A Visit to King’s Landing, a living museum by the St. John River
Our Three Day Immersion into Life in Nineteenth Century New BrunswickVia Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Five journalists from across Canada descended on a New Brunswick settlement known as King’s Landing, at the end of April. The best description I have for King’s Landing may be that it is a living museum. Little did we realize what we were in for! For myself, although I had known one pioneer grandmother well and remembered some of the challenges that faced people who settled the prairie provinces in the first half of the twentieth century, it was eye-opening to actually live as they lived, without the conveniences we have today. As it was we only touched on their challenges. It was as if we were parachuted into the age and then were wafted out of it three days later. It gave me a renewed admiration for our pioneer women – both my grandmothers included.
On the way to King’s Landing, Krista Rae, the Public Relations Coordinator for King’s Landing, took us to see the Mactaquac Dam. The anticipated flooding of the land above the dam, once the project was completed, prompted the initiative to remove the heritage buildings that would have been lost to the water. So the concept of King’s Landing began. It was decided to move and renovate as many of the buildings as possible. A site in the St John River Valley was chosen, and as construction of the dam took place during the sixties, the heritage buildings were moved to their new location and renovated to bring them back to their original condition. They are not clustered together but spread out like a genuine settlement would have taken place beside the St John River. Today visitors would not realize those buildings have not always been there.
Upon arriving at King’s Landing our first stop was at the Wardrobe Department. This was an unexpected surprise. Once there the wardrobe ladies took over. We were taken upstairs to where there were rows of open closets filled with a great assortment of period clothes – all in keeping with those worn in the period from 1780 to 1910. In choosing our clothes the wardrobe ladies took into consideration the time of year and the fact that, although it was spring, it was still not really warm outside. These ladies knew their stuff!
First I was given a quilted petticoat, with a drawstring waist to hold it up. This one was for warmth. Next came a dress. Mine was made of a fine, dark brown wool plaid. It closed down the front with large snappers and hooks and eyes. (Zippers had not been invented at the time these clothes were worn.) The dress had long sleeves with tight cuffs. I was next given a dust cap to be worn in the house to keep the hair clean, as the houses were heated with fireplaces that would give off smoke. An apron was worn over our skirts to keep the dresses clean while working. A “hug-me tight” was supplied to keep our arms and shoulders warm. This was an abbreviated knit sweater, that only covered the arms, back and shoulders. Next came a cloak, long and lined for wear outside. It matched the wool plaid of my dress, which indicated that I was a well-off member of the community. To finish off our costume we each had a bonnet to put over our heads when we went outside. Once suitably attired we could now go on to live in the community. For the next three days we would be deeply immersed in nineteenth century living. The only things incongruous about our appearance over the next few days, were the cameras that were constantly in our hands or hanging from our necks.
The original plan had been for us to stay in the “Summer Lodge,” a dormitory style building where the “Visiting Cousins” stay during their one or two week summer camp visits. Something unforeseen happened to change the plan. To keep up our immersion in the community, we were notified in advance that we were to stay in two of the heritage homes. Cots would be set up for us. A staff lady was to spend the night in each house with us to keep the fireplace burning throughout the night. We were first taken to the Donaldson house. It was planned three of us would stay there. The other two would live across the road in the Fisher house. After all the suitcases had been dropped off at the two houses, we began our day.
We walked down the road to our first stop, the Lint house. “Mrs. Lint” greeted us with a big smile at the door. This cheerful, white haired lady welcomed us to her home and explained a bit about the family that had once lived there. The husband was a cobbler and his wife was a weaver. He worked upstairs in the house, where his tools can still be seen. Mrs. Lint then set to work teaching us some of the things we would have needed to know to live as women in the nineteenth century.
Learning how to make cough medicine in the nineteenth century.
