Putting Worms Back In Apples

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Much of this history was already milling around in my head when I took my last walk through the Village. It was a cold, gray afternoon; a pelting rain had cleared the common of visitors. Perhaps because I was standing in the shelter of the meetinghouse porch I thought of John Adams’s remark that the recipe for a New England town was a common school, a meetinghouse, and a town meeting of self-governing citizens. I thought, too, of Jefferson saying that when he first saw a New England town meeting, he felt the earth tremble beneath his feet. It was as if Periclean Athens had been miraculously re-created in what Jefferson called the little “ward republics” New England. What I was looking at was the wonderful re-creation of Athenian democracy’s historic rebirth in the self-governing New England township, where every citizen was a part-time lawmaker and a full-time free man. It dawned on me suddenly that the founders and developers of Old Sturbridge Village had never seriously taken note of the fact in the entire forty-five years’ worth of reports, guides, memoranda, plans, programs, and declarations that I had been wading through at the Village research library. From 1936 to the present, Old Sturbridge Village has paid tribute to New England thrift, to New England ingenuity, to the New England work ethic. Of New England’s love of political liberty, of New England’s direct, local democracy not so much as twenty official words have been said in forty-five years. For all those years, Sturbridge leaders have rightly insisted that the story of the old New England township “is important to our understanding today and in the future.” But for all those years, it. never seems to have occurred to anyone at Sturbridge Village that democracy is fundamental to that story.

 

From the porch of the meetinghouse—New England’s true glory—I looked out once more on the raindrenched common, this time with the puzzling omission in mind. I saw with fresh eyes the winding path leading from the Village into grim woodland that once stretched westward for a thousand miles. I looked at the self-respecting houses, the perky little shops, the neighborly yards, and the ample spaces, and it seemed to me that the Village was incomparably wiser than its makers, for in spite of their reports and their declarations of purpose, what Old Sturbridge Village truly embodies with its magical charm is the valor and generosity of a community of free men.