Museum Impressions and Virtual Revisit: Old Sturbridge Village

March 11, 2021

When I was in college, I made my first visit to Old Sturbridge Village located in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Old Sturbridge Village, which invites each visitor to find meaning, pleasure, relevance, and inspiration through the exploration of history, is the largest outdoor history museum in the Northeast that depicts a rural New England town of the 1830s. There are more than 40 original buildings, including homes, meetinghouses, a district school, country store, bank, working farm, three water-powered mills, and trade shops, which are situated on more than 200 scenic acres. The buildings were moved to the area between the late 1940s and early 1970s. Inside the Village, there are authentically costumed historians and farm animals to talk with and interact with on a regular visit or during various programs they offer.

As a member and treasurer of the historical society club, other members and I visited a number of times including during the Christmas by Candlelight program. I remember traveling to the Village while it was dark out to walk through, visit the buildings decorated in holiday decorations, and seeing the display of gingerbread houses for a gingerbread house contest. I also visited Old Sturbridge Village a few times after I graduated.

It has been a while since I last visited Old Sturbridge Village, and I decided to make another visit since I thought I would see how much has changed. This time it will be a virtual visit. Recently, Old Sturbridge Village designed and released the link to a virtual experience called 3D Tours as part of Virtual Village from Old Sturbridge Village. The Virtual Village from Old Sturbridge Village offers content created by the interpreters and farmers for Old Sturbridge Village’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Interpreters share fun facts, activities, recipes, and more, while the farmers shared updates with photos and videos of the animals. The Village also released more content within their 3D tours.

According to the website, 3D Tours are supported in part by a grant from the Webster Cultural Council, a local agency that is supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency. At the time I made this visit, the following buildings were available in the virtual tour: the Asa Knight Store, the District School, the Pottery Shop, the Freeman Farm, the Sawmill, the Printing Office, and the Fenno House. To learn more about these buildings, they include brief histories of the buildings that include when and where they were built, when they moved to Old Sturbridge Village, and what they were used for. Also, the tours allow virtual visitors to get up close to artifacts that are usually behind barriers such as the catalog in the Asa Knight Store and the pottery on the shelves of the Pottery Shop. There are pins throughout the tours to look closer or learn new information, and new videos with some of the Village’s knowledgeable costumed historians to bring the spaces to life.

While I was experiencing the virtual tours, there were many observations I made at each place. The first building I visited was the Asa Knight Store where I was able to go behind the counters to see numerous items that the store sold on shelves, in drawers, and underneath the counter; there were a few pins that described the items in the store including information on textiles. When I visited Old Sturbridge Village in the past, I spent most of my time in the front of the store since there is so much to see and so little time to see it all in at each visit I made, and on this virtual trip I was able to spend more time in the store and learn more about the store. For example, I saw a china and ceramics crate that had plates inside it in a room where hats were being made and in the next room there are a number of items including Prussian Blue pigments they sold, and the pigments were used to make paint. The next place I went into was the District School.

Asa Knight Store
Asa Knight Store: China and Ceramics

I do not remember going inside the District School during the last time I visited Old Sturbridge Village, so I decided to check it out. The focus of the building was to share information and ask visitors about the classroom in the 1830s versus today. My visit reminded me of my experience teaching students about the one-room schoolhouses at Noah Webster House and the Long Island Museum. Inside the classroom, the staff provided information about the Blue Back Speller used by students to learn how to read and it was written by Noah Webster. I used a reproduction of the Blue Back Speller as a museum educator while teaching about schoolhouses to share with students who visited Noah Webster House. I then moved on to the Pottery Shop & Kiln. Inside the Pottery Shop, there is a video on making pottery the staff shared and I noticed a clay cellar among the numerous pottery and glazes.

District School
Pottery Shop & Kiln

Then I went to explore the Freeman Farm and the Sawmill. Inside the house of the Freeman Farm, there is a video that describes what farm life was like in the 1830s located in the kitchen; also, there was information about dinner, food preservation, farm animals, dairying and the buttery, garden, and the root cellar. While I was exploring, I tried to explore a little more of the grounds but was limited to only the house and around the house. I would have loved to see more of the other buildings on the farm including the barn. When I was at the Sawmill, I saw the video on the saw and how it works and was able to see it up close behind the barriers. They also included a Woodland Walk booklet pdf which had information about New England trees and there was also information in another pin about the New England Landscape.

Sawmill
Freeman Farm

The final two places I visited were the Printing Office and the Fenno House. In the Printing Office, I was able to go behind the barrier to see the printing press up close where there are pins revealing information on how the machine was operated and how they were trained to operate it. Also, a video is shared to explain what it is like to work in the printing office. Inside the Fenno House, half of the house is set up as a historic house and the other half has exhibits. On the first floor, there was the kitchen and an exhibit with the spinning wheel and loom describing how each of them were used to create fabrics for the home. On the second floor, there was a bed chamber on one side of the house and on the other side was an exhibit display of clothing and a few pieces of furniture.

The Printing Office
The Fenno House

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience of re-visiting Old Sturbridge Village in a virtual capacity. I appreciate their efforts in encouraging visitors to ask themselves what is similar and different to their daily lives today versus the time periods each site introduces. I wonder if they are going to include more buildings in the virtual tour, and if they do, I will certainly return to experience these virtual tours. Also, I like that not only the staff introduced virtual tours but also developed resources to be utilized along with the tours.

The resources they provided are lesson plans, hands-on activities, and other links including their online collections. Old Sturbridge Village provided these resources to help other educators teach their students history, and it is one of many examples I have seen of museums sharing educational resources while we are all figuring out how to carry on while we are still going through the pandemic.  The lesson plans I have seen are designed for students in grade levels 3rd through 5th grade, and in addition to the lesson plans and pdfs they included a link to their Google classroom with fillable documents that educators can download and assign to their students. Plus, there are hands-on activities one can download to be used alongside the virtual tours including “Make Your Own Cardboard Loom” with the Fenno House tour, and the “Home Scavenger Hunt” with the Asa Knight Store tour.  

I recommend experiencing the virtual tours for yourselves if you want to spend time learning more about Old Sturbridge Village.

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Links:

Old Sturbridge Village: Virtual Village

3D Tours

3D Tours Resources