Saturday, April 23, 2016

Living History at Hillside

Working at Ella Sharp Museum has been a dream come true. Maybe it's a dream I never realized I had. Working with the kids has been so good for me. I know I love youth development, but being back after a while of being gone, shows me just how much I love this work. 

When 3rd grade classrooms come on field trips at Living History at Hillside they visit four historic buildings. In each, they get to experience life in the 1880s. Many of them have so many questions. I hope you'll enjoy me sharing with you what I've learned and have been able to share with students.

Eli Stilson Log House-This log house was built north of Jackson on Coon Hill Road by Eli Stilson in the late 1860s. After a century, and different owners, the then owning family donated the log house to the museum when it was transported and has stood at it current spot near the woods on the property. A log cabin is a structure that was historically built to only last one or two years while more permanent structures were built. A log house one that is built as a more permanent dwelling with a solid foundation. Our log house is of course just one room, but has a loft accessed by an indoor ladder. Mostly all children ask to go up there, but with a short amount of time and safety in mind, we always have to say the answer is no. When students visit the log house, I give them an experience of what it was like to be a child living in the country in the late 1800s. I explain work is never done. They start out their morning with chores of collecting eggs from the chicken coop and collecting firewood for the wood burning stove. Once inside the log house, we churn butter together with store bought cream, but an authentic butter churn. To pass the time, we sing a chant that kids recited during this time to deep entertained while going through the process of churning butter. We talk about the different sections of the room and point out how each thing has it's place. I get a lot of "ewwws" when I show them the chamber pot, aka the middle of the night indoor bathroom. They all realize there is no electricity or indoor plumbing, and though we have electricity in there now, I show them the look without the lights to show what only natural light will do. They end by beating dirt out of rugs outside on the clothes line. They enjoy getting to hit something with a stick and not getting in any trouble!

Dibble One-Room School House-I like to have fun with the kids and I do, but part of me wants to be stern just to keep them in line. In the school house, I get to do that! In the Dibble School House students find out that grades K-8 had to be taught in just one room with only one teacher. I explain that some teachers were just teenagers themselves, who has completed all grades and could share their knowledge. Men were teachers, and so were women, at least until they got married that is. Students sit in rows and we start out by saying the Pledge of Allegiance with words that are a bit different from ours today. The "under God" part is not in it, because it wasn't added until 1954. We count the stars on the flag together and they find out there are five less than they are used to. I get to carry around a stick that I point to things with, but I also enjoy banging it on the ground to get the group's attention. Each row represents a different grade and students spend about 10 minutes on grade level assignments that they complete on their slate at their desk. Afterwards we all check it together. I'll look around and find a student who I think can take a little embarrassment without being scarred and call them out as a trouble maker. I hope letting them in on the secret makes them feel special enough to be my dunce. I bring that student to the front of the room where they sit on the dunce stool and don the dunce cap while the whole room erupts in laughter. This is one time that laughing at your fellow student is exactly the right thing to do. I explain that this form of punishment is meant to embarrass the student on the dunce stool and hopefully they won't act out again. We do a team spelling bee and students enjoy the bit of competition in spelling words against each other. Lastly they get to sign their name with a fountain pen and ink. This part is quite stressful for me because the ink can be unruly and get out of control fast, but many of them enjoy trying to use an old fashioned pen.

The Merriman-Sharp Farmhouse-To me this is the crown jewel of the entire operation. This house was purchased by Mr. Abram Wing in 1855 for his daughter Mary, who was on her second marriage after having lost her  first husband and two young children. She married Mr. Dwight Merriman and together then ran a 900 acre farm in that very spot just south of the City of Jackson. They raised fruit trees, bred horses, and kept other animals. People looked to Dwight Merriman for his expertise in the farming industry. Dwight and Mary Merriman had four children together, three of which, all boys died before the age of 30. Their only surviving child, a daughter Ella, was given the house and farm when she married Mr. John Sharp in 1881. Mr. Sharp was a state senator and also took over operations of the Hillside Farm. Mrs. Ella Sharp came from a family who valued education and experience for women so Ella was educated and well traveled. She was unable to bear children, but the city of Jackson and children of the area became her charge and she loved them all a great deal. Upon her death (1912), after being widowed four years earlier, she left her home and farm to the City of Jackson to be preserved as a park and museum.  When students stand on the front lawn of her house I show them a picture of Ella sitting on the very porch they are staring at. I tell them all to thank her for gifting us this wonderful place. They are intrigued by all the rooms on the lower level, for many it may be one of the largest and nicest homes they've ever been in. After witnessing the family's rooms they enter the kitchen where they learn a bit about the hard work, without modern technology, servents of the time endured. Together, step-by-step, the group goes through the process of laundry from grating the soap, removing stains with a washboard, and winding the garment through the laundry wringer. Lastly we enter an added room to the house where they may look at more pictures of Ella's life and we end with some funny dances of the time period. While listening to music played on a Victrola, the kids like to laugh and goof around with their dance partner.

Wood Shop-The wood shop is the place that I get to interject a bit about gender roles during this time period. It's never fun to think about the fact that women had very little opportunity pre-WWII, but I'd like the young boys and girls to realize that things have not always been as equal as they are now. I start out by telling them that it is very inaccurate that I, as a woman, am working in a wood shop. When I say this was a place for men, many of the boys get a spurt of testosterone as they embrace their masculine kingdom.  It makes me smile. As for the girls, I explain how lucky we are than in 2016, we can be whatever we want to be, and I ask them what they want to be. The kids get to try out real tools from an 1860 wood shop, the instruments used to build a log house like the one they were in that morning. In pairs, they take turns sawing a log with a 2-person cross cut saw. They get to try and drill a hole with a brace and bit (we never get very far). Perhaps the most fun (and scary) is to use the shaving horse where they use a tool to shave down wooden roof shingles smooth. Most of the boys love it in here, but I get really excited when a girl who might be nervous tries the tools.

*Photo of Farm Lane from the Ella Sharp Museum website.