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Colonial days come alive at Raynham Hall

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Excited children and adults travelled back to the 1700’s on Sunday, courtesy of Raynham Hall Museum. Museum staff and Huntington Militia volunteers joined together to create a family friendly, hands-on Sixth Annual Colonial Day celebration that everyone appeared to want to be part of. Perhaps the two most excited visitors were six-year-old Jaxson Weiss and his younger sister, Charlotte, who arrived wearing colonial costumes. Their mother, Julie, smiled and said, “Jaxson would wear his costume to school every day if he could.”  

Raynham Hall is known as a museum, but the moment you walk in the door you find yourself inside a restored colonial home complete with charming Victorian accents. The house was once owned by Robert Townsend, a merchant during the Revolutionary War, who was also a spy for George Washington. To bring the colonial spy experience to life, Claire Bellerjeau, the museum’s education director, gathered visitors around a long table in the kitchen. There, she presented hands-on spy games that directly related to the various ways spies passed along secret information during the Revolutionary War.

Bellerjeau said she was also thrilled to give visitors the opportunity to hold a colonial block of tea. In the 1700’s, tea was condensed into a block the size of a large candy bar, which made it easier to ship and store. Bellerjeau said she is passionate about hands-on activities that bring history alive. “That way, people feel as if they’re part of history. It isn’t just in a book,” she explained. “We’re always researching here at the museum. There’s always something new.”

In another room, Michael Goudket, an educator at Raynham as well as a member of the Huntington Militia, was dressed as Townsend. He played an early version of the harp for visitors and later, using a skit format, acted out what it was like running a store in the 1700s. He also shared how Townsend passed secret information on to Washington by listening to and watching what was going on around him.

“Robert Townsend had to be brave to be a spy in those days,” Goudket said. “That’s what this house is about. It’s what I try to teach children when they come here. If they believe in something, they have to be brave and they can be as brave as they need to be.”

Upstairs in the museum, two girls marveled at an old-style dollhouse. “The dollhouse is like an old house,” Giuliana Rampulla. 9, said. “It’s nice to see what kids liked to play with.”

“I liked the dolls laying in the beds,” added her seven-year-old sister, Marisa, “and the babies in the little cribs.”

Outside, members of the Huntington Militia, wearing period costumes, invited visitors to make their own woolen dolls, watch a cooking demonstration over an open fire, even try on traditional colonial outfits and take photos. There was also a leather worker, a weaver, and a colonial wife presenting original pamphlets with fables and alphabet lessons. However, all activities came to a halt when the militia began their musket demonstration. Then it was time for the children to participate. Carrying wooden rods they tried to perfect “make believe musket drills.”

During all these activities, Theresa Skvarla, director of public relations at Raynham, beamed as she watched history come to life. It was her hope, she said, that the children would relate what they learned to their lives today. During the Revolutionary war, British troops knocked on the doors of people living on Long Island, Skvarla said. The British soldiers insisted on living in those homes along with the families, who were required to feed the troops and care for them. “Can you imagine soldiers taking over your home while you still live there?” Skvarla asked.