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posted: 5/12/2013 6:00 AM

Suburban locales capture life from bygone era

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  • Museum educator Justin Stech demonstrates the art of blacksmithing at Naper Settlement in Naperville.

      Museum educator Justin Stech demonstrates the art of blacksmithing at Naper Settlement in Naperville.
    Courtesy of Naper Settlement

  • Sarah Vlakancic, a worker at Blackberry Farm, stirs a pot of corn on the farm.

      Sarah Vlakancic, a worker at Blackberry Farm, stirs a pot of corn on the farm.
    Courtesy of Blackberry Farm

  • Former board member and current volunteer Steve Jervey keeps an eye on Garfield Farm's resident oxen.

      Former board member and current volunteer Steve Jervey keeps an eye on Garfield Farm's resident oxen.
    Courtesy of Garfield Farm

  • Dressed in the clothing of the day, Linda Saxer, former director and now volunteer, cooks a chicken in Durant House's reflector oven, which worked by capturing radiant heat from the fire and reflecting it toward the food.

      Dressed in the clothing of the day, Linda Saxer, former director and now volunteer, cooks a chicken in Durant House's reflector oven, which worked by capturing radiant heat from the fire and reflecting it toward the food.
    Courtesy of Durant House

  • Volunteer and museum board member Virginia Reisner demonstrates weaving on Graue Mill's 100-year-old weaving loom. The rugs, towels and placements that weavers create on this loom are sold in the museum's gift shop.

      Volunteer and museum board member Virginia Reisner demonstrates weaving on Graue Mill's 100-year-old weaving loom. The rugs, towels and placements that weavers create on this loom are sold in the museum's gift shop.
    Courtesy of Graue Mill

  • Volunteer Jim Dohren shows how the wash was done during one of Kline Creek's Farm chores programs.

      Volunteer Jim Dohren shows how the wash was done during one of Kline Creek's Farm chores programs.
    Courtesy of Kline Creek Farm

 
By Hilary Shenfeld

All right, we admit right off the bat that you are not going to find the latest video games, cellphone apps or videos of Justin Bieber on these outings, but maybe that's a nice change of pace for everyone in the family. For a chance to unplug, breathe in some fresh air and get a hands-on sense of life in bygone years, check out the offerings at suburban locales specializing in living history.

These places bring the past to life by letting visitors step back in time and immerse themselves in the sights, sounds and smells of the past.

With summer on the horizon, it's a great chance to connect with history and learn -- oops, don't use that word -- let's just say "get jiggy with" (except don't say that, we beg you) a whole span of people and their lifestyle. All that, without cracking open one dusty book.

Naper Settlement

523 S. Webster St., Naperville, (630) 420-6010 or www.napersettlement.org

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday from April through October

Admission: Free for Naperville residents; others: $8-$12

This outdoor museum situated on 12 acres takes a look at the history of Naperville and similar Midwest communities from pioneer times to today. Costumed educators inside 30 historic homes, shops and businesses interpret what life was like in 1831, the year Naperville was founded, until the early 1900s.

One favorite stop is the blacksmith shop, a working business where a blacksmith turns iron into useful household items such as hooks that were used to dry clothing or herbs and flowers. The technique is decidedly old-school: the smith takes a chunk of cold iron and places it into a roaring fire before bending it into position.

"It was the hardware store of the 19th century," says Donna DeFalco, settlement spokeswoman. "If you needed a wheel repaired, horseshoe, ladle or plow repaired, the blacksmith was the one you would go to."

Other buildings include a log cabin, a one-room schoolhouse, a military fort, a Conestoga wagon, a firehouse, a post office, a chapel and a Victorian-era home, the Martin Mitchell Mansion, the only building in the city listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kline Creek Farm

1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago, (630) 876-5900 or www.dupageforest.com/Education/Education_Centers/Kline_Creek_Farm.aspx

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday

Admission: Free

No dishwashers! No washing machines! No microwaves! Life on a DuPage County Farm in the 1890s didn't have such luxuries, but homeowners still had to keep the farm running and that meant baking from scratch, canning fruits and vegetables, planting, harvesting, quilting, cleaning, sheep shearing and ice cutting.

Louisa and John Kline, a former soldier in the War of 1812, and their seven children lived on the farm in the 1830s. Today visitors to Kline Creek Farm can traipse through restored farmstead structures and meet costumed interpreters who use the tools and techniques of the past to plant heirloom fruits and vegetables in the kitchen garden, tend to the orchard, make ropes, do the wash, work in the wagon shed and cure sausages in the smokehouse.

"One of our biggest goals is to get people involved," says Keith Clow, site manager. "You would be amazed how much fun kids have spreading manure."

Producing that manure are the many animals on the farm, including Percheron workhorses, which were used to help plant and harvest crops like corn, oats and other small grains; a bevy of Southdown sheep, Shorthorn and Angus cattle, and chickens in the farm's coop, barn and pastures; and honeybees in the farm's apiary who did their part by making honey and pollinating crops.

