Friday, May 29, 2009

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.

Arriving before opening time I 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 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.

8 Comments:

Blogger kenju said...

I enjoy doing that on occasion. Williamsburg, VA is good for going back into the past - if only in your mind. If I were really able to go into the past, I might prefer Egypt in the time of the Pharoahs or Rome, at the height of the Empire.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

You must have felt quite special, having a tour for just you.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Syd said...

Maine is a beautiful place. I like the practicality of their buildings and the connection of the house to the other buildings and the barn. A great way to cope with the harsh winters. If you get a chance, visit the Wells Reserve which is at Laudholm (not sure of the spelling) farm. It is beautiful and serene.

5:20 AM  
Blogger KGMom said...

Sounds like an interesting place to visit.
I enjoy these living museums.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Cazzie!!! said...

I could SO live there for a week, longer than that even. Amazing Ginnie, absolutely!

3:15 AM  
Blogger Akannie said...

Hi Ginnie!!

I just found you thru Mary's blog.
I'd love to see that museum. We went to an Amish farm in Lancashire a few years back and it was the same kind of experience...I loved looking at the plain and efficient way they lived. I'm a bit of a country girl, and moved back here (Farm country in Illinois) after living a decade in Flat Rock, NC area.
Come visit me--I'll surely be back here.

Annie

8:51 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

Do you have any pictures of the inside of the church?

5:30 PM  
Blogger Ginnie said...

Sorry, Angela...I wish I did have pictures of the inside. As I recall it was lovely and I couldn't believe that there was so much of it done in Trompe l'oell. That was very unusual for a church of that era.

6:27 AM  

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