Living-history village in Ohio plans ‘modern’ update

First Posted: 2/1/2015

ARCHBOLD (AP) — In its empty rooms, the Grime Homestead spins history like a storyteller.

And like a detective seeking clues, Tracie Evans listens.

Curator of collections at Sauder Village, she hears the snippets from the past and the promises for the future as crews tackle the beginnings of a 1920s-themed, three-phase project at the popular living-history destination location in Fulton County.

Plans call for renovation of the 1910 homestead and the creation of a rural community and a Main Street where guests will have ample opportunities to experience the stories, activities, and structures related to a defining era in Ohio and American history.

On a recent winter day, the homestead’s stark, stripped-to-the-bones interior was a jarring scene to guests who had visited the homestead in the fall when the cozy place buzzed with chatter of school children taking tours. Near a rustic stove, the spicy aroma of fresh-baked molasses cookies had wafted a welcome.

No doubt, new ideas are coming to the front burner to reshape and update the conversations, the educational activities, and other programs when the homestead reopens this spring. Because of extensive work yet to be done, exterior and interior, no official opening date has yet been set, staff said.

Upgrades to the homestead — part of the original farm property where Erie Sauder founded Sauder Village four decades ago — include installation of new siding, windows, and doors as well as a new heating and cooling system, perimeter drainage, and an ADA-accessible ramp.

Homestead renovations will showcase the beginning of “modern times” — with the addition of a wall telephone and a Victrola, for instance. Period-appropriate wallpaper, carpet, furnishings, and artifacts will be added, and interpreters on staff will share updated information and will wear costumes specific to the 1920s.

The 1920s theme will feature the stories of the roots, values, and traditions of the farm community, said Debbie Sauder David, president and CEO of Sauder Village. Erie Sauder was her grandpa.

She described the three-phase project as a nice step towards the modern era — modern that is when compared to the early 1800s, the timeline that springboards history at the village. In 1803, Ohio was admitted to the Union as the 17th state.

Development of a Main Street has been a part of the village’s master plan for many years, Evans said, but noted that originally, the time period under consideration was 1910s, prompting questions “What about this?” and “What about that?” as details were discussed. Moving the project forward 10 years “just clicked,” she said.

Kris Jemmott, Sauder’s director of historic operations, said the 1920s era is rich with history about technology and science, such as relating to agriculture. Too, that era has much to talk about when it comes to economics: the boom time when farmers had money to buy more land; the downturn when farmers, who had overstretched their credit couldn’t afford to make loan payments, and then, later, the lead up to the Great Depression.

In post-World War I, tensions were taut about what to teach in the classrooms, how to deal with immigration issues, and when to introduce new technologies in the rural areas, Evans said.

Such information will be valuable to youth who visit Sauder Village, David said. “We need to pay attention to history to what went before us and not repeat our mistakes,” she said.

Main Street, anchored by a depot, will show the good times of the 1920s, but stories shared with guests will reflect the reality that the good times did not last, Jemmott said.

Meantime, work continues in the homestead where the evolution of such rural homes is evident in layers, including layer after layer of wallpaper that showed the family was more affluent than first expected. “The family was doing alright and was investing in their house,” Evans said, and the layers of wallpaper likely reflect times when the family spruced up the house, marking births, marriages, and deaths.

Renovation work has exposed evidence of where windows once gave residents a view of the homestead’s barn and sheep shed, also original structures to what is now Sauder Village. Doors, windows, stairs, and chimney shifted to new locations during the decades as additions and improvements were made to the house. The original portion of the house dates to the Civil War.

“There are lots of ways the homestead talks, but this is like a detective’s work. I hear as the house talks, but it does not talk in words.” It does talk in clues that prompt research and review of oral history of the house, Evans said.

Oral history speaks of items — a cabinet, work table, kerosene stove — that were housed in the pantry that served as an extra kitchen.

Similar items will be installed in that area and the pantry will be among the talking points during tours of the renovated homestead.

The three-phase project enhances and builds on what Mr. Sauder envisioned when he laid those early firm foundations for the village, and, the 1920s expansion will make that time period, and its history, more relevant to guests, David said. “We are really excited this is coming to fruition.”

Sauder Village was awarded $300,000 by the state to help pay for the project.

Sauder, the founder of Sauder Woodworking who had a keen interest in preserving local history, was particularly partial to stories of his ancestors who were among settlers in the Great Black Swamp in the mid-1830s. Those are among stories told at the village where the third generation of his family oversees the complex that now includes a 350-seat restaurant; a bakery; a campground; a 98-room country inn, and an exhibit/performance center.

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