Our Museum

Old Sturbridge Village, the largest outdoor history museum in the Northeast, depicts a rural New England town of the early 19th century. The Village is designed to approximate the look and feel of a historic landscape and includes more than 40 historic buildings, such as houses, working farms, meetinghouses, a district school, country store, water-powered mills, professional and trade shops – all situated along the Quinebaug River on the homeland of the Nipmuc peoples. Visitors begin their self-directed exploration by entering through either the Visitor Center or the Museum Education Center and move through the museum on dirt roads and pathways. Wayfinding and interpretive signage is positioned strategically throughout the museum.

Blacksmith at work with visitors watching demonstration

The 240 scenic acres of the museum are divided into the Center Village and Countryside. Exhibition spaces are found throughout the campus. The Center Village is a grassy common surrounded by homes, trade shops, and businesses. In the Countryside, one encounters homes, working farms, trade shops, a mill pond with three water-powered mills, and an exhibit gallery. The remainder of the exhibition spaces are in the Visitor Center and along the road to the Herb Garden.

In addition to exploring the historic village on their own, visitors may encounter other spaces that enhance the museum’s story. The Museum Education Center has activity spaces including four working hearths, a woodworking studio, and other areas to engage groups in hands-on workshops. The 300-seat Brewer Theater, located in the Visitor Center, is used for lectures, performances, and multimedia showcases.

Three photos: A child playing graces, two adults in 1830s dress performing a woodworking demonstration, and a family standing in front of a historical home

Our Mission

Old Sturbridge Village, a museum and learning resource of New England life, invites each visitor to find meaning, pleasure, relevance, and inspiration through the exploration of history.

Our Guiding Principles

Three photos: Two people dying yarn, a handmade basket, and a person working in the Tin Shop

Our History

In 1926, Industrialist Albert B. Wells of Southbridge, Massachusetts began collecting “primitive” antiques that represented daily life a century before. He became enraptured with collecting these tools, everyday furnishings, and gadgets and his collection grew rapidly. A decade later, in 1936, A.B. Wells’ son, George, convinced his father to move beyond his hobby of collecting and his dream of a gallery of “primitives,” but, rather, have “a live village, one with different shops operating.”

A room filled with tools, furniture, and other items of daily life from the 1800s
A small portion of A.B. Wells’ collection of antiques in Southbridge, MA

A.B. Wells and his brothers then purchased the Quinebaug Farm, setting in motion the creation of Old Sturbridge Village as we know it today. As A.B. Wells’ health declined in the 1940s, and his beloved daughter-in-law Ruth Dyer Wells, began to oversee more projects in the emerging Village. In 1945, a heart attack forced A.B. Wells to move to California for his health, but he continued to keep in touch with Ruth, and offered any advice or support she needed. A.B Wells’ passion for “primitives” and his industrialist spirit are the catalysts that began Old Sturbridge Village.

Old Sturbridge Village officially opened to the public on June 8, 1946, with 81 visitors paying a dollar apiece to tour the grounds and see displays of antiques arranged in the new and restored buildings. The Fitch House, Miner Grant Store, the Richardson House, the Grist Mill, and some other buildings were on site, but other buildings, like the Center Meetinghouse and Salem Towne House, were not added until later.

As the Village grew, so did public interest in seeing history brought to life. The Village welcomed its one millionth visitor in 1957 and since then, many more programs, exhibits and special events have been added and refined in an effort to constantly improve the visitor experience. Through the decades, we have grown well beyond a collection of antiques in a bucolic setting, or even an assemblage of historic craft demonstrations. The “living village” has taken on a vibrant life of its own as a leader in the fields of museum education and living history interpretation.  As we celebrate our own past as well as New England’s early history, we continue to “make no little plans,” as we look ahead to a long and bright future.

Three photos: A person in an 1830s dress lays out pies on a table; A yellow child's 1830s dress, and fife and drummers

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