Old Sturbridge Village’s collection consists of more than 40,000 artifacts made or used by rural New Englanders between 1790 and 1840.
Members of the Wells family, who owned and ran the American Optical Company in Southbridge, Massachusetts, founded the Wells Historical Museum in 1935 to display the extensive collection that they assembled. Shortly afterwards, the family acquired land in nearby Sturbridge to create a model setting that would evoke the atmosphere of a working early New England village to show the collections in the context of their original use. On June 8, 1946, the museum village opened to the public with thirteen historic structures in place.
Read more about the history of Old Sturbridge Village.
About half of the objects in the collection today were acquired by the museum’s founders, brothers Albert B. Wells, Joel Cheney Wells, and Channing M. Wells, from the 1920s through the early 1950s. A.B. Wells collected a wide range of artifacts from a Hadley chest to a gear-driven lathe, with especially strong collections of early lighting devices, woodenware, and scientific instruments. Joel Cheney Wells focused his collecting activities on clocks and paperweights. From this foundation, Old Sturbridge Village has assembled one of the largest collections of materials documenting everyday life in early 19th-century rural New England.