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posted: 6/12/2012 10:52 AM

History is revealed at Garfield Farm's 1840s Days in Campton Hills

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  • Elizabeth Cherry from rural Oswego shows a group of Batavia residents how to make spools of yarn from wool during a previous 1840s Days at Garfield Farm Museum.

      Elizabeth Cherry from rural Oswego shows a group of Batavia residents how to make spools of yarn from wool during a previous 1840s Days at Garfield Farm Museum.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • Keith Ryder of Wheaton shows an old revolver to Batavia residents Catherine and Ross Bennett during a previous 1840s Days event at Garfield Farm Museum.

      Keith Ryder of Wheaton shows an old revolver to Batavia residents Catherine and Ross Bennett during a previous 1840s Days event at Garfield Farm Museum.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • Chris Olsen of Campton Hills demonstrates a daguerreotype camera to Lisle residents Rick Fischer and his son Rick during a previous 1840s Days at Garfield Farm Museum.

      Chris Olsen of Campton Hills demonstrates a daguerreotype camera to Lisle residents Rick Fischer and his son Rick during a previous 1840s Days at Garfield Farm Museum.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
By Hannah Meisel
hmeisel@dailyherald.com

Corn shelling, blacksmithing and wool spinning aren't just the stuff of history this weekend at the Garfield Farm Museum in Campton Hills.

On Saturday and Sunday, June 16-17, the museum will host its fourth annual 1840s Days event, challenging patrons to see the world through the lens of the 19th century.

Museum operations director Bill Wolcott said he aims for 1840s Days to help people understand the challenges of life in this era, especially in the farm lifestyle. He also hopes to have people become more connected with the land.

"I think people have kind of gotten out of touch with their rural roots," he said. "Everybody was a farm family back in the 1840s."

Visitors will be able to tour the museum's 374-acre expanse and the property's 15 historical buildings. Costumed in period clothing, museum volunteers will demonstrate typical chores, entertainment activities and daily life as it was for the Garfield family, for whom the farm is named. Garfield Farm's heritage animals will also be out in action.

Also on the museum's property, a professional archaeological dig will be wrapping up this weekend, and museum patrons are invited to take part in screening for artifacts. Archaeologist Jim Yingst and his team of volunteers are uncovering patches of land believed to be the location of the property's original farmstead.

So far, Yingst and his team have uncovered bits of broken china and animal bones, which he said points to a larger pattern of human activity. Through careful mapping of the area, the team can estimate very closely the boundaries of the structure, built by the land's first inhabitant Samuel Culbertson, in 1835.

"It's important to know where we come from," Yingst said. "We want to view this site in context of what was happening in Chicago, the nation, the world in 1835."

Museum executive director Jerry Johnson said the annual archaeological digs and restoration efforts fit the museum's core mission. Down the road, Johnson said he wants the museum to be completely restored in order to submerge patrons into 1840s lifestyle.

"When the place is fully restored, we want it to be a hands-on participatory experience," he said, mentioning demonstrations with farm animals, and other farm chores. "Learning how to curate and create a museum is the participatory experience we offer now."

As of now, the museum maintains many rare breeds of farm animals on its property, including Java chickens, which the Garfield Farm breeds and distributes all over the country. When the museum first started raising the chickens, there were only 500 left in the world, but now it ships thousands of chicks to farms and museums all over the nation.

Finding the rare breeds took years of research, Wolcott said. Berkshire hogs, pilgrim geese, Marino sheep and oxen are all on the property as well, as a result of research into both the Garfields' records and other farming journals and ledgers of the era. Wolcott said this research is key to being historically accurate, a value the museum tries to abide by in all restoration efforts.

"There's always this ongoing research of trying to learn as much as we can about the period," he said. "We're learning things all the time from things like archaeology."

The farm has relied heavily on a biography of Timothy Garfield, the man who bought the property in 1841. The biographical record was written by Garfield's eldest son and includes details about the property and the Garfields' lifestyle. Shortly after acquiring the farm from Culbertson in 1841, the Garfield family expanded the original cabin and made it into a tavern, and eventually an inn. When museum curators bought the property from the surviving Garfields in 1977, they set to work restoring the buildings on the property, an effort still ongoing today.

Wolcott said this weekend's celebration will be an extension of those restoration efforts in order to help people understand the challenges of life in the era.

"I'm hoping people will spend Father's Day weekend out here and walk away with an appreciation of what life was like back in the 1840s."

1840s Days is set for noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 16-17, at Garfield Farm Museum, 3N106 Garfield Road, Campton Hills. Visit garfieldfarm.org for details.

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