Old Sturbridge Village
Explore early New England in the company of farmers, craftsmen, and fascinating characters. Celebrate yesterday's proud traditions on your remarkable journey into America's past. OSV is the largest outdoor living history museum in the northeast. The historical landscape of more than 200 acres includes more than 40 structures including restored buildings brought from across New England as well as some authentic reconstructions.
In the early nineteenth century the land on which Old Sturbridge Village now stands was David Wight's prosperous farm, including sawmill, gristmill, and well-situated millpond. In earlier years the land had been wild and rough--the hill behind the Meetinghouse had once been called Pogus Mountain and known principally as the home of bears, wolves, and wildcats. Still earlier, at the end of the last Ice Age, the great glaciers had shaped and scoured the landscape, leaving ponds, boulders, and subtler traces that Village archaeologists would find much later.
At the heart of the early 19th-century community was the center village, with houses, shops, stores, and meetinghouses clustered around a common. Below are brief descriptions of some of OSV's highlights. For a comprehensive interactive map, visit http://www.osv.org/tour/center.htm.
The Common and Center Village
The center village, with its common and at least one central meetinghouse, was the heart of the New England town. It might have included only the meetinghouse and a dwelling or two before the Revolution, but after 1800, improving roads, increased traffic, and a new rush of economic activity transformed this place into a thriving center of commerce where farm families came to trade, visit, and worship. Merchants, tavernkeepers, professional men, and craftsmen made their livings here by providing goods and services for the outlying neighborhoods, and some had begun to produce for more distant markets as well. Most center village houses, stores, craftsmen's shops, taverns, and offices were built or expanded during that period of rapid village growth between 1790 and 1840.
The Society of Friends, or Quakers, were a small but well-known denomination in early 19th-century New England. They practiced a distinctive style of worship and were determined to maintain the integrity of their beliefs and practices. Uncompromisingly "plain" in dress, speech and manners, they were a people apart. From Maine south to Rhode Island, there were close to 100 of their severe and unornamented meetinghouses, often in small Quaker neighborhoods set off from the larger community. Committed to its traditional testimonies of peace and social reform, the Society of Friends remains active in New England today.
By the 1830s the Meetinghouse and its skyward pointing steeple,usually painted a brilliant white, was the universally recognized symbol of the New England town. After the Revolution, there was a great increase in religious diversity in New England, with a number of denominations forming religious societies and building houses of worship. Whether founded in the 18th century or in the early 19th, rural New England's religious societies usually occupied prominent locations on the town common. There they built or remodeled and redecorated their houses for worship, often in rural interpretations of the Grecian style.
The Fenno House is the oldest dwelling in the Village and depicts away of life that even in the 1830s would have been behind the times. Presented as the home of an elderly widow and her unmarried daughter, most of its furnishings date back to the years before 1800, and some even to the years before the Revolution. The house retains its traditional early 18th-century form, with kitchen and parlor below, and bedchambers above. The chamber over the kitchen is sparsely furnished for the family's boarder, a young man just starting out in life away from home--a journeyman, clerk, or teacher.
A white picket fence, a homemade rose trellis at the door, and a colorful flower garden in the side yard illustrate this family's comfort and prosperity. The Fitch House is presented as the home of a successful country printer and his growing family. By the 1830s, the house, begun as a much smaller structure 100 years earlier, had several additions, creating five ground-floor rooms. One is a comfortable family parlor for everyday use, but the best parlor is furnished genteelly for entertaining visitors, with carpet, sofa, and an elegant stove. The newest room is a spacious kitchen in the back, replacing an older one that has become a hallway and bedchamber for the family's daughters. The furniture is a mix of pieces made by traditional woodworkers and the products of rural New England's new chair factories and retail "ware rooms."
The Thompson Bank gives the strong impression of safety and security, assuring its shareholders and customers that their business and their money were taken seriously. Chartered in 1833, it was financed through the purchase of its stock by prosperous farmers, merchants, and professional men. The building was constructed soon afterwards. Its Greek Revival style, widely fashionable in the 1830s, makes it a small temple of commerce. The structure served as a bank until 1893, remaining in Thompson for another 70 years, until it was carefully crated and moved to the museum. At the Village, its interior was restored to its original elegance and furnished with stylish astral lamps, a cast-iron stove with classical columns, and a regulator clock attributed to Simon Willard.
The craft of printing in the early 19th century required both precision and strength. In the Printing Office interpreters demonstrate the range of skills that a printer learned during his apprenticeship, showing the speed and dexterity required by typesetting and the heavy work of operating an Acorn Frame Press. With this improving but still laborious technology, printers fed the expanding appetite of New England's readers, then the most literate population in the world.
