Old Sturbridge Village, the largest living history museum in the northeastern United States, is celebrating an old-fashioned Fourth of July. This depiction of a rural community from the 1830s is set on more than 200 acres in Sturbridge, MA and is typical of how New England villages looked in the early 19th century. The 40 original buildings and working farm offer something for everyone ranging from demonstrations of various trades and crafts to music and games typical of the time period.
The Fourth of July festivities will be held on Friday and Saturday, July 4-5, with the fireworks re-scheduled for July 5 due to weather. The village opens at 9:30 a.m. with different activities scheduled about every half-hour. The Print Shop and Shoe Shop start Friday morning off by demonstrating the tools of their trades. Fife and drum music adds to the patriotic celebration followed by stage coach rides and, weather permitting, horse drawn rides around the pond which serves three water-powered mills.
Visitors can meet the new calf at the farm and watch how to milk a cow. Demonstrations continue at the Pottery Shop, Tin Shop and Blacksmith’s throughout the day. Also scheduled are presentations on how an 1830-waterwheel provides the power to cut lumber at the Sawmill, and how grain is ground into flour, meal and feed at the Gristmill. A musket firing demonstration will take place outside by the Bullard Tavern and broom making will be held at the Hands-On Craft Center.
For those who want to try their hand at 19th-century farming, Old Sturbridge Village gives visitors their chance to be a part of this living history museum by assisting at the Freeman Farm seasonal work event at noon. Education was a lot different in 1830 so a class will be held at the District School. Village dancers are on hand to teach a popular dance during the time period. Poetry reading, singing, and a guided walk are some of the additional forms of entertainment celebrating an old-fashioned Fourth of July. The porch of the Miner Grant Store is the place for an Independence Day cake sale. A giant-size Declaration of Independence will be close to the Center Meetinghouse all day for anyone who wants to sign it.
The Fourth of July is also a time to welcome America’s newest citizens. The United States Naturalization Ceremony will take place at 11:00 a.m. at the Center Meetinghouse. As part of the event, there will be a reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Many of the same events on July 4 are being held on Saturday, July 5. In addition, Saturday evening offers sack races, pie-eating contests, music, popular 19th-century games and souvenirs. Senator Steven Brewer is scheduled to read the Declaration of Independence and, after that, the fireworks begin.
Old Sturbridge Village has had more than 21 million visitors since it first opened June 8, 1946. The area had been part of a prosperous farm owned by David Wight in the early 19th century. The decision to turn the area into a living museum came about slowly as the result of the collections of two industrialist brothers, Albert B. and J. Cheney Wells, whose father had founded the American Optical Company of Southridge, MA. They enjoyed collecting things that were part of New England’s past such as clocks, tools, furniture, and other artifacts.
The Wells’ brothers wanted to do more than just display their collection. They wanted the public to see how the items were used but to do that, they needed a location with access to water power. The sawmill and gristmill were already in place so they bought the Wight farm and had additional buildings moved to the property. Landscaping began in 1937 but faced a major setback due to the 1938 hurricane. Construction resumed but came to a standstill again during World War II. Albert’s daughter-in-law, Ruth Wells, renewed construction efforts after the war. The village officially changed its name from Quinebaug Village (named after the nearby river) to Old Sturbridge Village. This living history museum is not just celebrating an old-fashioned Fourth of July, but is a lasting tribute to the history of daily life in rural New England. For a detailed schedule of events, the link is provided below.
By Cynthia Collins