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Helen Osborne Storrow


It started with a dream...

In the late summer of 1864, the United States Civil War left many looking for a spark of hope that would return peace to the country. In the city of Auburn, New York, one family joyfully welcomed the birth of a newest member, a little daughter they named Helen.

Helen Osborne was born into a prosperous manufacturer’s home. Her mother Eliza was a socially conscious Quaker and her great aunt was Lucretia Mott, an outspoken abolitionist, social reformer and organizer of the famous Seneca Falls Convention that focused on women’s rights. Helen was surrounded by a family that valued the path of altruism and concern for those who may not have had the privilege and comfort that they enjoyed in their youth.

Helen Storrow (left) with fellow Girl Guide and Girl Scouts organizers at "Our Chalet" in Adelboden, Switzerland. 

Helen was first introduced to the city of Springfield when attended Catherine L. Howard’s Boarding School there in the 1880s. In the late 19th century, she met James Storrow while hiking the Zermatt mountains in Switzerland. Eight years later the couple married and settled in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. Helen kept in touch with the happenings in the Pioneer Valley as she worked with Girl Scouts and the Saturday Evening Girls of the Boston Settlement, a movement for Eastern European immigrants.

In the 1920s, Helen was chairwoman for the “Home Department” of the Eastern States Exposition. She used her lifelong interest in handicrafts to organized displays and exhibits that represented the old and new in the area of homemaking. One exhibit of note was a room dedicated to the process of voting. Women had just received the right to vote in the United States and Helen wanted women to be able to enter the voting booth and be comfortable with whatever method of voting they encountered.

Storrow dreamed up the idea for a permanent structure to house exhibits and was introduced to Arthur Gilbert, Commissioner of Agriculture for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She purchased his family's 18th century farmhouse for $200 and moved it from West Brookfield, Massachusetts, in 1927. After that, additional antique buildings were purchased, dismantled, and reconstructed here to create Storrowton Village. Helen was ahead of her time, saving and moving buildings years before the Wells family conceived of Old Sturbridge Village, the Rockefeller’s Colonial Williamsburg or Henry Ford’s museum in Michigan.

From her original purchase of the Gilbert House, her final cost for all the structures that were moved totaled nearly $350,000 when the project was completed, nearly $6 million dollars today. The original Aunt Helen’s Herb Garden was planned, planted and given to Helen Storrow Village for her birthday, September 22, in 1935 by the New England Girl Scouts as a gift of appreciation and affection. It was a real Girl Scout project – the first of its kind in the world. Five thousand Girl Scouts from Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont contributed to the garden.

More than eighty years after its creation, our Village continues Helen's mission to offer a backdrop for families of the present day to see and learn about the heritage and history of New England.

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