Could you live back in time?

No electricity. No washer. No dryer. No fast food. No internet. No toilet paper. One shower (if that) a week. For 9 weeks. For 5 months. For 3 months. For an awfully long time.
About a decade ago, PBS had a series called “House” and they offered many families a chance to go back in time – literally. Settings included the Victorian Era, WWII England, The New World (Early America), and the Frontier in the late 1800s. The experience was made as realistic as possible – from the clothes, the house, the setting, the food, the appliances, the mannerism, and the work. Before going full-into the time period, all participants were given pre-time period information so they could really learn about the time period before experiencing it themselves, thus being better prepared for the show instead of having major culture shock.
Although many of the participants thought it was all just fun and games in the beginning, it turned out about a 90:10 work to play ratio. What was really interesting is that despite lots of hard work and once-a-week-baths, the majority of the participants didn’t want to leave afterwards. Each gained something of value from the show; they learned life lessons and character, found themselves stronger as a person, felt less-entitled, and many families grew closer.

The show received thousands of applicants and looked for those who showed true interest in the time period, instead of just applying for “adventure” or a challenge. Many of the participants had ancestors who had lived during the time period, so that was why they were interested. Others just loved the time period and wanted to experience it firsthand. Each set was made as realistic as possible with lots of research put into it – and they did a pretty darn good job recreating life in different time periods in history.


1940s HOUSE – 1939-1945 – highly recommend! a must watch!
As a major WWII buff, this was my favorite and greatly encouraged me to pursue WWII frugality. (even more than I was already doing) The three-generation Hymer family that participated were amazing. I was a bit scared at how they would do at first when the family sold their rabbits (a main food source during the war) but after that, they really did a great job. Participants were a couple (Michael and Lyn), their divorced daughter Kirsti, and her seven and 10-year-old sons Ben and Thomas. The participants – even the little ones – were amazing and really tried hard to recreate the experience – despite it being tough at times. The family built an air raid shelter, lived on rations, and they even had a local grocer who recreated a part of his store 1940s style!After the war experience, Lyn said she got so used to walking everywhere she rarely used her car. Instead of going to the grocery store like she used to in the 21st century, she continued to go to the baker for bread, butcher for meat, etc. like in the 1940s. Her “post-war” life including cutting her pre-war grocery bill 50%, since they had grown accustomed to rations and just living on less and making do.100% family friendly.
MANOR HOUSE – 1900 – highly recommend
This one was my sister’s favorite – and I loved it. The entire cast was fabulous and had a great attitude about their less-than-fun roles. Everyone had a role and status in this one, which made it very interesting! While one girl gets stuck as the scullery maid (the lowest servant), the Olliff-Cooper’s are living a lush life with an entire staff at the snap of their fingers. The Olliff-Cooper’s didn’t have it all easy either – can you imagine having to walk past a person “lower than you” (in the Olliff-Cooper’s case, everyone) and not even acknowledge the person? There is a little bit of talk of romance, a man getting dressed and occasional, rare profanity, but major expletives are bleeped and overall, it was a fantastic show! Recipes from Manor House to try!
FRONTIER HOUSE – 1883 Montana – recommend
Couple Gordon and Adrienne Clune went from a very lavish lifestyle to a little log cabin. Their teenage daughter Aine and their teenage niece Tracey participated and although they snuck in this and that, overall, for what they were faced with, they did a pretty good job. Mark and Karen Glenn were my favorites – Karen was a very serious person, although she and Mark definitely had their marriage problems. A young man, Nate, started the project with his father to build a cabin for his soon-to-be-wife. He and his wife, Kristen, actually married during the project and had a frontier wedding! This part was so sweet! Great cast, great people, with many challenges! I highly commend all of them for trying to relive the experience as best they could. Even the two teenage girls, who snuck in make-up and watched a few minutes of TV (the producer was LIVID) didn’t do horrible – especially since they came from very luxurious lives in the 21st century. There’s a few mentions of birth control and a few references to sex in the show, but otherwise it is OK.
For teachers grades 5-9: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierhouse/resources/lessons.html
COLONIAL HOUSE – 1628 – do not recommend – avoid at all costs
This is the only one of the four we didn’t like. The characters were awful! Out of 5,000+ applicants, I don’t know HOW they got chosen. They were whiny, they refused to obey any rules (that adhered to the time period) and they began to purposefully try to gang up on the authorities so they would give in to certain rules (i.e. no profanity, go to church on Sunday, cover your head). Very few of them were trying to relive the colonial experience. Yes, I get they had a lot of tough situations. I’m not saying I would be gung-ho and not want to go back to my cozy 21st century lifestyle. Still, none of them even TRIED to make do with ANYTHING. We never finished this one because I couldn’t stand the cast. It’s a shame, because it had a lot of potential.
For history buffs, also check out 30+ Ways to teach History Without a Textbook!

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8 comments

  • We love this series! I loved Frontier House the most because of the time period. We also HATED colonial house. You’re right. They DID NOT try to follow the rules. Most of them would have been hanged if they had actually lived during the time period. One couple even went skinny dipping! Geez. It could have been such a great period show if not for the cast. The original Pastor and his family would have made the show much better if they’d been able to stay (they had to leave due to a serious family emergency). The fill-in’s were awful – especially the “so-called” pastor! Ugh.

    BBC also did something similar to this – set in a mining town in Ireland/Scotland. I can’t remember the name but it was quiet good, too.

  • Came across this article on Pinterest. I was totally shocked to see that this was a series that included Colonial House so many years ago because I tried to watch that and you are sooo right! It was terrible. I would never have guessed they would try to make a series out of it after that flop.
    Unfortunately, with the exception fo the pastor and his family (which I can still hear the anguish of the daughter being informed of the tragedy back home… so, so sad.) I think the participants mistook the experience as one where they were to take the 21st century notions and inject them into the Colonial time period. They did not follow the premise of the show at all. They just weren’t there with the right attitude or had no clue what they were really signing up for. I’ll have to check out the others and see if I can find them to view.

    • Yeah, definitely didn’t like Colonial House but wanted to include it to warn others; if you’ve seen that, give the other ones a try and if you haven’t seen it, don’t waste your time. I really don’t know how they got chosen – I know tons of people who would have loved to genuinely “go back in time.”
      thanks for commenting!

    • Hey Lana! I rented them from my library. They are on Amazon for outrageous ($100) prices per DVD. In cases like these, I email the seller and ask them to lower the price to something more reasonable. (Also ask if the DVD is the US version) I hope you get your hands on a copy!

  • I jut watched Frontier house for the 3rd time. I loved this show and all the cast. I think it stayed true to how each family would react to living a different way. The Clunes actually did an amazing job. Even though Adrienne Clune Hated being there, She sewed curtains, an American flag, and preserved more than Karen. The kids were my favorite as they didn’t act like spoiled brats at all. They worked hard and seemed to really enjoy themselves. I absolutely Loved Nate Brooks. Watching him interact and work along side his dad and brother to build the cabin was so great. He got along the best with all of the other cast members. I really liked Karen for how willing she was to work hard, But was sad that she didn’t show more kindness toward Ken or the others. I would have loved to do something like this. Really enjoyed watching.