Swept Away… at Old Sturbridge Village

My in-laws were visiting the last few weeks from Denmark.  They’ve been here many times, visiting New York City more times than we can count.  So, last weekend, I decided to head the other direction to one of my favorite places, a true taste of New England…Old Sturbridge Village, in Massachusetts.  Farmgirl road trip!

I got hooked on American history as a fourth grader after reading a book on the Civil War.  Last summer, we stumbled upon Old Sturbridge Village, an outdoor, interactive museum, and I love visiting whenever we can.  (It’s very “farmgirl”…read on and I’ll tell you why).  The museum’s goal is to illustrate life as it would have been in the years 1790 – 1840.

Walking through the gates, it’s like you’ve been in a time machine.  There’s 59 old-fashioned, antique buildings and homes, with places such as the bank, a General Store, a shoemaker, a sawmill, and a working farm.  There are “villagers” walking around, dressed up in costume,  greeting you as you step inside the buildings.  They are so knowledgeable, and will answer questions just as if you were speaking with someone from the past.  I’ve seen them spin and dye yarn for knitting, right outside in a big iron pot. I learned how people dried food from their gardens to last through winter.  There’s a claymaker, busy molding clay into inkwells, cups, and other items.  There’s a shoemaker making shoes, and a tinsmith.  My favorite structure has to be the General Store (Lord, help me, I would’ve loved to shop, even back then)!  There, shelves are filled with bolts of fabric, antique hair accessories, antique china, tools…anything a person would have needed or found in such a place.

My father-in-law waits patiently, taking pictures as we three girls check out what shopping was like way-back when.

Hands-on crafts are also offered at OSV.  My daughter made this tin candle holder for me there last summer..

What I love most about this museum is how it’s ever-changing.  Each time, we see something different or learn something new.  In August, there are Civil War re-enactors who come from all-over, pitching white tents and spending the weekend in character.  Last year, we witnessed a battle in one of the fields! Things also change with the seasons.  I’m told Christmas is an amazing time of year to visit.

Civil war re-enactors ready for battle, August 2010

Taking a carriage ride through OSV is a historical treat!

Old Sturbridge Village sits on 200 acres, a breathtaking piece of New England.  The heirloom gardens are inspiring.  I love to see what they’ve planted and how they have their plants arranged.  I’ve taken with me ideas for my own home gardens.  This particular trip, each family visiting that day was given an heirloom tomato plant.  I chose the Amish variety, and can’t wait to taste the tomatoes when they appear!

There’s also hands-on crafts. This visit, my daughter painted a wooden miniature of one of the homes.  The other special craft offered that day was old-fashioned broom-making.  I had to try my hand at that!

I learned that corn brooms are made from a specific type of sorghum, which produces a tuft of bristles suitable for sweeping.  Back in the 1800’s, making brooms would have been a task for a young, unskilled laborer.  After completing my broom, I have to say that it’s an art!

The “machine” we used to aid us was all wood, a reproduction of one from the time period.  The handle of the broom goes in a type of vise, with a very large spool of twine at the top.  At the bottom, there’s a foot pedal to turn the broom as it’s created.  There’re wooden pegs hammered into the handle, and we laid the first layer of bristle around those pegs, then used the twine back and forth in an “X” pattern to secure it.  We repeated this several times, and then started weaving the twine though the layers to secure it.  The instructor told me that at first, they weren’t sure how the original brooms were “ended”, so they x-rayed one and found two, small, iron nails hammered into the sides of the broom.  We did that, using an old mallet-type hammer, and then cut the pegs down with another iron tool.  Lastly, we put the broom into another wooden device with a sickle-type cutter at the end, to trim the bristles down even. It reminded me of a giant paper cutter!  The whole process took about a half-hour.  It was a physical task, testing my upper body strength, as the twine must be tight in order for your broom to be strong and hold-up.  We then swept up the mess, and that little broom works great!  Later in the day, we asked a gentleman “working” at the store for directions, and he noticed I’d made a broom.  He complimented it, telling me he was the “head broom-maker”, and that I’d done a fine job.  I was so proud, and couldn’t help but wonder – is there a farmgirl sisterhood merit badge for that?

Now my broom sits in my kitchen, a useful souvenir, and reminder of a wonderful day spent with my family.  If you find yourself  in New England, Old Sturbridge Village is a great place to go.  You can visit their website at http://www.osv.org.  Maybe you’ll be “swept away” by the beauty and history, as well!

  1. Debbie says:

    Hi Nicole!
    Wonderful blog! We visited there a few years back when our children were very young… Reminds me of Plimoth Plantation here! We love living museum’s too. So much to learn and it’s fun! Thanks for the " farmgirl roadtrip"!
    Deb ( your BEACH blogging sister from MA. )

  2. Luanne Bailey says:

    Thanks for the great info on Sturbridge! We are going to MA in August on vacation and were wondering if it was worth going out of our way to visit – now I’m sure we’ll add it to our travel plans!


