The Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore has a solution for those seeking respite from our fast-paced digital age.
Norlands is accepting applications for a 24-hour Live-In Experience on April 26 and 27. The immersion program is designed to transport participants to a 19th-century farm setting, where texting and Twitter are temporarily shut out in exchange for old-fashioned, face-to-face chats and learning about sustainability practices of the past.
The program, offered since the 1970s, is a fundraiser for the nonprofit center that celebrates the legacy and achievements of the Washburn family.
Israel Sr. and Martha Washburn purchased the 445-acre homestead in 1809 and raised their 10 children there, according to Norlands director Sheri Leahan. Several generations of the family occupied the property until 1973, when the grounds were given to the Washburn-Norland Foundation for preservation.
“We are now a museum and working farm that uses living history methods to make the values, activities and issues of the past relevant to present and future generations,” said Leahan. “The property maintains its original look. So people can come and experience that old environment.”
Buildings on the property include an 1887 granite library, an 1827 historic meetinghouse (once a Universalist Unitarian church), a replica of an 1853 one-room schoolhouse and a mansion with attached farmer’s cottage.
“Most of the buildings are original,” said Leahan. “The Italianate-style mansion that stands now replaces two previous homes that were destroyed by fire in 1847 and 1867. The first home was a modest farmhouse owned by Cyrus Hamlin, father of Hannibal Hamlin. The sons built (the grander home) in honor of their parents, who had lived a hardscrabble life to raise their children.”
“Martha always emphasized education,” said Leahan. “Several of the children went on to become successful industrialists, politicians, bankers, authors, lawyers and teachers. And one, Israel Washburn Jr., the eldest son, served as Maine’s governor during the first two years of the Civil War.”
Norlands operations are funded by memberships, donations, special events and school programs for all ages. Though the grounds are technically open year-round, not all of the buildings are heated. So the living history programs are typically offered from spring through fall.
A core crew of 15 volunteers run the bulk of programs at Norlands, with more than 50 other volunteers assisting.
Re-enactors dressed in period clothing portray people who lived in the area in the 1800s. They interact with visitors and give demonstrations to bring history alive. Visitors to the schoolhouse can become students of 1853 who use slate boards or quill pens to write as the schoolmarm directs the day’s lessons. And in the mansion, tours are conducted by re-enactors who assume the identities of Washburn family members.
For the upcoming Live-In Experience, participants will assume a character and all of that person’s responsibilities for one day on the homestead.
“(Participants) will stay in the farmers cottage, sleeping on old-fashioned rope beds,” said Leahan. “They will be expected to leave all modern technology behind and use the privy or a chamberpot.”
Chores may include caring for the farm animals, gardening, gathering eggs from the hen house, cooking, churning butter, doing laundry or ironing. The 24-hour event is open to ages 9 through adult, with just 16 spots available.
“It is a fun experience,” said Leahan. “The programs offer a realistic picture of what life was like in rural Maine in 1870 and the sheer amount of labor involved to survive here, as well as providing a picture of society during that time period. Though it’s not all work. There will be plenty of storytelling, period games and instruction on manners, customs and colloquialisms of the day.”
For those wishing to take a sneak peek at the operation, Norlands will host a Maine Maple Sunday event on March 24, featuring a pancake breakfast in the farmer’s cottage and tours of the sap house.
Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: