Susan Vaughan here, rejuvenated and refreshed after a step back in time at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. When the hubby and I returned, I was surprised to find that many people didn’t know about this living museum of early New England life. So in case you don’t know OSV, here’s a little of what we experienced.

Warner at Freeman Farmhouse

Buildings collected from all New England states create a rural community and small village of 1790-1840. Think a smaller, earlier version of Williamsburg, but somehow it seems to me more authentic. Costumed historians share what life was like in those times and demonstrate trades and crafts. We saw—and petted—the first lamb of the season, unusually early because, as the farmer said, “a ram jumped the fence.”

Lamb 300

We also saw cattle, oxen, twin calves (I petted one), and chickens, all of breeds typical in those times but rare now.

Small House - making sugar & donuts 300

 In the Small House, the historian showed us how an early Massachusetts wife made sugar from maple sap. Unlike in northern New England, in Massachusetts, they didn’t make syrup but purified the sap into an almost white sugar for sweetening. The woman was also frying doughnuts in a kettle hanging in the large fireplace. Not today’s ring shapes, but more like what we call donut holes, these are “nuts” made of flour dough (yes, thus the name!), deep fried in lard then rolled in sugar. No crowds early in March, so we were lucky to sample more than one of these tasty treats.


In the blacksmith shop, the smithy demonstrated how he gauged the temperature of the fire without a thermometer. He was forging a knife and first had to sharpen a tool.

Sap Kettles


Sap wasn’t running yet, but the interpreter showed us how they gathered the sap and cooked it over open fires.

In warmer weather, OSV offers wagon and stagecoach rides, but with snow on the ground, people were enjoying a sleight ride around the green. In the background, you can see a small yellow house, and behind it the bank, the only brick building.

Sleigh, Fitch House, Bank 300

Two houses of worship dominated one end of the green. The Society of Friends, or Quakers, were a minority in New England but influential in ending slavery. The blue building was a Friends Meeting House. The worshippers in the Center Meeting House, the white, spired church, would have been Congregationalists, descendants of the Puritans.

Center Mtg Hs across village green Friends Mtg Hs & Center Mtg Hs.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day and a half without modern technology. I was impressed with the interpreters’ depth of knowledge and how they were so immersed in their activity or subject, they seemed to have stepped out of 1800. The experience still has me pondering how difficult life was back then and how hard people worked from dawn to dusk. You can find more about the shops, houses, and businesses of Old Sturbridge Village at

*** My newest release is Primal Obsession. You can find an excerpt and buy links at


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  1. I love living history centers! I haven’t been to this one in ages, but I remember it well. Along with King’s Landing in New Brunswick and Littleton Historical Museum near Denver, Colorado, it does a wonderful job of showing different periods of history. So does Old World Wisconsin, which I haven’t been to, but which I know from the series of mysteries by Kathleen Ernst featuring Chloe Ellefson who, as Kathleen once did, works there. And keeps getting involved in murders, of course. Also, for those of you in Maine or planning to visit, we have a wonderful living history center for one period (the 1850s) at Washburn-Norlands in Livermore, Maine.


    • Kathy, I’ve been to Norlands too, and enjoyed it. Very remote though. You should visit OSV again; they’ve added quite a bit, including a clock museum and bee keeping.

  2. Lea Wait says:

    I love Old Sturbridge Village! I’ve garnered bits and pieces of information there for my historical books. Plus — they have a wonderful gift shop and bookstore … one of the best places around to check for the latest books, fiction and nonfiction, for adults and children .. about New England history, or set then. I stop there almost every time my life takes me through Massachusetts. Enjoyed reading your take on it, Susan!

  3. I love those living history museums. There are a few in NS that I’ve been to, we drive by The Ross Farm frequently when traveling between family homes. I always keep my eyes peeled for the team of oxen or other livestock. The Fortress Louisbourg at the other end of the province is lots of fun, with a chance to experience life in the 1740s.

  4. Alice Duncan says:

    What a wonderful blog! I adore Old Sturbridge Village. I’ve only been there once, in the fall, and the colors were fantastic. A couple who now live here in Roswell, NM, are from Auburn, MA, and they used to serve Thanksgiving dinner at Old Sturbridge Village. Sigh. Thanks for the memories.

  5. Anne Mosey says:

    I visited Old Sturbridge Village once as a child. I was very impressed & always meant to return.
    There is a smaller historical museum in Newfield, Maine called Willowbrook which has some amazing displays including a Concord coach and working vintage merry-go-round.

    Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, NH is another. It has many different time periods represented.

  6. Richard Goutal says:

    I went back to Sturbridge nearly two years ago, taking my 9 year old grandson for a Saturday-Sunday visit on Fathers Day. I had not been there in at least 35 years. What is so unbelievable is that I had just finished reading Tess Gerritsen’s The Bone Garden which largely takes place in 1830 Boston. What a combination! The Sturbridge visit that is 1830 incarnate and the very good research in medical conditions in Boston in 1830… disease, hospitals, medical school, and more.

    Small correction re: “a smaller, earlier version of Williamsburg.” – Colonial Williamsburg largely represents the period of 1750-1780, the earlier colonial period and represents a larger town that, for a while, was the capital of Virginia. Sturbridge represents a later period, in rural Massachusetts, at a time when America was on the cusp of industrialization.

    • Aargh, I should’ve said a “later” version of Williamsburg. Thanks for the correction. I did find OSV less commercial than today’s Old Williamsburg, so I enjoyed it more.

  7. Interesting, Susan! I’ve never been to Sturbridge Village. I love the way you captured the flavor of your visit and how sweet is that little lamb!

  8. Barb Ross says:

    I haven’t been to Old Sturbridge Village since my kids were young, but have happy memories of it.

    My friend, Leslie Wheeler has written a series of mysteries that take place at living history museums. The people at Plymouth love and promote Murder at Plimouth Planation, but the people at Old Mystic Seaport insisted the name of the museum be changed. Hence, Murder at Spouter’s Point.

  9. Judith Copek says:

    We so enjoyed taking our granddaughter to Old Sturbridge Village. We went back a second time a few years later and everyone had a wonderful time again. The craftspeople are so knowledgeable and willing to share–it’s just a delightful way for young and old to share a day.

    • I agree, Judith, about young and old enjoying the day. There were lots of families with children of all ages. I was impressed at how interested the kids were. No bored teens riveted to their phones. No little kids whining.

  10. B. B. Oak says:

    Our visits to OSV inspired us to write an historical mystery series set in that era. We call our town Plumford but we both imagine OSV when we write. The costumed historians there are brilliant!

    B. B. Oak (Beth and Ben)

  11. Went to OSV when I lived in Mass. when in 6th grade, a particularly impressionable age, so it’s easy to this day to pull up images of that visit. Several years ago, I revisited during one of our fall New England vacations. It was so fun to share the experience with my husband. We have a picture of him standing in front of the lawyers office! I agree these are dedicated folks who work there and contribute so much to our understanding of those times. Absolutely, people in those days physically worked harder than most of us do these days. They had no need for gyms, and walks at the mall. 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Susan. I will too.

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