Open to the public on 8 June 1946, Old Sturbridge Village, originally named Quinebaug Village, is a living history museum of the colonial era. The museum started with a collection of artifacts, tools, furniture, glassware, and more, amassed by industrialists Channing M., Albert B., and J. Cheney Wells of neighboring Southbridge, MA. Channing M. would eventually go down a different path from his brothers, but he would always be a helpful guide and adviser in the years following the formation of the museum.

The collection started small enough, but eventually took over the entire home of A. B. Wells. Forcing the family to move to Walker Pond in Sturbridge, MA. By 1935 the brothers collection had become prolific, and A. B. Wells, his brothers, other members of the family with a few trusted associates incorporated the Wells Historical Museum. The Wells Historical Museum would be a non-profit educational corporation that would take control of the vast collection and make is accessible to the public.

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Old Sturbridge Village – Thanksgiving at the village. Photo credit: Old Sturbridge Village.

A year later there was a meeting of the museums trustees, with talks and proposals discussed as to what to do next. A.B. Wells had a proposal in mind and he started the meeting with it. The museum would buy and move a number of typical early colonial New England buildings to a large family owned site on Main Street in Southbridge, MA. Another member of the board suggest that instead of just a few houses that there should be a village, a living and working village. The trustees wanted the museum to be interactive, not just stuffy buildings full of artifacts. There were to be craftsmen, and shops, as well as costumed actors/museum employees, on top of the buildings and artifacts.

Later that week the David Wight farm in Sturbridge, MA had been purchased as the site of the new museum. The site was 153 acres and judge to be perfect for the new concept. Malcolm Watkins would become the museum’s first curator, with work on the “live village” beginning just a few months before. Watkins acquired the formidable task of classifying and cataloging the collection, which was already numbering in the tens of thousands.

As the vision for the village developed and formed the Wells brothers and the trustees would reject plans and proposals that seemed too formal or citified, and would stick to a very strong idea of what the village should look like inside and out. Landscaping and construction would being in 1937, but in September of 1938 “the great hurricane” washed away much of the work that had been done. Undaunted the staff dug out and continued on, using some of the destruction to their advantage. Downed trees would become lumber and used on the site for construction purposes.

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Old Sturbridge Village – The Tin Shop. Photo credit: Old Sturbridge Village.

By 1941 a number of the villages familiar landmarks were in place, such as the Fitch House, the Miner Grant Store, the Richardson House and the Gristmill. At the years end construction on the museum would come to a halt. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the interjection of the US into the second world war would put many projects such as this on hold. Construction of the museum would remain halted till the end of the war.

Four years later in 1945, with the board of trustees aging; all the members were in their 70s, leadership of the museum would pass to Ruth Wells, daughter-in-law to A. B. Wells. Ruth would move construction work forward with renewed energy, and in 1946 Quinebaug Village, with the approval of town selectmen, would become Old Sturbridge Village. By May of the same year it was decided that the museum would open to the public.

On 8 June 1946 Old Sturbridge Village had its opening day. Admission was just $1. The museum had 81 visitors that day, who would drive their cars around the grounds and could stop by the shops to see the craftsmen and the buildings. By the end of the first year more then 5,000 people would visit the museum. Over the next decade several more buildings would be added to the museum, including the meeting house, which was removed and restored to the museum in 1948.

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Map of Old Sturbridge Village. Photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village.

In 1955 Hurricane Diane arrived with little advance warning, and proved to be one of the worst storms in decades, even worse then the hurricane that had hit the village in 1938. The village took a beating from the storm, and 15 staff members were stranded in the museum as the storm raged and water was on the rise. The staff members were dropped food via helicopter during the three days they were stranded. By the storms end there was extensive damage to village exhibits and landscapes, totaling over $250,000. The staff members, area residents, and local business owners would pull together, and just 9 days after the storm the museum reopened.

The museum would have its one millionth visitor in August of 1957, 11 years after first opening.

Today the museum is open to visitors year round, with special hours during the winter. There are a total of 40 antique buildings that have been moved from throughout New England and restored on the Old Sturbridge Village property to show how they would have been furnished and lived in during the early 19th century. Visitors are welcome to pack a picnic and spend the day at the museum. There are also a number of restaurants and cafes on the museum property that visitors can dine at. Visitors will also be happy to know that full priced admission includes a FREE second visit within a 10 day period. Be sure to validate your ticket before leaving so that you’re set to return for your second free day. Old Sturbridge Village also has a volunteer program, where people 18 and older who are interested in a hands on experience can lend some help to the museum. There are several positions available and they can change throughout the year.

Kiln firing at Old Sturbridge Village. The kiln is fired once a year and is a replica of Hervey Brooks’s kiln, it is made with 15,000 bricks and stands 24 feet tall. The kiln must be heated to 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit during firing, which requires three cords of wood stoked over 24 hours. When the kiln is loaded full it can hold 800 pieces of pottery. Photo credit: Old Sturbridge Village.

Visitors can also stay on the grounds of Old Sturbridge Village for an overnight. The museum offers several different option for overnight stays; from fun sleep over events for kids, to the Old Sturbridge Inn & Reeder Family Lodges.

The Old Sturbridge Inn is located in the Oliver Wight House. The house has 10 rooms and was built in 1789. The Reeder Family Lodges are 29 modern lodging units, with all the conveniences of modern life, including a flat screen TV.

There are also two gift shops in the village to stop at, the Museum Gift Shop & New England Bookstore and the Miner Grant Store & Bake Shop. The Museum Gift shop is located at the entrance of the museum and offers a wide selection of gifts, some of which are even made at the village. In the center of the village is the Miner Grant Store & Bake Shop. The store is not the original, with the first one being burned after an accidental explosion. The store was restored in the 1940s, and today serves as a museum gift shop. If you can’t make it to Old Sturbridge Village you can always browse the website for further information and pictures as well as shop from their online store.

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The Oliver Wight house serves as the inn at Old Sturbridge Village. Photo Credit: Old Sturbridge Village.
Interior bedrooms of the Old Sturbridge Village, which is housed inside the Oliver Wight house. Photo credit: Old Sturbridge Village.
Interior dining room and sitting room of the Old Sturbridge Village Inn. The Inn functions inside the Oliver Wight house. Photo credit: Old Sturbridge Village.

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The Reeder Family Lodges at Old Sturbridge Village. Photo credit: Old Sturbridge Village

Some of the best time to visit Old Sturbridge Village are during the holidays. Celebrations during Christmas and the 4th of July, in August reenactments are done. Other events at the museum include Maple Days (March), Apple Days (Fall), and Christmas By Candlelight, some events have limited seating, so check in advance, but visitors are always welcome to the museum during these times.

You can check out the full calendar of events, daily and monthly, here: OSV Events

4th of July

Photo credit: Old Sturbridge Village.

Red Coats & Rebels

Held every August, and a great time to see reenactments.
Photo credit: Old Sturbridge Village.

Christmas

Photo credit: Old Sturbridge Village.

For historians and genealogists Old Sturbridge Village is a dream come true. Individuals looking for information on people, places or events in New England can find a wealth of valuable information in the collections of the museum. The museums collection of resources is huge, from photographs to historic documents, to artifacts and paintings. The museum has made a large amount of its collection available online.

Old Sturbridge Village also contains a research library, which contains more then 35,00 volumes, and focuses on the history and lives of people in rural New England following the American Revolution until the Civil War. The collection in the research library includes everything from textbooks, maps, diaries, letters, and property deeds, to probate records, and town directories. The Research Library is open by appointment only, and is a closed stacks facility. Appointments must be made at least 14 days in advance. For more information or to schedule an appointment email ahietala@osv.org or call 508-347-0204.

Certain collections can be accessed here: OSV collections

For more information on the museum and to plan your visit you can check out their website here: Old Sturbridge Village

Bibliography

” Old Sturbridge Village An 1830s New England Living History Museum.” Osv.org. https://www.osv.org/.

“Old Sturbridge Village.” The History List. http://www.thehistorylist.com/organizations/old-sturbridge-village-sturbridge-massachusetts.

“History & Heritage Old Sturbridge Village.” Worcestermass.org. 2017. http://www.worcestermass.org/arts-culture/history-heritage?placeid=519.

“Old Sturbridge Village.” Americanheritage.com. 2016. http://www.americanheritage.com/content/old-sturbridge-village.

Magelssen, Scott. Living History Museums: Undoing History through Performance. Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Plymouth UK: The Scarecrow Press, 2007.

Watts, Linda S. Encyclopedia of American Folklore. Imprint of Infobase Publishing, NY: Facts on File Inc., 2007.

McCallum, Kent. Old Sturbridge Village. University of California: Harry Abrams, 1996.

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