This Old House: The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 5

This was originally written for the Canterbury Shaker Village Facebook Page, published on February 26, 2018.

One exciting part of my internship at Canterbury Shaker Village has been the chance to live and work in a historic building. When I first walked into the Trustees’ Office – once upon a time the building where Shakers conducted business with the outside world, sold products they created, and hosted guests to stay – I was in awe of its massive antique cabinets, shiny vintage radiators, and elegantly curved wood banisters.

Canterbury Shaker Village Trustees' Office

Old homes certainly have their quirks though, and I could barely sleep the first night because of all the bizarre whistling and banging noises I later learned were to blame on those vintage radiators. Now that I’m used to it, however, I revel in the chance to occupy a space that has known so much history over the past two centuries.

Trustees' Office at Canterbury Shaker Village

After I interned with a historic preservation organization, I became very passionate about the idea of reusing historic spaces – I think it’s important to give them new life in order to allow them to keep telling their story and fulfilling the purpose for which they were made.


Now, as I read a book of memoirs, Simple Gifts, written by Shaker scholar June Spriggs about her time as a 19 year-old working as a tour guide at the Village and living with the last Shaker sisters here, I delight in her stories of eating dinner in the Trustees’ Office with the last Canterbury sisters, I feel even more impacted by how I am part of a constellation of lives that have intersected in this building.

Trustees' Office at Canterbury Shaker Village

Parts of our stories are similar – I relate so much to Sprigg’s tales of being young and unsure of myself – while other parts are different – obviously I’m not an elderly Shaker sister! But living under the same roof as these other women who I will never know makes me appreciate and commemorate their lives in a way I couldn’t before.

Canterbury Shaker Village

Trustees' Office at Canterbury Shaker Village

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

A Legacy in Hallmark Cards: The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 4


Why it’s worth studying history

As much as I love history, every job has its ups and downs. Today was a particularly exhausting day of work and by the time 5pm rolled around, I felt like I needed to get out of the house. I drove 20 minutes to the outlets for a little “retail therapy” and cheese fries. It was pitch black by the time I got on the road again.

Canterbury Shaker Village at Sunset

As I headed home, pine trees rising up on either side of me, my high beams lighting up an occasional moose figurine-topped mailbox along the road, I put on a CD I grew up with: “Who Am I” by Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie Maclean. As a track rolled around to a song about Scottish people emigrating to America because of a famine, I started to get emotional. It hit me that I myself was driving through the land that my ancestors who came from Scotland settled.


I was driving through the land of the people who came before me, making it possible for me to have the life I do, while listening to music passed on to me by my parents, who learned it from my grandfather. I was struck by how, no matter where we wander, we carry with us so much of not just our own past but also that of those who came before us.

Country road in winter

With that, it’s worth taking time to get in touch with what came before us, so we can remember what sacrifices have been made as well as what mistakes. Even though working in history can have its frustrations, tonight reminded me that it also is a responsibility to tell people’s stories, to commemorate, and to give the people of today context for their lives and where they came from.  When you realize you’re part of a long line of folks, it’s humbling and empowering, which is why it’s important to tell more people’s stories when we teach history.

Historic buildings at sunset

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

A Legacy in Hallmark Cards: The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 4

This was originally written for the Canterbury Shaker Village Facebook Page, published on February 11, 2018.

This week I had the pleasure of going through a scrapbook in the museum collections that was created by a friend of the last Shaker sisters who lived in the Shaker community in Canterbury, NH until the last woman passed in 1992. This woman grew up visiting the sisters with her mother and created a scrapbook of greeting cards the sisters sent her, guidebooks from the village’s early days as a new museum, and newspaper clippings of any and every article published about the Shakers.


From the collections of Canterbury Shakers Village (2018.2.1)

I love scrapbooks — they’re such a personal documentation of memory, untainted by outside editing, giving voice to anyone with paste and scissors. They tell a person’s story using the very material they collected from their daily life, broadening our understanding of history beyond just those who had enough social clout to publish books. This particular scrapbook reveals how much affection the creator had for the Shaker sisters, demonstrated by the amount of care and attention that went into collecting, saving, and assembling the objects within. The fact that someone would save everything the Sisters sent to her and seek out clippings elsewhere that related to them speaks loudly to the legacy they left, the imprint they had.


A spread of the scrapbook, feature newspaper articles about two of the sisters’ funerals and freeting cards from another sister. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.4.1)

Turning the pages of the scrapbook, the legacy of Canterbury became very real to me; when I came to a page documenting one of the last sisters’ passing, I started to tear up. I was struck by the sacrifice, hard work, and love that these last sisters put into continuing the legacy of their faith and community by forming a museum here. It’s easy for the individual personalities of the Shaker community to get lost in obsessions over the craftsmanship of their furniture or arguments over whose scholarship of them is the best.


Greeting cards sent from one sister to the creator of the scrapbook alongside clippings of pictures of Shakers-made furniture from an antiques auction catalog. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.2.1)

Seeing that they sent Hallmark cards on birthdays is a reminder that they weren’t a bunch of dour members of an odd religious order — they were human, loving and caring as they believed God called them to. And hurting as well. It’s interesting how many of the Shakers – particularly the women – were handed off to the community by new stepmothers who didn’t want them or other similarly traumatic stories.


