Museum Village, a replica of a typical American village during the 1800’s, was the vision of Roscoe William Smith. Mr. Smith was an electrical engineer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector who contributed in many ways to his native Orange County. He made his fortune in 1905 as founder of the Orange and Rockland electric company. Mr. Smith was passionate about American history. He collected many interesting items, from textiles and porcelain items to horse-drawn carriages. His main interest was in craft tools and mechanical devices. He was fascinated by their invention, adaptation and development which he realized were slowly disappearing. Mr. Smith would sometimes accept farm tools or artifacts as forms of payment for electricity. For over 40 years Mr. Smith amassed a great collection of these items. In 1940 he began to display the artifacts and educate visitors. Museum Village opened its doors on July 1, 1950.
Today, more than 50 years later, Museum Village is still up and running. It is set up to educate generations of Americans about the work and life of their ancestors. Through educational programs and hands-on-exhibits Museum Village is dedicated to exploring and interpreting 19th century rural life. It is set up in a way that helps today’s youth develop an appreciation for the evolution of industry and technology in America.
The museum’s exhibit of the Vernon Drugstore features the authentic content, fixtures and furnishings of Charles Vernon’s store, originally located in the nearby village of Florida. Mr. Vernon was the youngest practicing pharmacist at that time. In the 19th century, most of New York’s rural communities had a drugstore where the local residents could buy medicines of all kinds. A variety of items were available at the drugstore from herbs, healthcare apparatuses, eyeglasses, tobacco, to refreshing soda and ice cream.
The log cabin that stands next to the Vernon Drugstore. The cabin dates from the last quarter of the 18th century. The cabin portrays how a family of five lived in a small, one-room building. The families used very practical means to conserve space in their small cabins.
In the first half of the 19th century, yarn was spun on spinning wheels and cloth was woven on looms. Shirts, pants and dresses were then cut from the homemade cloth and hand sewn. At the Museum Village weave shop you can observe the old methods of weaving fabric on a handloom and how the intricate patterns were followed.
The J.C. Merritt Store at Museum Village is named after a similar store, owned and operated by John Carlton Merritt from 1875 to 1924. The collection of old food packages, sewing notions, items of clothing and hardware come from the original Merritt Store, a family owned business. The store not only served the local clientele but all the farmsteads in a 10-12 mile radius outside the village. The post office was also set up in the general store during this period.
At the broom shop the process of broom making from sorting the broom corn is explained. The hand-made finished product in many varieties is displayed throughout the shop.
Job printing was important to provide local business people with posters and pamphlets. The methods of printing stuff on a hand-operated printing press can be viewed in the print shop.
The livery is where all different vehicles are parked. There were different vehicles used for different purposes.
The Museum Village schoolhouse is a replica of the Monroe Stone Schoolhouse built in 1805. Like most 19th century rural schoolhouses, the Monroe school was a simple one-room building. Students of all grades and ages sat together and learned arithmetic, spelling and writing. The school year lasted only 12 weeks from November to early spring. This was because most of the children from the area worked on family farms.
At the candle shop learn the process of creating a candle and the different materials used to make them. Then, try your hand at dipping your own candle to take home. See an exhibit on the evolution of lighting devices from the oil lamp to the electric light bulb.
The blacksmith was one of the most important people in a village, during the 1800’s. The blacksmith would fashion complicated tools and repair equipment such as horseshoes, axe blades and other items necessary in a farming community. The blacksmith used an open fireplace on a raised hearth called a “forge” to heat the metal to sufficient temperatures to bend and shape.
Situated next to the blacksmith shop, the wheelwright (wheel maker) worked closely together with the blacksmith to maintain wagons for the community.
When visiting Museum Village, you can’t help but marvel at the way of life in the 1800’s and how their way of living was brilliant and extremely practical.
Museum Village will be open to the public this Chol Hamoed Thursday, March 28, 12-4 p.m., Friday, March 29, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
About the Author: S. Y. Einhorn is a teacher and mother of four who lives in Monsey, NY. She does both writing and photography as a hobby. Her articles and photos of her extensive travels have been published in various magazines and newspapers.
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