We followed her out into the yard where she showed us the plants we would have picked to make medicines for our families. St John’s Wort, valerian root, worm wood, tansy, castor, hawthorn, lavender and sage, Mrs. Lint knew about them all. She was the one the neighbours came to for advice. We came in with a bucket of pine and spruce needles. Mrs. Lint added some water, and hung the kettle over the fire in the fireplace and cooked them down to make a cough medicine. The fireplace in this house was used for heat and cooking. It wasn’t long before the piney aroma filled the room. It was easy to see how this could have helped clear the passages! This was just the start of the things Mrs. Lint taught us. She was very knowledgeable and we were encouraged to try working with her on each project.
We next walked to Mrs. Perley’s house for lunch. Again we were greeted by a warm and friendly lady. Mrs. Perley’s house was built later than the Lint house, therefore it had a stove for heat and cooking. Mrs. Perley’s saucepans were different because she could put them on the stove to cook. There was a pot of chicken stew cooking on the stove and Mrs. Perley’s prize winning baking powder biscuits were just coming out of the oven. The food was all delicious.
The Perley dining room and the beautiful hand stitched quilt in one of the bedrooms.
After lunch we had a tour of the Perley house. This family was more affluent and the house was much bigger with the bedrooms upstairs; a living room and a dining room were on the main floor and the kitchen had a pantry. The furniture was good quality with nice china. Mrs. Perley showed us some of the early Blue Willow china that is used in this house. She showed us how to identify earliest Blue Willow china. That pattern has been around for over 200 years.
These two ladies were our hostesses and tutors for much of our visit to their settlement and through watching them and helping them, we learned about life in the nineteenth century. Cooking, baking, butter making, quilting, rug hooking and braiding, craft work, weaving, and spinning, and all the while we were visiting with the ladies and enjoying every minute. We also learned by trying to do things ourselves.
In these communities during the nineteenth century, the main meal was usually mid-day. Although we had a good meal mid-day, we walked to the King’s Head Inn where a lovely young lady, Mallory, in her period dress with large white apron and cap, served us a very substantial dinner in their private dining room. A specialty of the time was gingerbread, so we finished our meal with a large piece of gingerbread and a huge dollop of real whipped cream.
After dinner we all went out to the front of the Inn where we found a horse-drawn wagon with driver waiting to take us for a ride around the settlement. Krista and another staff member, Tom Richards, accompanied us on our evening ride. It was a lovely evening with a cloudless sky above us and no breeze. After a whole day immersed in the community, I could really settle into the idea that we were back in the nineteenth century. However looking up at the sky I noticed a jet stream leaving its silver trail across the clear blue sky.
We stopped in the cabin that had been home to a black man and his family who had lived in the area. Black families came north on the Underground Railroad to escape slavery; others were indentured servants who came north with the Loyalist families who employed them. While in the Gordon home, Tom told us some ghost stories that have become legend in the area. He brought his guitar along and sang a few ballads too. It was a very enjoyable evening.
When we arrived back at the Donaldson house, Lisa and Susan, had lit the fireplaces to warm the houses for the night and had tea ready for us. We all went into the kitchen and sat around the fireplace, chatting, sharing stories and singing more songs with the friendly staff people. Time went quickly. With the warmth and light from the cozy fire, we did not realize it had become dark outside and in the rest of the house too. We were to have an early morning, so decided to call it quits for the night. We lit a candle and started to get ready for bed. When two of our group and their staff member went across the street to the Fisher house, they found that house was full of smoke. We went into a spur-of-the-moment plan. Their cots and suitcases were brought across the street; we moved our beds to make room for the others and we all had a gals sleepover, barracks style. The two staff members spent the night in the kitchen, taking turns keeping the fire going all night. We had been unprepared for the total darkness with only the light of a small candle or two to prepare our beds and find our flashlights and night clothes etc. It was a lesson well learned. We all made sure we prepared before darkness fell the next night. The next day we learned there had been a problem with the chimney in the other house the first night. We told the staff not to worry about it as we were all happy to bunk up together in the one house.