A photograph of one sister, Gertrude Soule, from one of the newspaper clippings in the scrapbook. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.2.1)

Working here at the museum commemorating the Shakers who lived in Canterbury, NH, hearing stories and seeing objects like this scrapbook has made it clear to me that these women made a profound impact on everyone whose paths crossed with theirs. I feel honored to be a part of helping to continue their legacy as I work here, and inspired seeing from their example that living a life faithful to your convictions and conscious of the needs of others can make a tremendous impact, even if the acts seem small.


A greeting card in the scrapbook. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.2.1)

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

Party Like It’s 1838: Old Sturbridge Village Internship (Pt. 1)

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

Written for the Canterbury Shaker Village Facebook page on February 3, 2018, this is a short report on my experience as a Collections Intern at the Village:

Getting to know the Village the past two weeks, I’ve been intrigued by the number of built-in storage units I’ve encountered in the museum buildings, including in my own room in the Trustees’ Building. Being a bit of a clotheshorse, I can never find enough places to store my clothing at home. I was delighted when I moved in to see that not only was there a huge built-in cabinet and drawer set, but also pegs lining three of my walls, very convenient for hanging clothes.


The Trustees’ Office, Canterbury Shaker Village (photo by Rebecca Gale)

One of the most impressive things I’ve come across thus far in the Village is the giant hallway of built-in storage in the Dwelling House. Being the modern materialist that I am, I wouldn’t mind having a walk-in closet that big for myself, but the Shakers valued simplicity, efficiency, and community, and this storage is a testament to that: enough storage in one place to provide for the entire village.


The style and functionality of these built-ins speaks to the Shakers’ taste for simplicity, order, and cleanliness. Pegs could be used to hang chairs, brooms, or whatever was needed, opening up spaces for community gatherings. And today I feel linked to the past as I use these handcrafted features for my own belongings, a demonstration of the Shakers’ enduring legacy through their handiwork.


The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

I was drawn to the opportunity to intern at Canterbury Shaker Village because I wanted the chance to work with historic objects. In the study of history, it’s so easy to get lost in the facts and dates and figures that you lose sight of the people who lived the events you’re studying. The excitement of working with historic objects is that sometimes they allow you to bridge that gap and remember the people who walked among the now-empty halls of museum buildings.

Door and shelf with jars at the Syrup House in Canterbury Shaker Village

Syrup House, Canterbury Shaker Village, New Hampshire

This week, on my second day of work in the Village, we were in the thick of writing down the catalog numbers of all the objects that have been on display in the Carriage House, when I gingerly picked up a petite, frail straw bonnet with a pleated cream satin trim tacked along the back to cover the neck from the sun (and perhaps add a hint of decoration.) I experienced an immediate moment of connection with the past, of realization that this bonnet was at one time an integral part of the literal and figurative part of the fabric of that her existence.

Shaker Straw Bonnet at Canterbury Shaker Village

Straw bonnet from the collections of Canterbury Shaker Village

Just as every day here at Canterbury I pull on my winter accessories without a second thought to go out and start work, so this girl would have slipped on the snug, close-fitting hat to go about her business, quite different from mine in many ways, but surely not too far off in others. Our lives may look very different, just as the clothes we wear do, but there are surely threads of similarity in both: frustration, disappointment, discontent, joy, laughter, envy, longing, wonder, tranquility, anxiety, hurt, affection. Hating the weather but loving the view. Getting bored of the conversation but not wanting to be alone. All lives have these commonalities.

Hydrangea in the Snow

Dried hydrangea in this week’s ice, Canterbury Shaker Village, NH

Realizing the humanity behind objects in turn prompts more questions for historical research and story-telling. There’s the human side of the story, the questions that the fellow woman in me asks: Did she love this bonnet? Did she hate it? What was her name? Who was she? What were her interests and passions? What was her past like before she got this bonnet? What was her future like after she outgrew this bonnet?

Schoolhouse door at Canterbury Shaker Village

Schoolhouse door the owner of this bonnet may have seen daily at school (Canterbury Shaker Village, NH)

Then there are the more practical questions: Since the bonnet is so small, we can assume it belonged to a child in the Shaker community. The Shakers required celibacy of their members so anyone with children who joined had to surrender exclusively raising their child. Children who were brought to the Shakers by parents who joined or by local orphanages were taught at the Shakers’ schoolhouse and cared for by sisters in the community.



As a child who was most likely brought here either because she wasn’t wanted by her family or her parent joined the Shaker community, the owner of this bonnet was not living in the Village because of her own choice. The whole situation seems so potentially heartbreaking to me that I have to wonder: Was she happy living in the Village? Depressed? At home? Lonely? How did she arrive there? Did she stay?

Old wooden floorboards at Canterbury Shaker Village

Floorboards in a storage room of the schoolhouse

The number of questions that flood my head are unending, and most of them probably can’t be answered. But it’s all an important reminder to keep in mind that history isn’t just a regurgitation of facts or a wrestling match over whose political, religious, or social perspective gets to be told – it’s about commemorating the people who came before us and ensuring their stories are passed onto future generations.

Light from window in Shaker Schoolhouse at Canterbury Shaker Village

Museums: Shedding light on history, one artifact at a time.

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

Explore New England (Well, Mainly Massachusetts)

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

Party Like It’s 1838: Old Sturbridge Village Internship (Pt. 1)

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

In a week, I will start (yet another) internship at Canterbury Shaker Village, a museum in Canterbury, New Hampshire, working on researching and cataloging the museum’s object collection as well as assisting the curator with revamping the museum’s gallery space. I’ll also be living in one of the historic buildings that was part of the village, the home of a vibrant religious community between 1792 and 1992. I don’t believe in ghosts, but got a little nervous when the woman who interviewed me asked if I was comfortable living in an old house that creaks at night…let’s hope I leave this internship still skeptical of the paranormal.

