Farms, Families, and Change: New England Farming and Rural Life

The Farms, Families and Change experience includes four different exhibits spread across the OSV campus, including new exhibits in three of the Village’s historic barns, answering questions that resonate today – “where does our food come from?” and “why does the New England landscape look the way it does?”

Farming was at the heart of New England’s economy, and its imperatives shaped the land and the culture. New England’s farm families were crucial actors in America’s social and economic transformation. Expanding their economic networks and developing new forms of production for the market, they fed the region’s growing cities and mill villages. This complex world of increasingly market-driven and improved farming was one of the crucial engines of change, although often neglected in accounts of urban growth and the Industrial Revolution.

Exhibit Details

At the Fenno Barn

“Farming Life in New England”.  Enter a restored late 1700s barn to get the feel, sights, sounds and smells of an historic agricultural barn.  Text panels and a large flip book introduce the themes of agricultural life and its importance to understanding New England history.  The personal experience of agriculture and the seasonality of the work and life based on it are explored.

At the Fitch Barn

“Tools of Agricultural Change”.  Examine a portion of the extensive collection of agricultural tools and equipment at Old Sturbridge Village and learn how these seemingly primitive implements, by today’s standards, helped shape a dramatic transformation of the economy, society and landscape of New England during the first half of the 1800s.

At the Towne Barn

“A Revolution in Farming”.  A large exhibit that brings you into a reconstructed historic barn and encourages families to learn through hands-on experiences and even play.  Climb onto a full size wagon loaded with goods heading to market.  Use an interactive sign to learn about how ALL the parts of a cow were used then, and now.  Play with “pitfall” tables where you manipulate a ball through a series of possible “losses”, demonstrating the various difficulties farmers experienced historically, and today, in getting their goods to market.  Enter an historic milking stall and get the feel of what it was like to take on this daily chore as you milk a reproduction cow.  A large-format time line with artifacts round-out the story of the “revolution” that occurred in New England farming in the early 1800s. 

“New England’s Changing Landscape”

On the way to or from exploring Old Sturbridge Village’s large re-created historic agricultural landscape at the Freeman Farm, enter this quiet, climate-controlled space to contemplate the profound changes that have taken place to the New England landscape as a result of the changes in agricultural and land use practices over the last 400 years.  A large-scale “stage set” of scenery and information guides you through the forces and effects that shape the landscape as it looked during the 1830s, and today. Read more.

This project was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Robert W. Booth fund of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, and the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation.