Sometimes, it’s good for kids to get a reality check, with a firsthand look of what life was like before technology, when hard work was necessary for just simple living. Fortunately, there are several living history sites throughout the northeast that welcome families with interpretive, but fun, displays and activities.
History museums across the country are experiencing an ongoing decline in visitors and, according to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, fewer than 25 percent of American adults have ever been to a living history site. This is a troubling statistic, considering how much there is to learn and experience at these places.
Old Sturbridge Village is the region’s largest, set on 200 acres, with more than 40 original buildings, including homes, meetinghouses, a district school, country store, bank, working farm, three water-powered mills and trade shops. The setting brings you back to a rural New England town of the 1830s. The programs and demonstrations, presented by costumed interpreters acting in character, are really entertaining.
For example, while we were there, we stopped into the one-room schoolhouse just as the schoolmistress was teaching boys to bow and girls to curtsy to their teacher. She led us through a 1830s spelling lesson, and everyone seated in desks could participate. You could also stop into a trade shop, and watch the blacksmith, potter, or shoemaker at work. Inside the meetinghouse, you can listen to old time ghost stories.
We also enjoyed riding the Carryall, a six-row carriage drawn by Jerry and Jim, 2,000-lb Belgian draught horses. It circles the entire site, and the narrator gives you an overview of the highlights. You can also ride in a stagecoach, or on a boat along the Quinebaug River. It’s common to see “farmers” walking oxen around the village green, or to run into chickens along the path. These are actual working farms, with sheep, pigs, cows, horses and more. In the spring, you’re sure to see the new baby animals.
Another favorite for my 10-year-old daughter and her friend was looking at the toy exhibits in the Child’s World exhibit. Many of the board games, dolls and tea sets looked familiar and fun. A themed outdoor playground has a mini schoolhouse and a pretend oxen-drawn wagon. Just off the Visitor Center, there’s an indoor KidStory space for preschoolers to try on costumes, and play at a farm, country store and hearth kitchen. There are also hands-on displays scattered throughout the grounds where kids can operate simple machines, churn butter, or learn about beekeeping.
Old Sturbridge Village is very family-friendly. There’s plenty of open space for kids to run around in and explore, and several groomed woodland trails. Strollers are permitted, and some are available to rent. There are kid favorites on the menus at the on-site Oliver Wight Tavern, Bullard Tavern and Village Cafe, but picnicking is also allowed.
It’s easy to spend an entire day there; or even two. The Old Sturbridge Inn & Reeder Family Lodges offer comfortable accommodations with complimentary breakfast, an outdoor pool and playground. Packages are available that combine the costs of accommodations and OSV admission. It’s worth planning a visit during one of the special event weeks, like Maple Days, Family Farm Fest, or Redcoats and Rebels.
For more information on Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Mass., see osv.org or call 800-733-1830.
Traci L. Suppa is a frequent contributor to Westchester Family, and writes about travel, parenting and family life. WordS
More Living History Sites
Can’t get enough “back in the day” travel? Here are more living history attractions within a day’s drive.
Museum Village, Monroe, N.Y.
The closest living history attraction to Westchester is just across the Hudson River in Orange County. It’s a replicated 19th century village anchored by a village green that includes a schoolhouse, print shop, broom shop, candle shop, blacksmith, livery and drug store. A (rare) complete mastodon skeleton is on display in one of the natural history buildings. Costumed interpreters give presentations and tend the farm animals. Events that are scheduled for this summer include Zerbini Family Circus, gem and mineral show, Carriage Day and a Civil War reenactment.
The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.
One of the country’s oldest rural life museums, this site includes a working farmstead, a recreated historic village, the Empire State Carousel and a Colonial Revival stone barn listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Visitors experience 19th century village life through demonstrations and interpretive exhibits, with an emphasis on upstate New York architecture and agriculture. This summer’s newest event, Hopsego on Aug. 18, celebrates the local hops crop with music, food, family-friendly activities and more.
Genesee Country Village & Museum, Mumford, N.Y.
The largest living history attraction in New York is located 20 miles southwest of Rochester. There are 68 authentic structures grouped into three periods from 1795 to 1900; with an 1850s telegraph office opening this year. There are multiple historic gardens, including a children’s garden and fruit orchards. Everyday activities are presented, like making maple sugar, harvesting crops, celebrating Yuletide, or playing “base ball” by 1868 rules. Kids Free Week is June 26 through July 1. Other events include the Celtic Faire, Storybook Weekend and National Dog Day. The on-site Nature Center features hiking trails and wildlife habitat.
Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Conn.
This amazing maritime museum is a 19th-century coastal village complete with general store, school, bank, lighthouse and more. Tall ships and steamboats, including the 1841 Charles W. Morgan, (the last wooden whaleship in the world) line the waterfront, inviting exploration. A highlight for kids is the Children’s Museum with plenty of hands-on exhibits, and the boat-themed playgrounds. This summer, check out The Vikings Begin, an exhibit of helmets, shields, weapons, glass and other artifacts from Sweden.