Shaker Building at Fruitland Museum Massachusetts

A remnant of Shaker life (the sect only has one living member left) — a former office building from one of their communities in Harvard, Mass., now part of Fruitlands Museum

Some people think I’m bonkers for taking this internship; I graduated last May and I should probably get a real job, but I’m excited about this opportunity, not just because of the career preparation it will provide me with, but also because of the potential for personal growth that I see in moving to a different place, learning about a remarkable group of people, and building myself as a person. I will admit though, there are a few reasons to be terrified:

  1. Moving. I’m very close to my family, and in the two months I’ve been home, I’ve quickly settled back into my comfort zone of home life. Any move means transition and facing the unknown, which I often find emotional and anxiety-inducing. Not to mention, starting a new job is just plain intimidating.
  2. Being in a rural place. I have a secret confession: I love big box stores and strip malls. Seeing them makes my heart happy. I didn’t realize that until I lived with no car in a town consisting of a mile-long street with no stores. Living nowhere near a supermarket should be interesting…
  3. NEW ENGLAND WINTER. I am from below the Mason-Dixon line. I hate ugly winter accessories that are meant to keep you warm. I shiver inside of my own home. I really have no business being in New Hampshire during February and March.

Fruitlands Museum, Massachusetts: A shoemaker’s worktable from Harvard Shaker community

But more importantly, reasons to be excited:

  1. Living in a new place. One reason I love doing internships is they give me the chance to live in a completely different place from where I grew up, giving me a taste of the culture, history, and landscape of that location. So far this has taken me to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Western Massachusetts, and, most recently, Central Massachusetts. Being a suburbanite, I’ve enjoyed being in small towns where you’re closer to nature and historic buildings, things we tend to raze in suburbia.
  2. Learning new things. I love coming to a subject I know very little about and becoming intimately familiar with it through historical work. Shakerism embodies two significant portions of American history: the many religious sects that have arisen in our country and the many Utopian, communal societies that were formed in the early 1800s. With this internship, I’ll learn about a movement that represents important parts of American culture: our impulse to practice religion as we see fit, to pursue equality for all people, and to invent, innovate, and work hard.
  3. Gaining personal direction. On one level, I hope this gives me some direction for my career. On another level, as silly as it may sound, some part of me hopes that by having be close to nature, dwell with my own thoughts, and learn about the lives of others will give me some insight into myself. On that note, let me continue.

Harvard, Mass. Shaker community at Fruitlands Museum

I’m a big believer in taking time to wander around forests alone to gain inspiration for art and to get to know yourself better. That’s part of why I wanted to return to New England. I went through some difficult times this past fall as I lived on my own in Massachusetts, but I also found the built and natural landscape surrounding me to be awe-inspiring, peaceful, and empowering. As I processed through making difficult career choices, difficult feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, and processing heartbreak, I found myself drawn back again and again to the banks of ponds, the canopies of forest foliage, the shadows of bracketed historic buildings, the faded carvings of town cemeteries.

As I lost myself in long walks, tours of writers’ homes, snapping photos of gables fading into the sunset, and driving back and forth across the Mass. Turnpike with an “Autumn Leaves” Yankee Candle car deodorizer dangling from my rearview and Mary Chapin Carpenter singing a ballad about a dead man from New Orleans, I slowly emerged from my shell of brokenness, helplessness, and fear. I am adventurous, but I am also anxious. Moves like this force me out of my comfort zone and propel me to pursue independence.


Harvard, Massachusetts’ Shaker community, now part of the Fruitlands Museum

Ann Lee must have known as much when she decided to cross the pond from England to America in 1774, bringing with her a small, no doubt ragtag group of followers of her new faith – disparaged as the “shaking Quakers”, much like “Christians” once upon a time was an insult to a persecuted band of believers. She established a settlement in New York for the group, but also began seeking out converts in her new country.

The Shakers were defined by a commitment to communal living, hard work, celibacy, pacifism, and living as closely to biblical teachings as possible. While much of their life seems completely unrelatable to us today, as I began researching the Shakers in the past week, I realized there were many parallels between the values they sought to embody and the journey I’ve been on personally in recent years and the crossroads I find myself at today:

DSC03755 2

Shaker-made baskets at Fruitlands Museum, MA

The Shakers’ commitment to hard work, not to mention the sheer extent of their accomplishment, speaks to my own hunger to do, to work, to find my place where I can make a difference, to use the talents I have been given effectively.

Their practice of meditation prompts me to do the same — taking time to name my thoughts and feelings instead of simply pushing them away, to savor life as it passes.

The Shaker’s commitment to celibacy reminds me of my own pursuit to be content being single and become more grounded in myself before seeking out relationships.

The rural landscape they cohabited with is an opportunity to take a break from the breakneck speed of life and the technology that simultaneously tears me down and lifts me up.

The gender equality they pursued reminds me of my own recent transition from the narrow, traditional view of women’s roles I grew up with to seeking to build a career for myself and a self-concept as a strong, smart, capable woman.

Their unabashed pursuit of practicing their unique, oft-berated religious convictions reflects my own journey to navigate the spiritual landscape, blazing a middle ground between the religious tradition I grew up in and my own experience and convictions, often leaving me feeling isolated as I fit neither in the church I grew up in, nor the world outside of it.

