Old Sturbridge Village

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Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) is a living museum located in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, in the United States, which re-creates life in rural New England during the 1790s through 1830s. It is the largest living museum in New England, covering more than 200 acres (80 hectares). The Village includes 59 antique buildings, three water-powered mills, and a working farm. The museum is a popular tourist and educational field trip destination. Costumed interpreters speaking in modern language help visitors understand 19th-century life.

View of the Center Village section of Old Sturbridge Village


Before the village[edit]

Prior to European colonization, the Nipmuck people inhabited the Quinebaug region of which OSV is a part.

In the early 19th century, the land on which Old Sturbridge Village now stands was a farm owned by David Wight. The farm included a sawmill, gristmill and a millpond which survives to this day. The millpond, which still powers the mills, was dug in 1795.

In 1795, David Wight's son went to Boston to conduct some business on behalf of his father. While in Boston he bought tickets to the Harvard Lottery, which was set up as a fundraising technique for then Harvard College (now Harvard University)[when?] He won $5000 (equivalent to $76.6 thousand in today's dollars).[1]. He gave his father money to pay off the mortgage on his farm and logged the timber of the cedar swamp which today is the millpond. After the logging was complete, they dug the pond with a team of oxen and a scoop. This entire process took two and a half years.


George Washington Wells started a small spectacle shop in Southbridge, Massachusetts, in the 1840s which became the American Optical Company. His three sons—Channing M, Albert B ("AB"), and J Cheney Wells—followed him into the business, which continued to expand.

In 1926, AB began to shop for antiques. This influenced Cheney to collect early American timepieces and Channing to collect fine furniture. By the early 1930s AB had more than 45 rooms full of antiques in his Southbridge home.

In 1935 AB, along with his brothers, family members and associates, formed the Wells Historical Museum. The Museum was given title to the various collections and charged with the care and exhibition of the artifacts. In July 1936 the Museum's trustees met to determine how the collections would best be presented to the public. AB wanted to create a small cluster of buildings in a horseshoe around a common. His son George B proposed "a revolutionary idea."

AB later said of George, "He pointed out that the historical value of the things I'd been collecting was tremendous, provided that it could be put to proper usage... He suggested that to make this material valuable it would be necessary to have a village, a live village, one with different shops operating... it was essential to have water power." J. Cheney Wells pledged his clocks and other items and to help "in every way I can to develop a village along the lines that George suggests." It is believed that various members of the family had visited European folk museums, including Skansen in Stockholm, Sweden, which led to the genesis for what was to become Old Sturbridge Village.

Within a week of the meeting, the Museum purchased David Wight's farm and within a few months hired Malcolm Watkins as the museum's first curator. Architect Arthur Shurcliff was called in to help lay out a suitable country landscape. By 1941, the Fitch House, the Miner Grant Store and the Richardson House (now the Parsonage) were on the common and the Gristmill was in operation.

After a pause for World War II, Ruth Wells, George B.'s wife, became Acting Director of the Village. Quinnebaug Village became Old Sturbridge Village and it opened on June 8, 1946.

The early years[edit]

Word of mouth[edit]

Attendance climbed, mostly through word of mouth. In a 1950 article in The Saturday Evening Post, OSV was featured as "The Town That Wants to be Out of Date".

Adding buildings[edit]

By 1955, OSV acquired the Meetinghouse from the Fiskdale neighborhood of Sturbridge, the Salem Towne House from Charlton, the Fenno House, the Friends Meetinghouse, the Pliny Freeman House, the Printing Office and the District School.

The hurricane[edit]

On August 18, 1955, gale-force winds and a torrential downpour from Hurricane Diane created flood waters that broke dams in surrounding towns and flooded the Village.

Fifteen staff members were stranded by the rising waters. The Freeman Farmhouse was flooded and the Covered Bridge was swept off its foundation. Helicopters kept staff members supplied for three days until the waters receded. The damage was estimated to be $250,000 in 1955 dollars. With great effort, Village employees managed to re-open the Village in just nine days.

