Tuesday, September 14, 2010

establishing a time frame

With one more week to go before we delve into our Harriet Tubman sage story, I decided now was a good time to get the boys up to Old Sturbridge Village for a visit. I wanted them to soak in the atmosphere of the time period, which is a New England village in the 1830s. Although this is, of course, the North, so no southern plantations or slavery is depicted, the style and architecture are similar enough to give them a feel for the time period. With the OSV policy on free return visits within 10 days, we'll be able to fit in a second trip right before we start the first chapter of our story to further ground the kids in the time period.

OSV is an amazing resource to have such easy access to (under an hour away). Since it's early September and most kids are back in school, yet it's too early for school field trips to have begun, we basically had the entire village to ourselves, so got a lot of one-on-one face time with the interpreters and educators. Soon after we arrived, we got a lesson in training a young team of oxen from this farmer. These are young Randall Lineback cattle, a very rare breed of dairy cattle. They are 7 months and 5 months old, and are named Doc and Blue. Right now the farmer is working on training them to pull a small sled with a rock on it, a load of about 75 lbs. As they grow, they will pull heavier and heavier weights until they are large enough and old enough to be hitched to a wagon or a plow, at which time they will work the farm land at the village.

This fellow sang us some songs and told us some stories from the era, including one about George Washington's stop at a tavern in Bridgeport, CT, and a tale from the village about a "close shaver" (a person who is not always honest) whose scheme to cheat the owner of the general store went awry when a Quaker got the best of him. Very entertaining, and we had him all to ourselves, so we were very involved in the telling of the stories. Today is homeschool day at OSV, and there are throngs of homeschoolers there (which is great, and we've done it in the past and will definitely do it in the future), but I was going for a more intimate experience for my guys right now, so this was absolutely perfect for us.

We also had an opportunity to watch this tinsmith make a punched lantern. He used a round awl to make holes and a chisel to make slits. We have some punched tin around the house (and had made punched tin lanterns for our solstice story last year), so it was really cool to watch a professional at it.

This fellow, dressed up in militia wear, gave a demonstration on loading and firing a musket, which was also very interesting (and loud!). He told us that the muskets that the militia used, as well as the ammunition loads, were pretty much the same from the 1600s right through the Revolutionary War.

The house that can be seen behind him is the Towne House, which we took a tour of.

And here's our Towne House tour guide. This house was a real show piece of the era, built by a very wealthy farmer who made most of his money by loaning money to others and receiving payment with interest. This house had three parlors, two kitchens (one for cooking the family meals in, the other in the basement for making butter and cheese, the main products of their farm), several bedrooms, and a ballroom on the second floor, which also doubled as a Mason meeting place (which had been approved in person by Paul Revere). However, by the 1830s the ballroom was no longer serving it's original function, but was being used as a bedroom by many of the Towne's 10 children and their families.

Here's one of the Towne's parlors, set up to serve tea. That piano was a used one that Mr. Towne has purchased in Boston for one of his daughters -- the price at the time was $150, the same amount it would have cost to buy a small house. The Townes were the third wealthiest family in their community (quite rich by farming standards, but no where near as wealthy as the rich in the cities), and our tour guide suggested that we visit houses from other classes of farmers in the village to compare. That sounded like a great idea, so after our tour finished up, we headed out to explore more of the village houses.

Here's another house, the Fitch House. The Fitches were also fairly well-to-do for farmers, so still a fancier house than what the average farmer (in other words, like what we would be) would be living in. This house was very interactive (as opposed to the Towne House which was just for display) and full of reproductions that the kids could sit on, lie on, play with and explore. They had a bunch of fun in here.

The Fitch's parlor, with portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, and their tea service. I found it very interesting that the tea cups of that time had no handles -- tea was poured from the pot (where it was brewed with loose leaves) into the cups, and the leaves were allowed to settle. Then the tea was poured into the saucer (which was more like a bowl), leaving the leaves behind in the cup (which were ultimate poured into a common bowl). Guests then drank the tea directly from the saucer.

Finally, a house we could have owned! This small house was typical of the average farming family of the time.

The boys had fun pretending that it was our house, and that their Dad had built it. The house had a common room with a large fireplace/oven and a bed that could be pulled down from the wall. This room served as kitchen, living room, and bedroom when necessary.

There was also a small bedroom off the main room which had a bed and shelves for storage of cooking implements and other household items. Upstairs was a large garret (attic) where the kids slept in the spring and fall. When it got too hot in the summer, they used the pull-down bed in the main room. During the winter, both the attic and the bedroom were used for storage of food and sealed off from the rest of the house so that the fire would only need to heat one room. Then the parents would have used the bed and the kids would have slept on ticks (mattresses) on the floor in front of the fire. Nobody had their own bed back then, the more people in the bed, the warmer you stayed during cold winter nights.

One really interested farming fact that we learned during our visit was that butter and cheese were the main farming products of Central Massachusetts during that time. Initially, before 1800, farmers would make butter during the winter, spring, and fall, and cheese during the summer months because milk needed to sit out for 24 - 48 hours to make butter and it would go bad during the summer. After the turn of the century, enough towns and villages had sprung up consisting of people who were not farming their own land, that the typical homestead found a better market for their butter and cheeses. Those farmers who lived closest to the towns and villages began to concentrate on producing butter, as they could get their easier-to-spoil goods to town faster. They built kitchens in their basements to keep the milk cool to keep it from spoiling in the summer. Farmers who lived further away from the markets concentrated on cheese, because it kept longer.

Among the many other fun adventures of the day, we took a ride in a stagecoach, a first for me. Wow, bumpy! Glad that's not a form of transportation I ever had to use for a long trip. Here it is parked outside the Tavern. We ran out of time so didn't have a chance to see the Tavern yesterday. We also didn't see a lot of other buildings and demonstrations. But we'll be back!

We did find time to shop in the general store. We looked at some fun cookbooks, sampled some pumpkin butter (yum!) and wild blueberry spread (even yummier!), and bought a molasses cookie, and a snicker doodle cookie (yummiest of all!). We had to get out of their before the very friendly shopkeeper talked us into buying all sorts of yummy things.

All in all, a fabulous day. J complained that his feet hurt, and Zoo Boy complained that we didn't get to take the riverboat ride (it was on the other side of the village and J's feet were hurting, and it really was time to go....) and both boys were starving by the end of the day (they hadn't wantd to stop for an actual lunch). But both we all thought it was just a wonderful place and can't wait to go again soon.

In another couple of years we'll get a membership here (we'll be working extensively with American History during 5th grade), but for now the occasional visit is enough to keep us in touch with our own personal histories (I can't wait until the kids find out how closely tied we really are with New England history! It's so hard for me not to force more information on them before they are ready for it.). The rest will wait until they are ready.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. On the blanket. My grandson(who has autism) is always trying to get between the mattress and box spring on his bed. He has a weighted blanket, but it is too hot .
I'm calling the store today in Avon-thank you so much!
His parents are exhausted, as he has been awakening @4:00am for the day.
Sensory issues for sure!