One of the oldest and largest living history museums in the country, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts offers up a spirited dose of 1830s New England life.
By Aimee Tucker
Apr 16 2019
It’s a rite of passage for all southern New England kids – at some point during your elementary or middle school years, you will visit one (or hopefully all) of the region’s excellent living history museums depicting New England life in a bygone era. All are special and worthy of repeated visits, but the oldest and largest of the bunch is Old Sturbridge Village in south-central Massachusetts, just a half hour from Worcester.
Portraying everyday life in a rural 1830s New England town, Old Sturbridge Village (founded in 1946) is set on more than 200 acres and includes a series of curated exhibits, costumed interpreters, meticulously maintained period buildings, heritage-breed animals, and lovely landscapes. It’s a history museum, but it’s also a fantastic learning resource for all ages that encourages visitors to find “meaning, pleasure, relevance, and inspiration in the exploration of New England’s past.”
As a child, visits to places like Old Sturbridge Village, Plimoth Plantation, and Mystic Seaport were some of my favorite learning experiences and sparked my life-long love of history, so I was delighted to find myself walking the beautiful OSV grounds once more (this time after-hours) with a group of fellow local history and food enthusiasts, before enjoying one of the village’s signature Dinner in a Country Village events.
We began our visit outside the museum proper with a look at the herb garden (with more than 400 varieties of plants commonly cultivated in 19th-century New England) then made our way to the Visitor Center to check out a few of the exhibits.
There are 40 antique buildings spread throughout the Village (relocated to the museum from throughout New England and restored to 19th century perfection), and the landscape is organized into three areas: the Common, Mill Neighborhood, and Countryside. We spent the majority of our time in and around the central Common, so that’s mostly what you’ll see here.
As we approached from the “main road,” the landscape opened up and immediately transported us back to the 1830s.
I could have spent hours wandering around and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, but before long, it was time to head to the Parsonage (with its gorgeous adjoining barn) for dinner.
Inside, three of OSV’s talented, tireless, and friendly costumed professionals served us some light refreshments, including raspberry shrub and “A Cool Summer Tankard,” and told us about 19th dining customs and the meal we’d be making together. The menu included potted cheese, spring greens dressed with “a most delicious salad sauce,” roast boneless leg of lamb, roasted Jerusalem artichokes, spring dug parsnips, asparagus loaves, lemon pudding (part of the meal, not the dessert!), and trifle served with homemade hot chocolate for dessert. How’s that for a feast?!
During a break in the cooking, we even got up close and personal with one of the Village’s baby lambs in the arms of OSV employee Darin Johnson. Just try to resist that cute, warm body (and try not to think about what I listed on the menu a moment ago).
After a spirited period of preparation, it was time to sit down together, say grace, and dig in. It’s tough to top a good candlelit community-style dinner in an 18th century New England house.
The perfect ending to yet another a wonderful visit to Old Sturbridge Village!
Open year round with a jam-packed calendar of events (not to mention the beauty of the ever-changing seasons) no two visits to the Village are the same. I guess that’s why I’m already planning my next excursion. I’ll bet it looks incredible all decked out for the 4th of July, bathed in warm autumn colors of late September, or during the November “Evening of Illumination,” when tours of the Village are conducted by candlelight.
For nearly 70 years the goal at Old Sturbridge Village has been to help history come alive, and that’s just what they do for the more than 250,000 students, families, tourists, and scholars that visit every year, including me! Have you visited the Village lately? If not, I highly recommend it.
Many thanks to Darin Johnson and Michael Arnum in the OSV administrative offices for arranging and facilitating our visit, and to Ryan Beckman, Victoria Belisle, and Jean Contino for the superb 1830s hostessing!
Old Sturbridge Village. 29 Stallion Hill Road (off Route 20), Sturbridge, MA. 800-733-1830; osv.org
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.