LIVERMORE — Far removed from today’s hectic holiday routine, a few hundred people attending Christmas at Norlands experienced an interactive glimpse into simpler times.
Not to mention fresh molasses cookies and mulled cider made on a wood stove at the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center on Saturday.
“We’ve had a very good group through,” Jackie Dion of Livermore said. “It’s been steady all day long, with lots of groups and children.”
“We had a good crowd and a couple of times we were just swamped out here,” Linda Fournier of Jay said. She portrayed a hired hand and helped children with activities in the Big Kitchen.
Christmas caroling, one-room schoolhouse teacher Corilla Rose portrayed by Renee Bonin of Turner and horse-drawn wagon rides were big hits during the five-hour event.
Dion said crowds entering the mansion for the tour would suddenly make a beeline for the Ladies’ Parlor to catch the caroling.
There, pianist Jerry Ellis of Livermore played an antique piano while carolers Lucille LaVoie of Livermore and Claire Tanner and Robin Moore of Livermore Falls sang while holding large, flat songbooks.
For a Christmas celebration, the mansion was sparsely decorated by today’s standards. Many visitors remarked on that seeming oddity until they read the day’s program.
“As you visit the Washburns' home today, you may be surprised to find it so simply decorated, for we portray rural Maine in 1870 where Christmas is still of no great importance,” the program read.
Dion said many people don't realize that folks in the Livermore, Fayette and Turner area of Maine didn’t celebrate Christmas prior to the 1870s.
She said the original settlers were descended from Puritans and Pilgrims who didn’t observe the holiday.
That attitude slowly changed in the 1870s when Irish and French Catholics began moving in to work in the mills and brought their love of Christmas with them.
But it wasn’t until generally beyond 1900 that people began to bring trees inside their homes to decorate.
At the schoolhouse, Bonin provided insight into a classroom on Dec. 3, 1853. Children and parents had to curtsy or bow to her on entry, then girls sat on one side and boys on the other.
She described the strict discipline measures and school books, and conducted a spelling bee.
For friends Caitlyn Laplante, 9, of East Dixfield and Natasha Nichols, 6, of Strong, Christmas at Norlands was a day of fun and learning.
Natasha’s grandmother, Pat Curtiss of East Dixfield, said she brought the children to the event “because it’s a nice day and it’s enjoyable.”
She took them to the annual Chester Greenwood Parade in Farmington in the morning, returned home for lunch and then headed to Norlands.
In the Big Kitchen, Fournier cut stocking ornaments from thin brown paper for the children.
Laplante and Nichols colored the stockings and glued accessories and yarn on them before hanging them from the Christmas tree in the corner.
Afterward, Fournier helped the youngsters and many more string popped popcorn into ornamental strands, which the children either decided to keep or draped on the tree.
“This is good for the kids,” Curtiss said. “They get to do all these activities; they enjoy doing it, and so do I.
“So, yes, it gives them a little piece of history and they can get out and enjoy the day,” she said. “This is a good learning experience. It’s better than having them cooped up inside and watching TV.”