Quite some time ago, we received free passes to go to the Wenham Museum in Wenham, MA. Though we kept meaning to visit, something always seemed to pop up and derail our plans. However, this weekend our thirteen year-old niece Jada came up to visit us from North Carolina, and we finally put the passes to good use!
The Wenham Museum features exhibits that focus on how New Englanders have lived, worked, dressed and played from the 17th century to today. The mission of the museum is to protect, preserve and interpret the artifacts of childhood, domestic life, and the history and culture of Boston’s North Shore. Quite honestly, despite the description, we weren’t really sure what to expect. Now that we have visited, I would add that it’s a great place for kids of all ages to explore and learn, while at the same time stimulating and fun for adults.
Housed in a beautiful white house in the old town center, the museum is located next to the Town Hall. We expected the museum to be crowded since it is school vacation, but we were pleasantly surprised. There were quite a few visitors, but it was still easy to move about and see the exhibits.
Because it’s the holiday season, there was a special model train exhibit, “Snow Train To Bakersville,” in the museum’s lobby. With the press of a button, a festive train made the rounds on the tracks, passing through a moonlit village. Addie was enchanted.
Though it was hard to tear Addie away from the train, we managed to get her to follow us downstairs. Our first stop was a display of doll houses. As Kendra read from the activity guide attached to the case, Jada and Addie searched the doll houses for the items she named.
Our next stop was the Family Discovery Gallery, an ever-changing space of interactive toys and activities that reinforce the museum’s exhibits. The current theme is, “Playtimes and Pastimes of Colonial Children.” Jada set about coloring, while Addie played with the toy trains. After Kendra and I finished feeding the twins, she took Jada to see the model trains in the Bennett E. Merry Train Gallery, while I stayed with Addie. By this time, she had moved on to playing with the doll house and the miniature Claflin-Gerrish-Richards House, where she busied herself making “soup” with a newfound friend. Meanwhile, I wandered around the gallery and read the information posted on the walls. I am a sucker for history, so this kept me entertained for quite some time.
When we finally returned to the main floor, the first thing we spotted was a mirror and a pile of dress-up clothing. Addie immediately started pulling on a Victorian outfit while Jada donned a fancy hat. Despite the 10 year age difference, the girls were equally excited to play dress-up.
Our next stop was the Fab Fads exhibit, which featured fad toys, clothing, dance styles and more from the last fifty years of history. Naturally I checked out the 1980’s, and sure enough saw many of my old favorites including Smurfs, Cabbage Patch Kids, My Little Ponies, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Interspersed among the exhibits (which were more interesting for adults), were interactive stations for the kids. Addie was drawn to the spinning disco ball and hula hoops. Jada tried to help Addison wiggle her hips enough to keep the hula hoop spinning, which had me giggling.
When she couldn’t get the hang of hula hooping, Addie did what she does best when we are in public – she started cleaning up, and put all the hula hoops back on their hooks. At this point, Kendra and Jada wandered along a hallway behind the Fab Fads exhibit, exploring toy exhibits, while Addie and I checked out yet another electric train. I always wanted an electric train set as a kid, and it was neat to see Addie as taken by the trains as I am.
Addie and Jada returned to the Fab Fads exhibit to race Matchbox cars and play with a train set while I wandered into a small room housing photographs from the Benjamin H. Conant Collection, a Wenham photographer who captured images of the town, its people, places, and businesses from 1890 to 1918. The photographs are stunningly preserved, and a great example of glass plate photography – a tedious and delicate photographic method popular at the turn of the 20th century.
After two hours, I could tell Addie was getting tired, so Kendra and I left the girls playing while we changed the twins. When we came back, Jada and Addie were playing a rousing game of Twister.
As much as we saw, there was still so much we didn’t get to, including the 17th-century Claflin-Gerrish-Richards House, which is attached to the museum. Built in 1690, the interior is preserved for visitors to explore three centuries of New England living, from the 17th century through the Victorian era. We only briefly passed through the Crowning Glory! A Hat for All Seasons exhibit, and the extensive doll collection. Given how much fun we all had, there’s no doubt that a second trip is in order!
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm. The schedule varies on holidays, so it’s best to call ahead – (978) 468-2377.
Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children ages 1- 18. Members are free. Group rates are available – call the museum for more details.
Tours: There are guided tours of the Claflin-Gerrish-Richards House on weekdays at 11am and 2pm and on weekends at 11:30am, 1:30 and 2:30pm.
The museum is located at 132 Main Street, Wenham, MA 01984.
From points south: Take Route 128 north to exit 20-A (Route 1A – Hamilton). Follow Route 1A north for 2.3 miles. The Museum is on the right before the Wenham Town Hall.
From points north: Take Route 95 South to Route 128 North. Then follow the directions as above.
Public Transportation: B&M Commuter Rail to Hamilton-Wenham; 15-minute scenic walk south from the depot on Route 1A.
Free parking at the museum is available including limited handicap parking next to the museum. Additional parking is available at the car barn lot located across the street from the Wenham Fire Station and the First Church of Wenham. The entrance to the lot is on Arbor Street, take left onto Arbor Street from 1A in front of the First Church. A cross walk light is available in front of the Wenham Post Office.
Though we received free passes from the Museum, our review is based on our own opinions.