The Washburn-Norlands Living History Center
In 2002 I spent a month traveling the back roads of Maine. One of the first places that I visited was The Norlands Living Health Center in Livermore. I was not disappointed.
I arrived before opening time and just soaked in the beautiful setting. The imposing Victorian farmhouse was connected to two smaller buildings and the huge barn. I almost expected Mrs. Washburn to welcome me in. I also spied a one room school house, a lovely white church and an imposing Gothic style building made of granite that I later learned was a library!
Although I was the only participant for the tour I saw other people and learned that they were the “live in” family of that week. The Center is a non-profit living museum dedicated to the preservation of 18th and 19th century rural Maine heritage. They host family groups who dress, toil, cook and live in the manner of that day.
As Callie (the docent) and I started our tour I spied a young girl hanging clothes out to dry. She must have been very hot in her long skirt and button-up shoes, but she waved happily to us.
The Washburn family boasts of seven sons who excelled in government as well as industry. Two were state governors and one was the founder of the Washburn-Crosby Gold Medal Flour Company. Their life style was frugal, as was typical of that period and of Maine, but there was a definite feeling of strength and dignity in every room.
All of the buildings were fascinating and quite different. The kitchen was housed in one of the extensions of the main house and the aroma of chicken and corn muffins was enticing. Here I met some more of the “live-in” family…cooking over a wood stove.
The men of the family we found in the barn grooming the animals and mucking out the stalls.
The last building on the tour was the 1828 Norlands Universalist Church. This is an addition to the property since the time of the Washburns. It is a simple, yet elegant, building, and is in sharp contrast to the interior. I was amazed to find a decorative painted ceiling and elaborate panels and arches that were actually a superb example of trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”)...illusions created with paint.
However, my eye was not fooled when I exited the church. This was no illusion. I was viewing the real thing...exactly as it must have been back in the 18th and 19th centuries. I felt refreshed and quite privileged to have paid that era a visit...if only in my imagination.