Their emphasis on compassion and showing God’s love to neighbors is a reminder for me to be more self-sacrificing and understanding of others.

Their love of community points me to my own craving to experience true friendship, acceptance, companionship, and support in my relationships, which often feel shallow, conditional, one-sided, and neglectful.


Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts

In closing, I remember how during my junior year of college, my friend and I found out there was an Orthodox convent not far from our college campus. It was on state park land, with a beautiful lake, and the sisters sang in a choir together and made greeting cards to sell in the convent gift shop. I remember wanting to go live there, being young, depressed, lonely, burnt out, fed up with men, and unable to get a boyfriend anyways. Why not go live in a beautiful place where your life had clear vocation and you were a recognized member of a community. I figured old people usually love me and a simple, orderly life where each day was laid out for you sounded kinda nice.

While there are many benefits to having so many choices and freedom these days, sometimes the array of opportunities can become overwhelming. Ultimately, my desire to continue chasing romantic love won out over the attractiveness of making greeting cards with old ladies, but looking back, I can see the draw of such a place. As much as we value freedom, independence, sensuality, and spontaneity, I think many of us also have a part of us that craves the stability, community, and security that communal religious societies offer.

We want peace in the midst of the flurry of emails we need to respond to before we’re viewed as rude, sales to take advantage of before they expire, things to check off our to-do list before another vacation ends.

We want guidance and clarity in a world where even a simple trip to the grocery store can overwhelm you with the options before you.

We want community in a time when people leave texts unanswered and conversations face-to-face often get interrupted by those same devices that are supposed to help us keep in touch.


The Berkshires, Massachusetts

I don’t think the Shakers had all the answers. I don’t think their lives were perfect. I don’t think we all need to give up all our technology or join communes. But I’m curious to see how living where they did, walking in their footsteps, and studying their lives can give me perspective in the modern day. Because as foreign as life in the past may seem — and as awful as many aspects of it were — I think it’s always worth keeping an open mind to any culture and its practices to see what we can learn from it and apply to our own little world.

Sometimes you have to step outside your bubble, jump outside your comfort zone, so you can expand it to include things that will enhance it in the long run.

Learn More About Shakers:

PBS: “About the Shakers” (Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary about the group)

National Park Service: Shaker Heritage Sites

Hancock Shaker Village: History of the Shakers

Other posts you might enjoy:

Around Town: Summer Fellowship, Pt. 3

Explore New England (Well, Mainly Massachusetts)

Glimpses into life in the past at National Park Seminary historic district

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

Blast from the Past (in Concord, Mass.!)

The Scenic Route: Taking the Pressure off of Decision-Making


Sturbridge, Massachusetts

I always like to tell people that a road trip with me isn’t complete until I’ve taken a wrong road or missed a turn or screwed up something. I’ve been driving around up here in New England every time I have time because I love the scenery and I find driving so relaxing (sorry, environment.) Pretty much every time I miss a turn and end up lost. I always start out frustrated, seeing the ETA on my GPS change, but I could never stay mad for long because I would pass a group of wild turkeys crossing the road or see the sun setting over a pond nestled in a grove of pine trees. It made me realize that it was more of a scenic detour than making a mistake.


Sturbridge, Massachusetts

It’s interesting how we are so prone to frame things as right or wrong, labeling events that didn’t go the way we hoped or turn out positively as mistakes or failures. Oftentimes those times can be pivotal moments of growth for us, which makes me question whether they really can be called mistakes since they ended up playing a crucial part in our development.


The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts

This past couple months, having another relationship I hoped would develop into something more not work out and simultaneously having the internship I took not live up to my expectations really brought this point home. A lot of times I felt like I had failed because I had yet again misjudged a person and built up my expectations prematurely. I consequently feel anxious when I make choices about my future and pessimistic about new opportunities for relationships that present themselves, doubting anyone could really be interested in me and wondering if I’m over-idealizing a person again and ignoring red flags like the last time.


The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts

As I find myself in another time of transition with a lot of decisions facing me, I feel overwhelmed by the pressure to make the “right” choices. But the thing is, sometimes you just have to make a choice, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong option; each avenue you could potentially take is just a different path. As cheesy as the metaphor sounds, it’s like hiking trails – sure you have to take into consideration how long one is or how steep, but for the most part each one is beautiful and relaxing, you just get a different view.


The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts

Considering grad schools and job options, I feel overwhelmed by the pressure I put on myself to find the “right fit.” Having had to transfer in undergrad, partly because the school I thought was a perfect fit ended up just not working for me, I feel especially anxious about my ability to choose a good program. But as I make pro and con lists for different options, I realize that there are, quite simply, pros and cons to anything. There is rarely ever a perfect fit. It all works out and adds to your story.

Even difficult things have beauty and worth threaded throughout. In my relationship that didn’t work out, I experienced a ton of emotional pain, but that precipitated me to re-enter counseling, which I have experienced tremendous comfort and personal growth through (including many of the ideas in this post!) And subsequently, when I did have another opportunity to start to develop a different relationship, it made me value that new opportunity even more.


Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

The failed relationship also empowered me in a strange sense as I had to at one point realize the other person wasn’t invested in the relationship, decide I deserved better, and take action to withdraw from that person and make an effort not to let worrying about our relationship consume my thoughts. This was extremely hard to do, but I did it. I stopped communicating with him for probably six weeks to see if he would initiate conversation and ask after me. It never came, which hurt, but gave me perspective on what I need in a relationship and, most importantly, made me feel empowered about my decision to respect and stand up for myself.


Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

As for my internship, as many tough days as I had, there is the satisfaction of knowing I pressed on through those tough days and I pushed myself yet again out of my comfort zone in the type of work I was doing. I learned completely new things and I did a lot of talking to people even though I find constant conversation exhausting. I persevered. And I got to experience a different place, visit lovely museums, enjoy driving through the curtain of New England foliage over the Massachusetts turnpike, and meet a few lovely people…one particularly lovely person in particular…There were so many things I felt frustrated about that I eventually realized had small blessings hidden in them.


Naumkeag, the Berkshires, Massachusetts

I guess what I’m saying is, that if you’re like me and, because of things that have happened in your past, you question your judgment for the future to the extent that you can’t make decisions – it’s okay. Even situations that are difficult are redeemable. And for some of us more sensitive people, we just need an extra-long time to adjust, so something that seems awful may just need some patience and perseverance.


The Berkshires, Massachusetts

You don’t have to make the right choice, you just have to do the best you can to consider your options and choose what seems like a good fit. Maybe it’s the fastest route to your destination, maybe it’s the scenic route. Either way has satisfactions and frustrations.


Explore New England (Well, Mainly Massachusetts)

For the past couple months, I’ve had the opportunity to relocate temporarily from my home state of Maryland to the lovely state of Massachusetts while completing an internship at Old Sturbridge Village. As a museum lover, I was determined from Day One to spend as much time off as I could visiting the area’s wealth of fascinating museums. While there are still several left on my list that I didn’t make it to, I’ve enjoyed going to quite a number of them.

Slater’s Mill Historic Site, Pawtucket, Rhode Island


This small museum is located just outside of Providence, RI and just over the Massachusetts border. It’s a three-building site that gives an overview of the evolution of industry, particularly textile processing, in early America.


18th century home – A spinning wheel used for flax (linen) is in the background on the right, and a weasel, used to wind skeins of string, is the windmill-looking machine on the table. The song “Pop Goes the Weasel” was inspired by this!

Our guided tour started in a 1700s-era house, showing how textiles were originally produced in cottage industry-type setting within a home, usually for the family, though sometimes a person might hire other people and produce larger amounts of cloth to sell. This work was done using human power and simple machines like spinning wheels.


The two other buildings were water-powered mills, where huge wheels pushed by the energy of flowing water turned machinery and belts used to spin thread onto spools, do woodworking, clean cotton, etc.


These held large bobbins of thread that were mechanically wound. Young girls had the job of sticking their hands into the machine to remove filled bobbins. Our guide turned on the machine and demonstrated for about 30 seconds…her had stung and was visibly red. It’s hard to imagine doing that all day as an elementary school-age child.

It’s both amazing to think about innovation over the years and how drastically life and work has changed over the past two centuries because of these inventions, and humbling to consider how hard it must have been to work in such loud, impersonal, fast-paced, dangerous conditions. (It’s also a bit humbling to realize that our country benefitted so much from plans for a machine that were literally stolen from England.)


Bobbins in boats on top of a loom. Some looms were so large, there were ships on wheels that were water-powered to go through the warp threads.

There was also a collection of later machinery, displaying the further development of technology for creating cloth.


Later machines, probably for making knit fabrics.


Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT


The Mark Twain House is a must-see if you’re ever passing through Connecticut. Just outside of downtown Hartford, this sumptuous Victorian that Twain built for his family not only has delicious interior design, but also a fascinating story of an eccentric writer and his family and household staff.


I love writers’ homes because they have such interesting tours that focus more on the family and their life. Twain and one of his daughters appear to have had trouble concentrating, probably suffering from what we would diagnose today as ADHD. He had to change where he would spend time writing at least twice because he couldn’t be in a place with too many distractions. His daughter, educated at home by Twain’s wife, who had attended college, went to a formal academy in high school but was kicked out for behavior issues, probably because she was distractable too and unused to regimented schooling.

The carriage house

The house also has an accompanying museum with two fantastic, very readable exhibits as well as a cafe. The neighborhood nearby is also worth exploring if you love Victorian architecture!

Concord, Massachusetts

Concord holds a special place in my heart because it was the home of two authors I dearly love, whose homes I visited in eighth grade and fell in love with this charming town. It really is what I imagine real-life Stars Hollow being like.


Downtown Concord, Mass.


Downtown Concord

The downtown is very sweet and historic and also have a cemetery for those who are interested in historic gravestones. It just oozes New England charm. There is a National Park dedicated to the Revolutionary War battlefield, which I still have not made my way too, and a town museum as well as a few house museums, namely belonging to local authors Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and – dearest to my heart – Louisa May & Amos Bronson Alcott.


Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, where she wrote her most famous book, Little Women.

I visited Orchard House twice in middle school, inspiring me to do a research project on her family’s connection to the Massachusetts abolition movement for National History Day. I wrote a bit more about my visit in another post, but this remains one of my favorite museums to this day, though I’m sure it’s shabby to many museum snobs. I love the personality of the family that comes through even in the furnishings, which have a very lived-in appearance.


Amos Bronson Alcott’s (Louisa’s father) Concord School of Philosophy. Alcott was a man of ideas and conviction, but unfortunately not usually successful in making them last in application. His ideas on educating children have more recently become popularly accepted, but got him into trouble in his own lifetime.

