The picnic basket listed heavily to one side as the two little girls of different ages tried to carry it between them. They set it down frequently on the gravel path that leads to the grassy common in the center of Old Sturbridge Village. I could only imagine the damage the jostling was doing to the lettuce and fruit in the basket, and was doubly glad I’d put the heavier drinks in a separate bag that I carried myself.
But carrying the split-ash basket between them was part of the fun of this special picnic that had become our family’s annual July 4th tradition. At least this year Jordan’s legs were long enough that her side of the basket cleared the ground.
In Your Bucket Because…
- Old Sturbridge Village is well worth an annual visit.
- The Fourth of July is a good time to reflect on our shared history.
- Good for those interested in early Americana, and for families with children of any age.
Other families were already unpacking their baskets when we found a spot and unfolded our blue-and-white checkered tablecloth on the grass. Children were everywhere, some – like their parents who were costumed interpreters — in 1830s dress. The girls envied them briefly, then considered how much cooler they were in non-historically correct shorts and tank tops.
A Full Day of Activities
Although we’d returned to the parking lot for our picnic basket, we’d been at Old Sturbridge Village since mid-morning, and already taken part in many of the day’s activities. We’d ridden in the big cart pulled by a team of draft horses, and the girls had drilled with the militia on the common, before it became the picnic grounds.
As they always are when we visit the village, both girls were fascinated by the various crafts being demonstrated, especially at the potter’s shop, where Mary could have lingered all day over her own clay creations. Not all the crafts are as conducive to hands-on visitor participation, but there’s plenty for kids and adults to do
Watching Water Wheels
While we expected their interest in watching the various crafts being demonstrated, we were surprised by both girls’ fascination with the mills. They carefully inspected the water wheels that powered the carding mill and the saw mill, and stood enthralled watching the saw mill transform a huge log into boards. They asked questions: how big a stream did it take to make a water wheel turn? Did water have to flow over the wheel or could it turn the wheel by flowing under it? On the ride home we learned why the interest, as conversation in the backseat centered on whether the little brook that runs through the backyard would be enough to power a waterwheel, and how they could construct one.
Meeting all the animals at the Freeman Farm was a highlight, as was learning an old-time dance and trying their hands at propelling a big barrel hoop with a stick. After lunch, they joined in a game of French & English, a big tug o’ war on the common. There was a fife and drum band, musket firing and flights of toy fire balloons.
Between the special Independence Day festivities, we toured some of the houses around the common, where the costumed interpreters engaged the girls in conversations about the differences between their lives and those of little girls in the 1830s. We rested our feet while listening to19th-century country music in the Parsonage Barn. Later we watched shadow puppets perform there.
Some activities change year to year, but others have been carved into the village’s Independence Day celebrations for so long that many parents remember them from their own childhood. The reading of the Declaration of Independence from the Meeting House steps is one of those. Even rambunctious kids settle down for the few minutes it takes for everyone to remember why we gather to celebrate this day each year.
- Old Sturbridge Village is in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, just off Interstate 84 not far south of its intersection with Interstate 90.
- Hours are 9:30am to 5pm, April 1through October 31, shorter winter hours.
- Although the village closes on July 4 at 5pm as usual, it will re-open at 6pm for more evening activities and fireworks.