GROTON -- "I can't believe how much fun it is to play games from the 18th century!" said Courtney Colarullo, 9, third-grade. To get a firsthand look at what their life would be like during the late 18th, early 19th century in Groton, third-graders from Swallow Union and Florence Roche elementary schools visited the restored Williams Barn in the last week of school.
The Williams Barn Educational Project was organized five years ago by Groton Woman's Club member, the late Pat Hallet, as a way for elementary students to study and experience town life in earlier times. "The trip is like a mini, mini Sturbridge Village and an appreciation of local history," said Deb Snow, third-grade teacher, Florence Roche.
Over three days of sunshine and rain, eight classrooms from the two schools took turns visiting the barn. The children were greeted at the barn by Groton Woman's Club members, Marie Melican, Tracey Molaskey, Peg Russell, Nancy LeMay, Fran Goldbach along with Williams Barn Committee member Alfred Leonard Wyatt, 12th generation whose mother was Mary William Williams. Pointing to the farmhouse on the property where he was born and raised, Wyatt told students that a town nurse came to assist with his birth.
Wyatt pointed to a stone wall where the old house barn stood and said, "Back then, neighbors would get together to raise the frames and had a 'barn-raising." The house and barn sat on 100 acres of pasture back then, not the overgrown forest of today.
The Williams Barn was originally built in 1840 and in 1848 the railroad linked Worcester, Nashua and Maine, passing through Groton, Wyatt told students. Quite a few dairy farms were built in the area and the train brought milk to the city. Wyatt's family had a couple of cows for their own milk.
"The horse and wagon would come into the barn, unload hay and drive right through," said Wyatt as he led students through the barn and out the large rear door. The hay was gathered loosely by hand and piled 10 to 12 feet high onto the wagon. "When my chores were done, I got to jump from high in the barn into the hay," he remembered.
Listening to Wyatt was Robert Crowley, first year teacher at Florence Roche, with his students. Crowley said his class has been studying Massachusetts history all year as part of the social studies curriculum and recently focused specifically on Groton history and the William's Barn.
After Wyatt spoke of the barn's history, students rotated through crafts -- soap making, wood working, quilting and butter making plus games. In the field behind the barn, students played "The Graces", a popular game played by children, with four sticks and two small hoops while inside the barn, students learned how to make butter.
Marie Melican, Groton Woman's Club, told students, "Life was difficult in those days. Money was scarce and the farmers would barter or trade things like butter and eggs."
For Mason St. Pierre and Tyler Bazemore, taking turns shaking the jar full of cream to make butter was their favorite part of the visit. "It was fun when we ate the butter on crackers ... mmm, it was amazing," said Tyler.
For other students, it was the wood working demonstration with Uwe Tobies and Jonathan Snaith, Townsend Historical Society, who makes wooden barrels. Charlotte DiGiovanni, 9, said it was fun because she got to "whack the wood with a mallet and split the cord."
"It's a way for the students to experience their history right in town and hopefully understand how different or similar their lives would have been if they grew up in the 1800s," said Crowley.