The family let their artistic younger daughter, May, draw and paint on the walls and the house is furnished to reflect the Alcotts in their better middle class status after Little Women had started selling, but it still has the well-loved furniture and cramped quarters you might find in your own home, which I find endearingly relatable compared to the hoards of mansions that tend to get preserved. The Alcotts are also fascinating people, eccentric and lovably human, both outcasts of their own time and representatives of some of the growing movements in mid-19th-century New England: abolition, Transcendentalism, women’s rights, philosophical discussion and lecture circuits, etc.


A re-creation of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin he built for his experiment living alone in nature for a time, as recorded in his book Walden.

I also couldn’t pass up a re-visit to Walden Pond, now a state park. I went hoping for some kind of epiphany about what to do with my life but left wishing I had brought my bathing suit to enjoy the clear water. I guess life works itself out as you go along more than it hands out sudden clarity about where to go next. Sometimes you have to embrace the uncertainty. All the same, Walden is a beautiful place with such a peaceful atmosphere. I highly recommend a visit.


Sunset over Walden Pond.

 Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, Massachusetts 


This place confirmed my assertion that there really is a museum for everything. When I saw the brochure for the Museum of Russian Icons, I was intrigued. I knew relatively little about the Russian Orthodox Church or about the art of icons, so it was interesting to learn about an art form that is an intersection of visual expression and religious devotion.


Clinton, Massachusetts

The icons – pictures of saints and Biblical figures – are painted in particular steps, each of which have symbolic religious significance. As the icons are painted, the artist is supposed to pray and meditate during the process. I found the concept quite powerful…I think the artistic process is great for taking time to consider life and examine one’s inner self. I probably sat for an hour watching a video of an adorable elderly Russian man demonstrating how icons are created. I’m not much good at visual art myself, but it’s fascinating to watch people who are practice their craft. The neighborhood around the museum also had some gorgeous Victorian houses, which always gets me jazzed.


Clinton, Massachusetts


Clinton, Massachusetts

Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Massachusetts


I believe I can touch the sky…Fruitlands Museum, Harvard Mass.

Fruitlands definitely wins the prize for best location out of all the places I visited. The museum is spread out among several buildings in a campus layout, but it’s all nestled on a hill that looks out on some gorgeous hills, filled with foliage. I didn’t get a picture that did justice to the view.


The museum is mainly dedicated to the Utopian experiment that Louisa May Alcott’s father, writer and educator Amos Bronson Alcott, started with fellow Transcendentalist Charles Lane. Louisa May Alcott later wrote a short story about the disastrous experience. Her father and Lane were trying to live out Transcendentalist ideals, living off the land and farming without using animal labor, which, as you might imagine, is quite difficult to do. Add to that that Lane believed that ideally people should be single and celibate when Alcott had his wife and daughters living on the farm…Dramaaaaa.


Fruitlands Farmhouse, built 1843

In addition to the original farmhouse where the Alcotts and Lane lived, the museum campus has an art gallery featuring folk portraits and Hudson River School paintings, a Native American museum, and a building from a nearby Shaker community.


Shaker Museum, Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Mass.

I spent the most time at the Shaker Museum, which was a small office building that had been part of the Shaker community in Harvard, Massachusetts, not far from the Fruitlands utopian experiment (in fact, Charles Lane went and tried to live with the Shakers for a short time after Fruitlands dissolved.)


Shaker Museum

It was interesting to learn about how Shakerism offered a safe haven for women who had been widowed to have a place to live and be provided for. It’s humbling to think about how women in past centuries would have been in a pretty difficult situation if their husband or other family members they were dependent on passed away. It’s also interesting to learn about how entrepreneuring the Shakers were, crafting furniture and creating the concept of packaged seeds.

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I also enjoyed the gorgeous hiking paths through the fall foliage. There were great interpretive signs about the historical and natural landscape. It’s interesting to think about the remains of homes, daily lives, and natural phenomena that we walk on top of every day without thinking. One picture in the slideshow above is of a part of the trail that overlapped with a former wagon road. The signage pointed out that the ruts are still visible. I wonder how many lives in transition traveled that same path.


The Mount, Lenox, MA 


The Stables, The Mount, Lenox, MA

When the stables of an estate are larger than your family’s house, you know you’ve happened upon a Gilded Age mansion. Edith Wharton was a prolific novelist who critiqued the constrained, exclusive society of the extremely wealthy Americans in early nineteenth century New York City. Many of these wealthy people built houses in the Berkshires, the part of the Appalachians in western Massachusetts and Wharton followed suit. She actually had a large part in designing the Mount because of her strong opinions in home design. In fact, her first published book was an advice book on interior design.


Wharton’s life is fascinating; she divorced her husband at a time when it was still socially unacceptable, so she left the Mount and moved to Paris after being shunned from society. But she wrote a novel a year for forty years and won a Pulitzer Prize. She had other love affairs, though none of them worked out particularly well (I feel you, girl), but she did write some steamy poetry about them.


The scullery where maids would have washed dishes. Sucky job but nice view.

The house museum is particularly interesting in that it has tried to experiment with new ways to use the space of a historic home. For example, rooms are, for the most part, not roped off and, in addition to getting a guided tour, you can walk through the house at your own pace. Some rooms are restored to their original appearance or something similar (designers were invited to decorate some of the rooms at their own expense to reduce the cost of restoring the home) while others are small gallery spaces. I loved the little reading nook they had too. Some effort is also made to interpret the spaces the servants used.


