Nestled out on the peninsula that contains Colt State Park, past the Bristol Marina on Poppasquash Rd, that curvy road with the magnificent old homes and wide fields, is one of my favorite places in RI. Coggeshall Farm Museum. If you were into the Little House Books growing up, love Sturbridge Village and Plymouth Plantation, and don’t want to drive more than 20 minutes to travel 200 years back in time, this place is fabulous. With beautiful 360 views including adorable sheep in a meadow and the bay beyond, this is the place for “wait where IS that?” Instagram posts.
Coggeshall Farm is a living history museum, meaning there are reproduction-costumed historical interpreters demonstrating all sorts of seasonally appropriate farming tasks using historically accurate tools and techniques. They have a Harvest Fest with vendors and lots of games and exhibits, and summertime the hay fields have that soft insect hum that seems impossible this close to modern life.
Winter is the quietest time to visit before things wake up for spring, though there are still programs running, so don’t let the weather deter you. For instance, right about now, as the weather gets warmer, sap starts to rise, and that means maple sugaring. Did you know, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup or one pound of sugar?
The staff member stirring the open kettle over the fire in the middle of the maple grove was making maple sugar exactly as early colonists would have. Which means a whole day of standing and stirring and minding the fire. The wooden troughs and taps, and the tools to make them were all nearby. I had to forcibly remove one of the axe handles from my kids little paws cause she loves all things dangerous. And an axe as tall as her was apparently irresistible.
Once we’d had a taste of the smoky-sweet maple sugar, we went back up to the farmhouse so Livi could continue trying to make friends with the chickens. By the way, that’s now the pet she wants. Last week it was a cat; this week, chickens. Because they are “beawutiful” and “fwuffy”.
That was until we walked over to the sheep pasture. Then she wanted a sheep. Just to pet. And then it was back to a cat, when she spotted the farm tabby perched on one of the stone walls. In true cattitude, the cat did not think much of us, and refused to have his or her picture taken.
I finally coaxed Livi back to the farm house (after proving there were in fact no piggies in the pen near the barn), where another costumed staff member was giving a johhnycake cooking demonstration over an open hearth.
Did you know that the costumed staff wear some garments that are handmade using textiles and techniques of the period? Not everything, of course; often modern shoes are worn if the conditions warrant because while wool and linen is mostly alright, sometimes Gore-Tex boots are required to avoid hypothermia.
So, side bar, I used to know a gent who worked there and the stuff he made was AMAZING. He once sweetly asked me for some advice when making a 19th century gown, since I’m a costume designer, but honestly, he was already head and shoulders above anything I do. My stuff needs to look lovely from 3-5 feet away and work for the actor on stage. His work actually replicated the garments worn by the people of the period and allowed the interpreters to really move and experience exactly what it felt like to live and work in the early 1800s. Some of the staff still wear some of his handmade reproductions. He’s since moved to VT, bought/rescued a 1800s farmhouse and is now in the process of resurrecting it AND making reproduction textiles on historically accurate looms and spinning wheels which are sent off to museums and historic houses all over the WORLD.
If you are into historic houses and everyday life history, follow him on Insta @death_and_the_maiden_1810. Between his encyclopedic knowledge of the time period and dreamy photos of his dog and chickens in the surrounding fields, his feed is always beautiful. Currently he’s experimenting with wild yeasts in sourdough bread baking. In an original 1860s cast iron wood stove, no less. #historyboss
By the way, there must have been spring in the air because Livi also tried to catch the rooster, almost put muddy sticks in the maple sap troughs, climbed into the sheep pasture, pocketed their entire driveway's worth of rocks, and summited the stone walls. Luckily, she was very photogenic the whole time. #sigh #dontmakeme #no #stopit #iwasthatmom
More About Jessie
Jessie is a costume designer, educator, and mom.
Photo Credits: Top photo courtesy of Coggeshall Farm Instagram, additional pictures of the farm courtesy of Jessie.