On a small parcel of land next to the barnyard lies the Townes' apple orchard, and just beyond it sits the Cider Mill. Since few farmers owned their own cider mills, mill owners rented them to others after they had made all their own cider. In September and October, cider mills like this one were at work throughout New England, as their horse-powered crushers and hand-operated screw presses converted most of the region's apple crop into cider. New Englanders traditionally barreled cider as a beverage for household consumption and left it to turn "hard" or alcoholic. But during the 1830s, cider mills were not as busy as they had been earlier. Under the impact of temperance reform, both cider consumption and the acreage of farms planted to orchards were diminishing.
Salem Towne House
From its hipped roof lighted by rows of monitor windows to its elegant doorway, the symmetry and careful architectural detailing of this house mark it as the work of a skillful country builder. In fact, virtually all of the finish on the house--the windows, cornices, moldings, and over-mantels--can be found illustrated in the 1792 American edition of William Pain's "Practical Builder", a guidebook of designs for English carpenters. Careful study of the woodwork reveals how the builder mixed and matched elements from the multiple options shown in Pain's illustrations. Within and without, this house was built to impress its visitors.
Contrary to popular belief, covered bridges were not built that way to keep the snow and rain off travelers. And not all New England bridges were covered. The builders of covered bridges wanted to outsmart Mother Nature and make their structures last as long as possible by protecting them from New England weather. The covered bridge's roof and sides were easy to replace. They kept wind, rain, snow, and sleet from the heavy beams and timbers that supported the bridge load.
Ironically, it was necessary to shovel snow onto covered bridges in the winter to let sleighs and other horse-drawn vehicles pass over them. Only a few covered bridges remain--as they deteriorated, they were replaced by concrete and steel bridges, which don't need wooden covers to protect them.
The tin business was new in New England after the Revolution and was growing rapidly in the 1830s. Tinware competed successfully with the more traditional products of redware potters. Tin shop owners purchased tinplated sheet iron imported from England, shaped it into a variety of forms, and distributed finished goods wholesale through peddlers, stores like Asa Knight's, and large warehouses in Boston. They also sold at retail from their shops.
In the 1830s, an 18th-century lean-to house on the town common, painted white to harmonize with more modern Greek Revival structures, might well have been the home of a minister. Parsonages were not provided rent-free by local churches, and ministers' families had to buy or rent. A house like this would have cost somewhere around $600 - $800 or rented at the rate of about $50 to $80 a year. Lest this seem outlandishly cheap, we should remember that country ministers' salaries averaged under $500--payable at the end of the yearly contract. Until 1833, when church and state were finally legally separated in Massachusetts, clergymen in some communities were still paid out of town taxes. A Congregational minister's family would have many other expenses as well, including food and clothing, a horse and vehicle, books and periodicals, postage, medical bills, home furnishings, and even firewood if it was not included in his contract. Living costs were high for them because they received visitors constantly and often kept guests overnight. Like other center village families they were likely to keep some chickens and to devote some time to their vegetable garden--planted in up-to-date raised beds.
Lawyers in the 1830s were members of a growing and powerful profession. As the American economy grew and became more complex, so did the law. New England lawyers faced new challenges in solving the problems of commerce and advocating for economic development. Like their city counterparts, country lawyers spent much of their time collecting debts for storekeepers and other prosperous citizens, and drawing up leases and mortgages, property deeds, contracts, and partnerships in trade.
Asa Knight Store
Asa Knight's business prospered. His center village store in Dummerston, Vermont, grew from a modest one-story building into an imposing two-and-a-half story emporium large enough to stock the expanding variety of products available by the 1830s. Men and women came into his store trading butter, cheese, palm leaf hats, even turkeys and knitted socks for their purchases. Perhaps a quarter of Knight's customers paid their bills in cash; most paid in goods that the merchant knew he could resell on buying trips to New York or Boston. He bought goods on six month's credit, sold the country produce in the city, paid his bills, re-stocked his store, and anticipated some profit.
Not far from the Meetinghouse sit two other structures built and maintained by the community. The Powder House stocked munitions for the town militia, while the Pound provided a place where straying animals could be held until claimed by the owner.
In the 1830s, shoemaking was an expanding industry and a young man's trade. The vast majority of shoemakers were under the age of 30 and earned 25 cents for completing the production of a pair of shoes.
The putting-out system for making large quantities of shoes developed in eastern Massachusetts in the late 18th century and then was adopted in many parts of the New England countryside. Central shop manufacturers--sometimes storekeepers--provided raw materials and picked up the finished product. They arranged for young women in their homes to sew the soft leather upper parts of the shoes for three to five cents a pair.
Long before the Revolution, most New England towns were required to tax themselves to provide tuition-free schools for children. By the early 19th century, towns were divided into several districts with a neighborhood school in each. Schools served in session between December and March, when children's labor was not needed on the farm. Younger children, too small to help with chores and likely to be underfoot, also attended school between May and August.