Wharton’s work and receiving room, which has been restored to its original appearance. (she wrote her novels in bed next door every morning so she wouldn’t have to wear her corset…Same.)


Well, I have a million more pictures, and a few other smaller places I visited, but this is already a monster of a post. But I’ll leave with some parting musings….

I feel bad sometimes that I haven’t done much international travel, but then I think about how many amazing places there are in my own country, or even my own country, that I’ve never been to, and I realize that maybe there’s something to be said for traveling locally.

I think it’s important to be connected to the places around you and to appreciate the stories they have to offer of the people who have called that location home in years past. Local history can so often go overlooked or even be looked down on by academics, but I think it gives us a sense of identity and groundedness in the landscape we inhabit, allowing us to appreciate and thus care for, preserve, and conserve both the built and the natural environment.


The Berkshires

On a more personal note, I have to say that while I sometimes felt a little pathetic trudging up to the ticket offices to ask for admission for one adult (“No, an adult, not a student”) while several couples celebrating anniversaries or honeymoons or girl friends spending a day out gossiping while cursorily looking at art perused the gift shop around me. Let’s just say that while I fully intended to visit as many museums as possible while I was up here, I didn’t expect to be doing it alone. But I am continually reminded that life has a stubborn way of making sure that things do not go the way you expect.


Naumkeag Mansion, the Berkshires, Massachusetts

In spite of the occasional awkwardness and self-consciousness (and occasional anxiety) of traveling alone, I am a firm believer that it’s important to take time to get back in touch with your own thoughts and feelings, and I sometimes wonder if many museums can properly be absorbed and appreciated if you’re with other people. While parts of the past couple months of my life have had some moments of pain and frustration over the loneliness I felt and the disappointment – sometimes even anger – I was experiencing surrounding some of my relationships, I also found some extremely beautiful moments being alone in nature or alone looking at a building where an author who made a large impact on my life lived.


I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years frustrated with how people have treated me or relationships have panned out, but I think those hurts are a good reminder that it’s important to spend time with yourself, staying in touch with your own desires, dreams, and emotions. It’s good to dignify yourself by giving yourself the opportunity to experience things you want to, regardless of whether or not other people accompany you. It’s important to have friends and connections, but it’s also good to know yourself and not lose your individuality trying to be what you think other people want, which I felt like I was starting to do when I began this journey a couple months ago.



Slater Mill 

Mark Twain House

Museum of Russian Icons

Fruitlands Museum

The Mount


Enjoying New England in fall 🙂

Party Like It’s 1838: Old Sturbridge Village Internship (Pt. 1)

It’s been quite an interesting two months serving as an intern here at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. I’ve learned a lot as a historian and grown a lot as a human. A lot of people I’ve met have wondered what brought me up here from my home state of Maryland…It’s a valid question with a complicated answer.


I guess it goes back to when I was in middle school and I first fell in love with museums, in particular with living history museums where people in costume pretend to inhabit historic buildings, usually set up in a town or village setting, recreating life in the past. Old Sturbridge Village was one museum I distinctly remember visiting, and while I didn’t fall in love with it the way I did Colonial Williamsburg, I remember respecting it a lot (and loving the sheep.)


Fast forward several years to college…History majors from the first school I attended interned at OSV and I began to become interested myself in working in the museum field. I turned into some kind of internship maniac who would scour the Internet for museum internships to apply for. One that I found was OSV but it wasn’t until this past summer that I applied. I accepted at Historic Deerfield for the summer but asked if I could defer working here at OSV to the fall. The more jobs I didn’t hear back from, the better of an idea doing another internship sounded like.


Old Sturbridge Village is comprised of over thirty historic buildings that have been moved to the site to create a hypothetical rural New England Village. It doesn’t recreate any specific town exactly; it’s more of a sampler of some of the trade shops and homes and public buildings you might have found in a small town in the early 1800s. The village is set in a pretty overlooked time period of American history: the 1830s. Some visitors to the museum think we are colonists, pilgrims, or pioneers, but colonists and pilgrims would have been historical figures by our time period and pioneers would be living in places West of Massachusetts, like Ohio.


Probably the most notable thing about the 1830s is that the Industrial Revolution was picking up steam (no pun intended), though that can be harder for visitors to see in our quaint little village. Something I would say our village lacks, in my humble opinion, are buildings like textile mills that would have been becoming prominent in this time period as the industrial revolution came into play and was beginning to radically change American life. In fact, a young woman like me might have gone and worked in a mill to be able to earn her own money and be exposed to fashionable new ways of dressing, eating, and cooking. And after simulating what it might be like to work on a farm as a woman in the 1830s for 8.5 hours a day during this internship, I can start to understand the appeal of going and working in a mill.


My primary place of work during this internship has been the Freeman Farmhouse. The Freemans were middle class farmers so their house was a decent size, though the original property was just the front part when they bought it. Pliny Freeman, a housewright in addition to being a farmer, purchased the house at half its market value to pay off some of his debt by selling his old farm, and added on the back single-story wing, which has the kitchen, dairy room, and woodshed. You can also see the root cellar, underneath the boards in the center of the photo, and on the other side of the home is a large garden that would have been used to grow a lot of the household food.

Here’s a few (unfortunately bad quality) snapshots of the interior of the farmhouse. Most of my time is spent in the room pictured at the bottom – the kitchen. Female interns have to work in a house while male staff typically work on the farm, in a trade shop, or operating our four small mills. A lot of the museum’s interpretation of homelife focuses on what historians call “foodways” aka how food is grown, harvested, prepared, served, and eaten. While women definitely spent a lot of time cooking, this wasn’t all they did, though we can certainly give people that impression.


All the same, it was a lot of work and I respect the women who did it immensely. I find it tiresome and confusing, which makes me wonder if there what you would do in the 1830s if you hated cooking or were terrible at it. I guess we all have things today that we hate doing, but all the same, I’m more thankful than ever for pre-made food and happy to go home at night and pop a TV dinner in the microwave.


View out the front door. The picket fence was a fashionable new addition to the house in the late 1830s. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of there being a practical use for it, which is always a good sign that something is being done as a status symbol.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on 1830s life to come!

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

I wrote a bit in a previous post about my brief spontaneous stop-off in Havre de Grace, Maryland while I was on a road trip up to my latest internship. I had always wanted to go to Havre de Grace because, well, what a kick-butt name for a town! It just makes you want to stop and see what’s there. Also, after interning at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum one summer, I developed a special place in my heart for towns on the Bay and their unique culture.


Havre de Grace turned out to be worth stopping at; sumptuous Victorian homes line the neighborhood streets. A mural celebrating the town’s maritime heritage coats the inside of a bridge underpass entering town (I’m a sucker for murals.) The main street borders the water and also features one big line of fun, eclectic, mostly nineteenth and early twentieth-century architecture, which I will drool over any day of the week.


I parked my car and walked down a block and a half of the Main Street, snapping photos of interesting buildings, strolled down a pier to look at the water, and then headed back to my car. I’m normally a speedwalker, but when my camera is in tow, I take forever to make it a few yards. Plus it was hot and I wanted to get back on the road.


As I was making my way back to my car, I made eye contact with an older African American gentleman seated outside a storefront on one of those cool walkers with the fold-down seats that I always wish I have when I’m on museum tours. The man had been there when I arrived, talking to a lady who had since left. He asked me how I was and, being the soul that I am, I felt I had to stop and talked with him a bit.



He asked me if I was a photography student and I said no, that I just studied history and liked old buildings. So he asked me if I had taken a photo of the building next to him. No, I hadn’t, actually. I had taken one of the store with the turret at the end of the street, but the building he was indicating was simple, even shabby, and hadn’t caught my eye.


The fancy building I did take a photo of.

He told me I should take a photo of it and explained that it was where he lived. He explained the floor plan to me and told me about how he liked living there and it was paid for for him. Then he talked about an event the town has from time to time where bands play live jazz music and shops set up tables to sell things in the streets. I’m not necessarily gifted at connecting with people, and I’m especially bad at initiating conversation, so I enjoy when someone crosses those walls we put up and talks to you even though they don’t know you. It’s humbling and it makes me feel more connected to the world.


The bigger picture….I believe the building on the very right that’s cut off was the one the man lived in.

After I said my good-byes and got back in my car, I was struck by the realization that historic preservation isn’t just about the beautiful exteriors, it’s about the stories that have been lived out inside a place. We tend to gravitate to the beautiful, the magnificent, even the bizarre, but sometimes the humble, the plain, and even the ramshackle buildings are the ones whose walls hold the key to stories that need to live on. The building the man had pointed out to be has no doubt seen dozens, if not more, of lives lived out, probably more relatable to most people than the lavish lifestyles of the Vanderbilts & company of the world whose unobtainable mansions tend to be the ones we save. Those lives may not be famous, but they represent a snapshot of a subset of people.


I remember once my public history professor, an avid building-lover and historic preservation advocate, told us about two buildings in downtown Baltimore that were in danger of being destroyed. One of them was a sparkling example of Art Deco architecture that my professor has been fighting to preserve as an incredible example of that era’s aesthetics. The other was a plain storefront that had been recycled many times and, if I recall correctly, was sitting vacant at the time, but that had been the site of one of the first civil rights-era sit-ins in Baltimore. It was a striking lesson in how maybe the “ugly” building was the one that should be saved even if the pretty one at first glance seemed like the one “worth saving.”


I realized my own bias when it comes to telling visual stories through photography and through history. I like pretty things. I like interesting things. I like things that I can relate to and that fit with my preferred style and taste. But those aren’t always the things that need to be photographed or the stories that need to be uncovered and told. Sometimes we have to put our own biases aside and paint the whole picture. Sometimes we need to listen more than we talk. Sometimes we need to talk to the random person on the street about what they want to be preserved or what story they want to read in a museum.


I’m sometimes struck after I spend lots of time with other museum professionals how insular we can accidentally become; we develop ideas of what we think the public ought to know and form opinions on what is worthy of being exhibited in a museum space. Some of us even scoff at things we think aren’t worthy of that space. Generally – and I am guilty of this too – as much as we at heart want to educate the public, we also develop a disdain for them as well and can come to view ourselves as the purveyors of taste and the experts struggling to get through to the unwashed masses.


I don’t mean to be unkind as I know it’s easy to get burnt out in the museum field and many workers are doing the best they can to tell new stories and reach the public. And I speak as much to myself as to anyone else. But occasionally – not often enough, probably – I’m reminded that it’s the public we’re meant to serve and tell the story of, and sometimes even with, not dictate information to. If we get too lost in our own interests and tastes, we can sometimes lose sight of some of the stories of average people and average places that need to be given consideration as well.