“When the long dun wolds are ribb’d with snow

And loud the Norland whirlwinds blow.”

Mainers sure can relate to those Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) lines from the “Ballad of Oriana.”

On a windswept day in 1869, they blew through the mind of Charles Ames at the family’s farmstead several miles from Livermore Falls. Now, the property he named is the 445-acre Washburn-Norlands Living History Center.

Costumed interpreters adopt the persona of the Washburns and their neighbors, sharing the story of this remarkable family and enlightening visitors about rural New England life in the 1800s.

Israel Washburn bought the farm in 1809 and raised 10 children here with his wife, Martha. Their seven sons had impressive careers in public service and business. For a single generation of one family, the Washburn brothers’ achievements stand out even on the national level.


One was a U.S. senator; three were congressmen (each served different states), two foreign ministers and two governors. Israel Jr. was at Maine’s helm early in the Civil War, during which one brother served as a general and another as a Navy captain. Elihu, a congressman and minister to France, was a lawyer in Illinois and friend of President Abraham Lincoln. On the business side, Washburn brothers founded banks, ran railroads and owned mills that went on to become Gold Medal and Pillsbury Flour.

Open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from July 9–Aug. 31 (other times by appointment), the center honoring this accomplished family is anchored by the porch-lined, hip-roof 1867 Italianate mansion the Washburn children built for their father (he lived into his 90s) after a fire destroyed its predecessor. Fire, in fact, has been a thorn in the farm’s side.

A farmer’s cottage attached to the mansion was rebuilt after a 2008 conflagration that also destroyed the barn. One was recently constructed to look like the barn here in the late 1800s, not the early 1900s structure that was lost. The museum also encompasses sites that neighbored the Washburn homestead, including a one-room schoolhouse built in the 1980s after the 1853 original burned. Also part of the cluster is an 1828 Universalist meetinghouse (note the steeple’s distinctive patterning) and an 1883 library. Styled like a Gothic church, the siblings built it as a memorial to their parents (for a time it served the public, but the collection isn’t displayed).

The 445-acre Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore Falls offers visitors a peek at homestead life of the Washburn family. Photo by Ryan Burnham courtesy of Washburn-Norlands Living History Center

The center is also a working farm using 19th century agricultural practices. A sugarbush is tapped come spring (folks come for Maine Maple Sunday). Yoked oxen pull the wagon and plow the large garden, which grows food for museum programs. Farm animals (also pigs, chickens and sheep) are mostly outside in summertime, but don’t miss the barn, with antique farm tools and an icehouse.

On Thursdays, admission includes hands-on and interactive activities. For example, July 25 is cheese-and butter-making day; depending on when you arrive, you can help. On Aug. 1, there’s 19th century parlor and lawn games. Whatever the day, in the cottage’s kitchen, kids are asked to identify utensils like a soap saver.

Washburn-Norlands offers group programs year-round. “Meal, Laugh and Learn” (20-person minimum; $28 per person) includes a program centered on the Washburns or the school, time to relax on the porch and hit the gift shop, and supper (chicken potpie and dessert). At a Washburn tea party (8-person minimum, $13 per person), you’ll meet folks like “Mercy Lovejoy,” a Washburn neighbor, or mother “Martha.”

The grounds have picnic tables. Carriage trails lead to reflecting ponds, tall pines and an overlook with views of Mount Washington on clear days.

Mary Ruoff is a freelance writer living in Belfast.

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