It’s easy to become immersed in life at Old Sturbridge Village. As soon as you step on the property, you are transported back to a time when life was hard, work was constant, and your day centered around your family and village life. The historic living museum embodies immersive education through cultural immersion.
With buildings from far across New England, Old Sturbridge Village has collected and preserved the history of life in the early 1800s. Buildings from Bolton, Massachusetts; Goshen, Connecticut; Waldoboro, Maine; Dummerston, Vermont; Candia, New Hampshire, and others join together with structures from the Sturbridge area. The buildings form a village that houses historian guides who work the farms, create in the trade shops, tend the homes, and bring history to life.
Don’t be surprised if you are caught up in a conversation about 19th-century politics, farming techniques, or the latest gossip. The colonial historians step into their daily roles with gusto and transform into characters of the times. Feel free to join in; it is all part of the experience.
A program schedule of daily activities is your guide to where to go and what to see. Everyday life in the village revolves around gardening, cooking, livestock care, and other homesteading chores.
Every day, you will find interesting tours and demonstrations that will entertain and educate. Take a guided tour of the herb garden and explore the world of flavorings. Watch a flintlock musket demonstration. Frolic with baby lambs in the spring. Learn how cows are milked by hand. There is so much to do every day to keep the village running, so hands-on opportunities and professional demonstrations are plentiful.
The month-at-a-glance calendar provides an up-to-date overview of the happenings around the village. It serves as a wonderful guide for planning your visit.
Hop aboard the horse-drawn carryall (carriage) for a ride around the village. Enjoy a turn around scenic Mill Pond by catching the carryall behind Bullard Tavern or the Blacksmith Shop. For a ride around the Common and Countryside, hop on at the Asa Knight Store or the Miller Grant Store.
Rides are a fun way to get the lay of the village and are included with your admissions ticket. The carryall runs from 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Be sure to check the daily schedule for updates.
A Bite To Eat
Need a quick fix to chase away the hangries? Drop in to Miner Grant Store and Bake Shop for a sweet treat or one of their famous chocolate chip cookies. They will appease a rumbling tummy and give you the energy you need to carry on with your visit.
Stop into Bullard Tavern for a more substantial meal. Here you will find a selection of salads and sandwiches to fuel your exploration of the village farms, shops, homes, and grounds.
Visit the village farms — Freeman Farm, Fenno Barn, and Towne Barn — to look in on the sheep, chickens, and cattle. You will discover heritage breeds that were typical livestock for a 19th-century farmyard.
Gulf Coast Native/merino cross sheep and horned Wiltshire/Dorset cross sheep graze gently across the pasture. They can occasionally be seen herded from pasture to barn. Shorthorn and Devon cattle are at home in the village. They were bred for milking, eating, and fieldwork. English black and large black pigs make their home at Freeman Farm and round out the collection of livestock.
Dunhill chickens, which refers to a general collection of mixed fowl, and blue slate turkeys can be seen wandering through the town as they hunt for a tasty meal.
The Craftsmen And Trade Shops
The Blacksmith Shop is where smithies are busy forging tools for work at the village. Watch the blacksmiths as they run the bellows, stoke the flame, and transform ore into tools, horseshoes, and hardware.
The Pottery Shop and Kiln is where the potter’s wheel is spinning away shaping clay into cooking pots, jugs, and other necessities. The large brick kiln is unique in its beehive bottle shape, showcasing a fascinating firing technique.
At the Cooper Shop, craftsmen made barrels used to transport and store farm goods like grains, flour, cider, and preserved meats. The art of barrel making includes selecting and honing the best wood, constructing the barrels, and carefully charring the inside as needed.
The Tin Shop craftsmen fashioned kitchen tools, lanterns, and other tinware from sheet iron. Beautiful and functional pieces add shine and polish to an otherwise utilitarian kitchen.
Other little stops along the way include the Cider Mill, where apples were crushed into cider that would be left to ferment into hard cider. The Printing Office was where books and pamphlets were printed and sold.
The Bixby House is a beautifully restored, circa 1808 home. Step inside to see what’s cooking in the kitchen.
The Freeman Farmhouse and Barn represents the hard-working life of homesteaders. See what the women of the home are tending, working hard to keep food on the table all year long.
When they could, children went to the District School. A strict education was in store for students when the harvest was over. School provided basic skills, like reading and math, needed to keep count and run a business.
Gardening For Food And Heath
Kitchen gardens supplied food and herbs for the family year-round. Harvesting a succession of successful crops was the very key to winter survival.
The Herb Garden was not just used for culinary flavor and food preservation — many herbs were grown for medicinal purposes, and colorful flowers were gathered to dye cloth.
The Freeman Kitchen Garden represents a traditional homestead kitchen garden that would feed a family for the year. The cycle of planting, growing, harvesting, preserving, and storing was a monumental and backbreaking but necessary task.
The Parsonage Garden is another great example of a kitchen garden. This type of garden was planted more strategically with the help of modern techniques and tools.
Shopping In The 1800s
Stop into Asa Knight Store for a peek into a dry goods emporium that sold cloth, coffee and tea, shoes, glass, books, and more. It is the big box store of the 1800s.
The Miner Grant Store And Bakeshop houses the village gift shop. It is a must stop for a souvenir of your visit. You can purchase classic New England cookbooks, beautiful kitchenware, and other wonderful gifts.
Historical Craft Classes
Finely crafted artisan goods harken to a long-ago time. Today’s makers’ movement is bringing a resurgence of finely crafted goods to the everyday market. At the village, you can sign up for an array of diverse and historically appropriate artisan classes. Choose from Cheesemaking to Blacksmithing, from Forging Garden Tools to Hearth Cooking, and so many more unique and interesting options. Class times vary, and they tend to fill up quickly.
After spending the day exploring the village, enjoy a delicious dinner and restful accommodations at the Publick House Historic Inn. The rambling compound of guest rooms, gathering spaces, and dining options come together to whisk you back to a time of comfortable 18th-century accommodations. Updated with modern conveniences and a dedicated staff, your getaway stay will be the perfect way to cap off your visit to Sturbridge.
Bonus: Visit Coggeshall Farm Museum
Coggeshall Farm Museum is a 48-acre farm set in Bristol, Rhode Island. The coastal, salt marsh farm is working in conjunction with Old Sturbridge Village. Coggeshall depicts late 18th-century farming in a living history museum format. The farm’s garden is a work-in-progress as they research and add traditional heirloom kitchen garden planting. The barnyard currently hosts piglets and chickens, typical farm animals for the time period. Stroll the grounds, explore the out-buildings, and period-furnished farmhouse.
The farm is open to visitors Thursdays through Sundays with a few exceptions, and the entrance fee is nominal. Keep in mind, while Coggeshall is in a partnership with Old Sturbridge Village, it is in Bristol, Rhode Island, over an hour’s drive away.
Spending a day in Old Sturbridge Village takes you back to a simpler time where your daily work directly impacted your survival. When we reflect upon the hardships and difficulties of living in the early 1800s, we can more readily appreciate the gifts of time and exploration we have available to us today.