Morning came early. Lisa and Susan woke us up at six am with a great clamor. Farm chores were at the top of the list for the day for some of our group, and were to start at seven. Therefore, we all had to go for an early breakfast at the King’s Head Inn. The bathrooms were in that building too. (Our one concession to 21st century life!) Breakfast was a hardy farm breakfast: sausages, eggs, homemade baked beans, bacon, fried potatoes and brown bread toast with a fruit preserve.
After breakfast the apprentice farmers went to work. There were chickens to feed, pigs to be slopped, and cows to be milked, along with other farm chores. The farm animals are kept at the settlement for the produce that is used by the community. The horses are used for transportation, pulling the wagons and farm equipment. While we were at King’s Landing a new calf was born. For some people this was their first experience with farm animals, so the chores were a wondrous experience.
Lunch at the Lint House
We all pitched in to help make lunch at Mrs. Lint’s house that day. She showed us how to heat the brick oven in the fireplace and test it with your arm to use it for baking or roasting. She popped the chicken in the oven to make a really tasty and tender chicken for lunch.
Krista came to join us and help us learn how to hook rugs. The staff here all seem adept at various crafts.
Well behaved students – what a trip down memory lane!
After tea we visited the one-room school house. The teacher of the time was very well portrayed by Pam Gilbert, who had us all adhering to each of her directives, as nervous children tend to do when intimidated by an authoritarian teacher. We lined up in front of the school when she rang the bell and stood quietly while she assigned seats. We did our lessons, read aloud, wrote on our tablets, and definitely did not giggle or whisper! We all had a good laugh at ourselves when school was dismissed. Our stern teacher actually became friendly and laughed with us too!
We had the opportunity to look through one other house, the Ingraham house. This house has a reputation for being haunted. The staff seem to know a lot about the ghost. Her name is “Aunt Hannah” and she lived with the Ingraham family. We saw her bedroom. Both staff and visitors who have been in the house have noted strange happenings there. She seems to follow a pattern. She was a domineering soul and still wants her rules adhered to. One of the staff told me about seeing her face looking out an upstairs window. It goes to show the ghost goes with the house, not the property.
Our last evening at King’s Landing was spent at the King’s Head Inn. After dinner we went downstairs to the pub, where we were entertained with some toe taping music. We were invited to join in the singing and playing with spoons and the bodran and even a bit of dancing. It was a delightful evening.
Mrs. Lint and Mrs Perley, left to right.
The staff at King’s Landing soon learn to “live the life.” While at King’s Landing they live the role of the character they are impersonating. Mrs. Lint was actually Maureen Williams; her neighbour Mrs. Perley was Evelyn Rossiter. Even with their impersonations, we learned to love these ladies. They were delightful, kind and very knowledgeable about the period in which they were living. They were good teachers.
Before our stay was over we got to visit Darrell Butler, the material historian, curator of the museum’s collection of 3,000 pieces of antique furniture and artifacts. He was celebrating his 40th anniversary at King’s Landing. He took us on a tour of the warehouse where this amazing collection is stored. He is so knowledgeable about the collection he was able and willing to answer any and all of our questions. He showed us a favorite piece from the collection, a small wooden box, which was made by a young man in his third year of apprenticeship, for the girl of his choice. They married four years later. “Gift of an esteemed friend” was the inscription in it. Darrell Butler had many stories to tell us about his treasures; his knowledge of them was encyclopedic.
Surprisingly enough our time without electricity, running water, plumbing, central heat, light-weight modern clothes with zippers came to a reluctant end. We had begun to feel like part of this community. A trip back to the wardrobe ladies and into our own clothes brought us rapidly back to the 21st century. King’s Landing gave us a real respect for the pioneer ladies who helped settle this land. It was great fun but we have been told that no one else will get to repeat our experience and live in one of those houses. Weren’t we lucky time travelers?
Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Farm pictures Courtesy of Ursula Maxwell Lewis
Last Updated December 10th, 2020 by Matthew George Webmaster