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GROTON — Had these Groton-Dunstable students lived in the Colonial era, there would have been no time for electronic devices and very little time for play.

Yet learning about a child’s life in the 1800s did not prevent them from having fun on their recent field trip to Groton’s Williams Barn.

The 345-year-old estate, located on Chicopee Row, was acquired in 1670 by the Williams family through a land grant. The barn, built in 1840 and used today as a living museum, is representative of the early timber-framing reflected in American barns of this period and is home to many of its original tools, wagons and instruments.

Together, the Groton Women’s Club and Williams Barn Committee organized the Williams Barn Educational Project, “Life in Colonial Days” to augment the Groton-Dunstable 3rd-grade Social Studies curriculum. This year, for the first time, the Williams Barn stop was preceded by a visit to the recently restored Sawtell Schoolhouse, a one-room schoolhouse built in the early 1800’s.

Upon arrival at the Williams Barn, students had the opportunity to meet 11th generation Williams family member Albert Wyatt and his 12th generation nephew, Leo Wyatt. Both are members of the Williams Barn Committee and help to manage the Williams Barn Farmers Market (which opens July 10.)

Albert Wyatt shared his memories.

“Growing up on the Williams Barn property, we raised cows, chickens, pigs and horses. I used to ride this one great big pig and he would circle and circle around the pen. Now pigs were clean animals, and when they went to the bathroom they kept to one corner of the pen for all of their ‘business.’ Well, one day, that big pig circled around the pen with me on his back, until he got to that particular corner, where he threw me off.”

Wyatt continued as the students laughed, “I landed right in their manure pile and I never rode that pig again!”

The Williams Barn is surrounded by beautiful Groton countryside accented by stonewalls and original foundations. Sitting on a bench, Wyatt reflected back.

“We were a dairy farm and we produced milk that we sold in Boston. Delivering it required a two-day trip before trains came through Groton. Once the rail line came through (now the Nashua River Rail Trail), we’d bring our 40-gallon jugs to the station (today’s Station Avenue) and ship them to Boston instead, which was much easier,” Wyatt said.

The Williams Barn portion of the field trip allowed the children to rotate through four different stations, including butter-making, quilting, timber-framing and toys and games, experiencing interactive real-Colonial life activities.

Members of the Groton Women’s Club and the Williams Barn Committee participated in different Colonial roles, teaching the students with a fun and appealing approach.

“Go ahead, shake it hard,” exclaimed Marie Melican dressed in Colonial attire, as Amy Dressel held a jar of heavy cream. Everyone in the circle shook the jar to turn the cream into butter. As the students sent the jar around a second time, the cream began to solidify.

“Now, how would you like to taste the butter?” Melican asked. From a jar of butter she had made fresh that morning, she spread a bit onto a cracker for each student. After cautiously biting into the crackers, smiles lit the students’ faces. “It’s good!” was exclaimed by many.

Melican had the students read a common poem that colonial girls read while churning butter:

“Come butter, come!

Come butter, come!

Marie’s standing at the gate.

Waiting for a butter cake.

Come butter, come!

One, two, three four.

Shake the butter.

Shake it more.

Five, six, seven, eight.

Put it on the butter plate.”

Next, Melican asked the students, “Where does that cream come from?” A raucous “cows!” was shouted out and the students were taken over to a cow stall.

“The cows needed to be milked each morning,” Melican said, and Mr. Wyatt had this responsibility before his school day ever started,” he said. “Now imagine that it took 20 minutes to milk one cow, and there were 10 cows … how long did it take to milk the cows?”

Through mental math, the kids figured out that it took over three hours.

“Add that to getting cleaned up, dressed, eating breakfast and walking to school, and what time do you think Mr. Wyatt had to get up in the morning?” Melican asked.

Several answers were thrown out, with the final guess being correct: Approximately 4:30 a.m. each day.

Moving to the quilting activity, students learned about the various quilt patterns from Peg Russell. “Hand-stitching was required to make quilts to keep warm,” Russell said, as she passed around a sample quilt. She also shared quilt squares, explaining the various patterns used, such as star patches, diamonds, and bow ties.

Quilting was one of many chores done by hand, in addition to baking bread, sewing and collecting firewood.

Uwe Tobies explained timber-framing, allowing students to use the wooden mallet to pound wooden pegs into a triangle frame (no metal nails were used).

“Look up there,” Tobies said, pointing to the interior frame in the rafters of the Williams Barn. “That’s what we’re building now.”

Explaining the need for strength, support and stability, Tobies showed the weakness in a two-jointed corner piece, allowing the students to hold it and move it, versus the strength of a three-jointed triangular frame.

Exhibiting a drill that needed to be turned by hand and the holes it made in wood, Tobies also talked about the work of many required to complete the barns.

Outside for Colonial games, there was laughter with sounds of frustration as students were challenged by three different games: Hoops and Sticks, Graces and Cup and Ball.

Andrea Burrier explained how each game was played and passed out the toys for the students to try.

Starting at the top of the Williams Barn driveway, four boys attempted to keep their hoops upright as they used their sticks to roll them. “This is hard!” was frequently heard.

Aidan Kelly and Arun Davis had success passing their small ribboned-hoop back and forth onto each other’s sticks while playing Graces.

An eye-opening authentic educational opportunity, allowing for exposure to cooking, building, math, history, physical challenges and just plain fun was provided through the “Life in Colonial Days” field trip.

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