  3. Isabelle Frisco says:

    What a beautiful place. Looks like the "Walton’s" farm. Love the photos…broom…..and the tin candle holder is just darling. What wonderful memories!!!!Hope I can go someday too!

  4. Rowena Richey says:

    Years ago???  When our children were 4 and 7 we visited the village with friends for a day. It was delightful, relaxing and educational. I would love to visit again and bring my grand children.

  5. Denise says:

    It has been a very long time since I last visited Sturbridge.  I have a Stitch and Bitch group that always wants me to find something different to visit. How perfect is this? With an interest in self-sustaining, I think everyone might find something of interest. Thank you for the reminder.

  6. Patricia Strain says:

    I have been reading "Farmgirl Connection" for about a year now, this article inspired me to write my first comment! It looks to me like you had a wonderful "farmgirl" outing! I would LOVE to visit OSV (we’re from the midwest, probably won’t happen soon 🙁 Enjoyed your post, I don’t knit, just crochet, I also practice the art of canning, I also enjoy bread making (without a machine, the kneading of the dough is the joy of breadmaking) I could go on and on… you truly seem like a "sister" to me.

    Hi Patricia!  Thanks for reading, what a sweet comment-you made my day! The Farmgirl Connection certainly makes the world a smaller, sweeter place to live!  Hugs!  -Nicole

  7. Ellen Ottoson says:

    When I lived in Scituate, Rhode Island my family would visit Sturbridge Village in Conn. often. My parents visited and Mom walked through much too fast for me. I wanted to go back one more time but we moved by then. There is so much to learn and observe of a time past. My daughter, when she was younger, and I volunteer at two different living historical parks. I weave and spin and she had assisted with preserving fruits by sulphuring them and helping in the kitchen with the great iron stove. It is very gratifying and we learned many useful skills. Keep up the good work!

    Ellen, how neat that you can be a part of a living historical park!  I think I would enjoy doing that, too!  Thank you for reading!  -Nicole

  8. Shannon says:

    How cool! I absolutely love visiting historical sites and reenactments. Every Christmas, my family participates in Civil War period dance reenactments that happen at various festivals throughout our state of TN…it really is a lot of fun! 🙂
    I’m glad you and your family had a good time! Thanks for such a great post. 🙂


    Shannon, thanks for reading!  How fun your dance reenactments must be! Sounds like a really neat family tradition, too.  -Nicole

  9. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for sharing! I would love to take my girls cross country, from Kodiak Island AK to OSV, what a wonderful hands on piece of history.

  10. Laurie Dimino says:

    I share all of your sentiments about "OSV"- my family and I spent this past Thanksgiving there and we thoroughly enjoyed it! I could actually set up permanent residence there. I too have 2 lovely tin wall sconces that my kids made for me…and I treasure them!
    Thanks as always for sharing your wonderful story.
    Farmgirl Smiles,
    Farmgirl Sister#1403

    Laurie, I haven’t yet been in the fall…I bet it’s a fun time to go.  There’s always something neat to see or do.  Thanks for reading.  -Nicole

  11. Patsy says:

    Wow Nicole! What a fabulous time I had-it was just like BEING there! I will definitely put Old Sturbridge Village on my wish list of places to visit! Thanks for your wonderful writing!

    Patsy- thank you!  It’s a blessing to share with all of you!  -Nicole

  12. Ali says:

    Hi Nicole,

    I love Sturbridge Village! I haven’t been there in years, so your post serves as a reminder – maybe later this year in the Fall or around Christmas time as you mentioned. Can’t wait to see your broom in person!

    Farmgirl #12

    Ali, I’d like to get our chapter together for a Girls Day Out…we can all go together as a chapter, too!  -Nicole

  13. Rose says:

    I loved Sturbridge Village when I visited there in fall years ago. Thanks for another wonderful blog with an update on the Village. I may have to plan a visit to there next year when I am back home for a visit.

  14. Mary Ann says:

    Love this blog, and this article really made me want to read a book on history (Little House on the Prairie comes to mind) or visit a working museum. We have some in Florida,too, it’s called a "Cracker" village. Thanks, Nicole, you’ve given me some ideas to add to my bucket list, ha!

    Mary Ann, Love Little House books, too!  I can’t wait to share them with my daughter.  She already loves the reruns on tv when we catch them.  Thanks for reading! -Nicole

  15. Ruth says:

    Nicole, Being from Scituate, MA, Sturbridge is one of my favorite places to visit. I love, love, love it in the Fall. Thanks for sharing with all of us, just makes me want to go again.
    Your broom is really neat – also love the candle holder your daughter made – what a treasure!
    Hugs, Ruth

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *