Note: Sadly, Willowbrook Village closed in fall 2016 after 46 years of operation. See this Portland Press Herald feature for more.
With Maine Maple Sunday landing on Easter this year, we knew we wouldn’t have time to visit one of our favorite farms. So, we decided to switch things up a little and make the trip to 19th Century Willowbrook Village in Newfield for Maple Syrup Saturday. The historic, country village has long been on our wish list of places to visit and this special event, which featured carriage rides, maple syrup making, a bean supper-style lunch, and a letterpress demonstration, gave us good reason to go.
The kids wanted to explore the two-story Durgin Barn first, which houses everything from antique farming tools to beautifully restored carriages and sleighs. In a section of the barn that highlighted 19th century dairy equipment, a wooden butter churn caught CP#1’s eye. She mentioned the Ingalls family used the same churn in Little House in the Big Woods. That’s when MP knew she picked the right place to visit – Willowbrook provided CP#1 with real details from the time period she’d just read about.
We continued to the second floor, where there are period clothes and accessories and a formal music room/ballroom. The walls are painted with scenes from the village. We found brass and string instruments, phonograph records and a stunning wooden piano that’s played for recitals and dances.
On this March afternoon, the barn was a bit chilly, so we decided to make our way to the Victorian Kitchen for lunch. The volunteers at Willowbrook made three kinds of baked beans — classic, spicy and Lima beans, along with thick slices of homemade corn bread. Our steaming bowls of baked beans were the perfect comfort food on a cold day.
While we were enjoying lunch, one of the Willowbrook board members, who calls herself the Bean Suppah Lady, told us the museum hosts bean suppers during the summer months, complete with live music and drinks from Gneiss Brewing Company. We thanked her for the tip, and based on how quickly we finished our beans, we promised to come back in June.
The kids, revived by a hearty meal, visited the 1839 replica one-room school house next. CP#1 and #2 took turns ringing the school bell by pulling on a long rope. They were surprised to see the rules posted on the wall for 19th century teachers and kids (girls cannot play with boys, single teachers can only go out on dates once a week, etc.). After exploring the space, each of the kids pretended to be the school teacher, while DP and MP sat in the desks and tried our best not to get into trouble. Lashes with a broom were threatened in the 1800’s for bad behavior.
We also stopped by the Print Shop next door, where volunteer Mark Matteau showed the kids how to use a Gold Pearl Printing Press. We were amazed by the time and detail it takes to create a small card. Each letter or image needs to be carefully arranged before using the press. CP#1 and #2 left with a small memento from their visit — a willow tree printed in dark red ink along with the date and location of the event.
From there, we walked the beautiful property to the Blacksmith’s Shop where a teacher was leading a class on knife making. The instructor showed us the heavy pieces of steel used to hand forge a knife and introduced us to a young woman who was making her first knife that day. DP left hoping he could sign up for the next class, which happens in early April.
There was much more to see and do during our time at the village, but with so many potential Willowbrook events on the horizon, we decided to stop by Hilltop Boilers next. Located just down the road from Willowbrook Village, the family-owned business has been producing maple syrup for nearly three decades. Visitors can tour the farm’s sugarhouse or purchase maple syrup and more sweet treats in their shop. We enjoyed tasting samples of maple fudge and vanilla ice cream drizzled with warm maple syrup. CP#1 and #2 also joined in a maple bucket race, where they ran with a sap bucket filled with water while volunteers timed their speed.
After the races, we visited Hilltop Boilers gleaming sugarhouse, where a volunteer talked about the finer points of making maple syrup. MP joked he had the best job of the day – the steam inside the sugarhouse made the room feel warm and inviting, not unlike a sauna. If she could, MP might have lingered a little longer, but the kids were already taste testing maple whoopie pie samples in the next room.
All of us had a wonderful time visiting Newfield, and we are definitely planning a return trip (or two) for Willowbrook’s great events and classes. And come July, when the venue officially opens for the season, the museum’s 1894 Armitage-Hershell carousel will be open for rides. We can’t wait to give the carousel a whirl!
FMI on Willowbrook Village hours and pricing, visit here.