Historical Society travels back in time with demos and tours of life in 1800s Dartmouth

Sep 8, 2018

The Russells Mills Schoolhouse was looking even more like 1800s Dartmouth than usual on September 8, as people spinning yarn, cookin gover an open fire, and washing laundry by hand filled the lawn for a “Come Back in Time” event. 

During the event, a host of traditional 19th century activities were on display, and kids and adults alike were able to participate in common household tasks of the era. Outside the schoolhouse, the “Tea to Sea” eighteenth-century cookery group prepared authentic treats over an open fire.

Group  members were cooking roast beef on a spit over a fire, and also served onion rings with parmesan cheese, potted beef (a beef spread made to preserve leftovers), forced eggs (known today as Scotch eggs), and Queen’s cakes.

Leah Cairrao said that all of the food is from authentic period recipes.

“They used more spices than we do because food wasn’t as fresh,” Cairrao said, noting chefs then used many more sauces for the same reason.

She said cooking, and especially baking, was a way to show wealth. A recipe like the Queen’s cake, which included sugar, spices, and currants, was a clear status symbol. Ingredients like fruits and nuts were also indicators of wealth.

While some are hesitant to try the historical treats, especially those that seem very different from common foods today, most are surprised by how much they enjoy the foods.

The “Spinners With Soule,” a group of yarn spinners, whirred away nearby. The group meets regularly at the Soule Homestead in Middleborough (thus the name) to spin together.

The spinners noted that there has been a real surge in the popularity of spinning recently, and their group is growing. Each spinner has a different story to tell about how they got into the hobby.

“I’m just thrifty,” Janet Kennedy said. “I knit a lot, so I spin.”

Cindy Bourque said she first saw someone spinning at an event similar to the Historical Society’s “Come Back in Time.”

“I was mesmerized and I fell in love with it,” Bourque said. “I thought it was the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen.”

The equipment from the time period can come as a shock to some of the observers.  

“It’s amazing to us that a lot of people don’t even know what it is,” Bourque said. “They’re really removed from it. One guy came by with his kids and said, ‘Look, it’s not electric!’”

Sue Guiducci taught kids how to do laundry with a wash bucket, a scrub board, and a ringer -- a chore Jameson Cole, 4, and Elizabeth Cole, 3, thought was anything but. The children were interested in the way it all worked, and were eager to do the washing.

Jameson had attended last year and specifically asked to do laundry again on his second trip.

“It’s nice to have the time to get the kids to have hands on time,” said Guiducci, who also helps with the program the Historical Society runs for third graders. “The kids love it. It’s very different being unplugged.”

Guiducci said that the activities the Society provides for the students are a way for them to experience the world at a different pace.

“It’s very peaceful for them,” she explained. “It’s just a really nice day for them to unwind.”

When the third graders come to the schoolhouse, they spend some time in the classroom, work on penmanship using a slate and a dip pen, play historical games, and learn to spin wool. They also get to eat lunch outside.

The “Come Back in Time” event is another opportunity for kids and adults to experience what the Historical Society has to offer. Inside the schoolhouse, there were a series of displays about historical youth groups, including the Girl Scouts, the Campfire Girls, the Boy Scouts, the Grange, and the Christian Endeavour group.

The classroom was also open, with Katherine Plant serving as the school mistress. Several poems were written on the board, along with the timeless “Five Finger Lesson: Truthfulness, Honesty, Punctuality, Cleanliness, and Kindness.”

For more information, as well as upcoming events at the Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society, go to www.dartmouthhas.org.