OSV today[edit]

Gone are the "movie set" displays with a fixed range of dialog. In their place, interpreters engage visitors in a more personal and interactive process, encouraging them to actively participate.

The museum continues to add interactive exhibits such as a wintertime ice rink, baseball games and a Christmastime celebration.

Structures and exhibits[edit]

Old Sturbridge Village has over 40 structures, including restored buildings purchased and relocated from across New England and some authentic reconstructions.

The village is divided into three main sections. The Center Village represents the center of town, with the town green as its focal point. Countryside consists of outlying farms and shops. The Mill Neighborhood features various commercial structures that rely upon the millpond for their power.

Center Village[edit]

The Center Village contains the following structures:

  • Friends Meetinghouse - a meetinghouse of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers
  • Center Meetinghouse - churches often served as a location for town meetings, elections, lectures, and political events
  • Tin Shop - tin imported from England was used to make a variety of household goods
  • Salem Towne House - a prosperous farmer's home
  • Law Office - a small, free-standing office of a lawyer
  • Parsonage - the home of a Congregational minister and his family
  • Asa Knight Store - a country store, transported from its original location in Vermont
  • Thompson Bank - a bank that was originally located in Thompson, Connecticut
  • Fenno House - an historic house with exhibits that highlight domestic textile production
  • Fitch House - a residence with exhibit elements that highlight children and family life
  • Small House - a small home based on those of less affluent families, people of color, newlyweds, and renters
  • Printing Office
  • Cider Mill - a horse-powered mill for the production of hard cider
  • Shoe Shop - an historic ten footer, which was a small backyard shop structure built in the 18th and 19th centuries in New England to serve as a shoemaker's shop. Such structures were usually 10 feet (3.0 m) by 10 feet (3.0 m) in area. They were forerunners of the large shoe factories that developed in New England later in the 19th century.[2]
  • Town Pound - for the confinement of livestock found wandering around town or on other farmer's property
  • Bullard Tavern - an early 19th-century tavern room
  • The Stage Coach - On May 23, 2008, a stage coach marked "Hartford & Worcester" started making trips through Center Village.

The Countryside[edit]

The Countryside features the following structures:

  • Freeman Farmhouse - A typical New England farm of 70 acres (280,000 m2) or so, with barn, outbuildings, and fields
  • Blacksmith Shop - a shop where farm implements and other hardware were made and repaired and horses and oxen were shod
  • Bixby House - the home of the blacksmith
  • Cooper Shop - many farmers had part-time trades such as coopering - making wooden barrels, buckets, and pails
  • Pottery Shop - New England potters made utilitarian items such as Redware milkpans, mugs, crocks, flowerpots, and mixing bowls out of local clay
  • District School - a typical publicly funded one-room school
  • Covered Bridge - Covered bridges extended the longevity of wooden bridges in the harsh New England weather.

The Mill Neighborhood[edit]

Mill Neighborhood features the following structures:

  • Gristmill - uses water power to turn a 3,000-pound millstone for grinding grain
  • Sawmill - a working replica of an "up-and-down" sawmill powered by a reaction-type waterwheel
  • Carding Mill - a water driven facility to prepare wool for spinning


Old Sturbridge Village has several buildings devoted to displaying their assorted collections of early American antiques.

  • Firearms - many displays feature firearms from colonial America through the post-Civil War era
  • Glass - three distinct categories of displays: blown glass, molded glass and pressed glass
  • Lighting Devices - early lighting devices from ancient oil lamps and candles to whale oil, camphene and argand lamps
  • Herb Garden - a living collection of native and heirloom varieties of ornamental plants and those used for cooking, medicine, dying cloth, and making traditional crafts

Scenes from Interactive Exhibits[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2017. 
  2. ^ Hunter, Ethel A., The Ten-Footers of New England in Parks, Roger, editor, The New England Galaxy: The best of 20 years from Old Sturbridge Village, Chester Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 1980, pp. 134-139, ISBN 0-87106-040-X

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°06′31.88″N 72°05′55.31″W / 42.1088556°N 72.0986972°W / 42.1088556; -72.0986972