Wilton Historical Society invites visitors to touch as well as look

Whether it’s the 1700s or 1900s, the kitchen has always been the heart of the home and now Wilton Historical Society has seized on that with its “new” 1910 kitchen. Going against the usual museum custom of “don’t touch,” this kitchen invites visitors to touch as much as they’d like.

There’s lots to experience such as using a pump, instead of a faucet, to get running water; lifting a block of “ice;” examining flat irons; and testing out an old-fashioned egg beater. There are also foot warmers, sugar nips, butter molds, a butter churn, and more on the shelves and in the cabinets and drawers.

The centerpiece of the room is a large coal-burning stove that dates to 1885. A short walk away, in the colonial period kitchen, visitors can see how that stove evolved from the large open hearth colonists used to heat their home and cook their food.

While the 1910 kitchen previously focused on the turn of the 20th century, it was another “don’t touch” room, but since people were inclined to handle the exhibits anyway “we leaned into that impulse,” society co-director Allison Sanders said. Some items were removed and “we dove through our education collection for stuff you could touch,” she said, to make it a “more sensory” experience.

Named “Just Like Grandma Used to Make: A Hands-on Experience of 300 Years of Kitchen History,” the purpose of the period room, Associate Curator Nick Foster said, is to show “how Wilton has changed and how technology has advanced that.” The exhibits cater to all ages “keeping them engaged in different ways,” he said.

While the kids can pump water, put a pie in the oven, or test their strength lifting the block of simulated ice, adults can peruse the text around the room that reminds them that while some things have changed little — such as frying pans and serving spoons — others have.

One text invites visitors to consider how Wilton transformed from a farming community to a more modern suburb and what technology allowed that transformation to occur.

While no one thinks twice about walking into a room and flipping a switch to turn on the lights, nine percent of Wilton homes still had no electricity in the 1930s. In the 1700s and well into the 1800s candles were the norm. They were previously made by the time-consuming process of repeatedly dipping wicks into melted beeswax or tallow. Molds, like the one on display into which melted wax could be poured, made that process considerably easier until mass-produced candles became available by the mid-19th century. These were eventually replaced by oil-burning lanterns. Electricity finally arrived in Wilton in 1911.

Who irons anymore? This was a tiresome chore for housewives and servants in the past. The heavy cast iron flat irons on display give visitors an idea of just how onerous it was not only to do the actual ironing but to keep two or three irons “in the fire” at all time so they were hot enough to do the job.

“The purpose of the kitchen hasn’t changed,” said Foster, who was in charge of the project. By visiting both the 1910 kitchen and the colonial kitchen in the 1740s Betts house, “you can see the similarities and difference,” he said. “You can get a sense of the transition from the colonial to the more modern and ask, why does Wilton look like it does today.”

The Wilton Historical Society is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 224 Danbury Road.

Information: 203-762-7257 or visit wiltonhistorical.org.