the "pink" (well, a faded red that looks pink) Thompson Bank. Inside Scrooge and Cratchit would have found it familiar, with a clerk's desk and the safe. In the back was an office where the bank manager arranged loans, and out front was the cashier's desk where the run-of-the-mill got their money. An exhibit of American, British, Spanish and French coins were included.

Next was the Towne House, a wealthy farmer's residence. This was huge compared with the other homes, a summer kitchen in the basement also used for "messy" jobs like butchering an animal, a dairy, and multiple bedrooms, including one big long room with a bed in the corner which was also used by Mr. Towne as a place for the Masons to meet. The walls were painted with trees, and the Mason "all seeing eye" and stars were painted on a blue ceiling. Two big piebald oxen were pastured next to the house.

Next was the cider mill, and it smelled from a distance of wonderful apple scent (although I wondered why there was an undercurrent of manure to the smell until I discovered the two sheep penned out back; there are sheep in various pastures next to different homes all over the village). Then we had a delightful visit to the printing office, where the printer was working on a letterpress to print out some marriage banns and marriage licenses. I was surprised to learn that his printouts will need to dry two days before they can be cut. There was a bigger press in another room, and then a place to read the galley proofs and correct them before making a final product.

Next we checked out exhibits of New England glassware (blown, pressed, optics, decorative, etc.), firearms (some looking familiar after our visit to Springfield) and textiles (chiefly clothing, which included "busks," decorative sticks stuck up a girl's back to keep her from slouching!), and early lighting. The latter had an actual "Betty lamp"--I've seen drawings and photos, but not actual Betty lamps. There were candles, Argand (whale oil) lamps which were actually bright enough to read by, gas, and early electrics. We passed on seeing the beehives (James is allergic) and walked past the herb gardens, and then, sadly, we were done!

(We apparently missed the powder house, the cooper, and a demonstration of cannon. Oh, well. We saw all the interesting bits.)

Then we perused the gift shop that you had to walk through to leave ("it's a state law"). James bought a cookbook and I got the souvenir book and a fridge magnet. On the way out we bought two fudge cookies and split one on the way home. It had an peculiar, interesting taste; I think it has molasses in it. (We ate the other later, while watching television in the hotel room.)

Happily, we ran into no bad traffic homeward bound except for a small slowdown. On the return trip down Route 1, next to Gillette Stadium where the New England Patriots football team plays, we stopped at A.C. Moore crafts. I was dismayed to find that their cross-stitch supplies are down to one side of one aisle!!! They had nice Christmas/winter banners though, including one with a chickadee on a pine branch; maybe I can go back. I bought a gift for someone there.

We ate at Old Country Buffet up near the Barnes & Noble. We used to have one on Buford Highway, and we had many "Myriad lunches" there. I would go there just for the roast chicken, which was golden brown with crispy skin. Then they sold the place to someone else and the food became dreadful. Well, this place still has the chicken. Unfortunately it was very dry. Also, the price was ridiculous. They charged us $5 each for unlimited drinks!!! Just for that I had a second glass of milk, because $5 was too much to pay for just one. Drinks used to be part of the dinner price. Plus when we came in, we were supposed to pay, but no one was at the cash register. The janitor saw us, called the waitress--there was only one waitress for the whole place, and she had to call the manager, who was supposed to be watching the cash register. She was in the back showing someone a picture of her new car on her cell phone! Sheesh.

So now we are back relaxing having had a great day. Glad I finally got to see Sturbridge Village!

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