The Wilmington, MA Town Museum at the Colonel Joshua Harnden Tavern is an important piece of history situated about 20 minutes north of Boston. The building, which dates back to 1770, began its long life as a humble residence for Revolutionary War veteran Joshua Harnden and his family, but through the years it has also served as a meeting place for Minutemen and revolutionaries, a lodging house for weary travelers, and even a stop on the Underground Railroad! The tavern was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 to save it from being demolished by a developer.
The free tour features a trip through the many rooms in the Georgian-style building, and guests can get a close-up look at genuine 18th and 19th-century antique furniture, as well as many knickknacks, tools and household gadgets that were widely used in the houses of the day. Guests are also able to walk through the adjacent 2-story carriage house, which has displays ranging from antique farming tools to authentic early American militia flags.
When my daughter's Brownie Girl Scout Troop visited the museum recently, the spot they found most fascinating was the secret room built around the base of the chimney. This room, which can only be entered by crouching through a very short, hidden door, was used during the Civil War era to hide runaway slaves who were en route to Canada.
The volunteers who staff the museum are patient, helpful and knowledgeable. The museum offers activities which vary by season. For instance, Fridays in the summer offer the chance to bring a brown bag picnic lunch and then partake in old-fashioned games on the museum grounds (shuttle-cock, cup & ball, hoop toss, etc.). In late September, the Harvest Festival features demonstrations of colonial crafts and skills. The Holiday season brings authentic colonial refreshments and holiday decorations.
The museum is located at 430 Salem Street, Wilmington, MA. Because it is staffed solely by volunteers, it is a good idea to verify hours of operation before visiting. The telephone # is 978-658-5475.
Note: Although there is no lodging available in the town of Wilmington, this is really a day-trip destination. The museum is on a main road in town (very easy to find), and there are a number of restaurant options in town if you're in the market for a meal or snack after touring the museum.
Update On Jan 05, 2011: As of January 9, 2011, the Wilmington Town Museum at Harnden Tavern will offer its newest exhibit: Memories of Childhood - Toys and Games from 1890 to 1940.