Graue Mill and Museum

3800 York Road, Oak Brook, (630) 655-2090 or www.grauemill.org/

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Admission: Adults $4.50, seniors $4, children 4-12 $2, children 3 and younger admitted free

Industry and a piece of slave history are both represented on the Graue Mill grounds. In the Chicago area, the mill is the only operating waterwheel gristmill, a machine that operated through the force of water turning gears to grind wheat, corn and other grain that was produced by local farmers. The museum offers programs that take a look at milling, spinning and weaving as well as artifacts used by locals between 1850 and 1890.

"You come in and you don't just look at the buhrstones, you see them actually grinding cornmeal every day," said Leslie Goddard, museum director.

Costumed interpreters also use a spinning wheel and loom, both 100 years old, to make yarn and weave cloth as they would have in the mid-19th century. "You see people using these great pieces of pioneer technology," she said.

Graue Mill also was said to be a stop on the Underground Railroad. The mill's owner, a German immigrant named Frederick Graue, hid runaway slaves in the basement on their path to freedom in Canada. That part of its history makes up an exhibit that includes photos, documents and displays to illustrate the plight of slaves. Included in the collection are artifacts such as metal tags worn around the neck by slaves in South Carolina, a pair of shackles used either as punishment or to bring slaves to auctions and some slave auction posters.

"You can really learn a lot about the Underground Railroad here," Goddard said.

Blackberry Farm

100 S. Barnes Road, Aurora, (630) 892-1550 or www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. holidays

Admission: Adult residents $5, nonresidents $8; seniors and child residents $4.50, nonresidents $7; children younger than 2 admitted free

Visitors can watch demonstrations of blacksmithing, spinning, weaving, sewing and pottery, as well as visit a one-room schoolhouse, an Aurora home from the 1840s and a farm cabin. In each area, demonstrators depict activities and life of the bygone era.

"We bring the history alive to kids," says Sandy Smith, facility supervisor. "They're amazed to think back in time."

Kids also can ride a restored miniature train on a visit to a pioneer cabin, take an old-fashioned hay wagon ride, ride a carousel, take a tractor ride, visit animals and enjoy a paddleboat.

Garfield Farm and Inn Museum

Garfield Road just north of Illinois Route 38 between Geneva and Elburn in the village of Campton Hills, (630) 584-8485 or www.garfieldfarm.org/

Hours: 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday from June through September; all other times by appointment

Admission: $2-$3

In the 1840s, Garfield Farm was a prairie farmstead and inn for teamsters, the people who drove wagons of wheat to Chicago. The farm was owned by Timothy Garfield, a schoolteacher, brickmaker and surveyor, who lived there with his wife, Harriet, four sons and four daughters. Nowadays, visitors can check out the grounds, situated on 374 acres and see the inn's barroom; the second-floor, L-shaped dorm space that also served as a ballroom on occasion; the kitchen's working butter churn and more.

Also on-site are historic animal breeds such as Milking Devon oxen, Merino sheep and Java chickens along with a well, an heirloom vegetable garden with vegetables common in the mid-19th century, such as Yellow Pear tomatoes, Vermont Cranberry, Soldier and Jacob Cattle beans and rare 1840 potato varieties, such as the Cupper and Lumper, both of which were pre-potato blight, said Jerome Johnson, executive director of the museum.

"Farms are not just where your food comes from," Johnson said of the appeal of visiting the museum. "People left Europe because people could not own land there. … Our tradition of democracy derived from a landowning, farming community. You begin to see how Jefferson and Washington envisioned the future of America."

Farm goers also can attend seminars on such topics as the management of prairie, woodlands and wetlands as well as fruit tree grafting. The farm also offers special shows, such as rare breed livestock, heirloom garden products and seeds, and collections of antique farm tools. Prairie walks are conducted monthly.

Durant House Museum and Pioneer Sholes School

LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, 37W370 Dean St., St. Charles, (630) 377-6424 or www.ppfv.org/durant.htm

Pioneer Sholes: (630) 762-9746 or www.pioneersholesschool.org/

Hours: 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday and Sunday during the summer

Admission: $1-$2

The Durant prairie farmhouse was built in 1843 by newlyweds Bryant Durant and Jerusha Shurtleff and is now referred to as Kane County's "Little House on the Prairie." Visitors can find out about a typical prairie family's day, including chores like preparing meals with such kitchen tools as a spider pan, a cast-iron skillet with long "legs" so hot embers could be placed underneath, or running the spinning wheel, which the family used to make yarn from wool they had sheared from the sheep. Volunteers wearing period dress are on hand for demonstrations and to answer questions.

"When you enter the house, you take a step back in time," said Alice Maupin, Durant House director. "The house is furnished, we can show the things there and you really get a feel for what life was life back then and how hard they worked."

Also on the grounds is Pioneer Sholes School, which dates back to at least 1872 and is an example of a typical one-room country school of the era, which at one time served students aged 5 through teenagers. Visitors may experience a sample lesson; play games of the era such as cat and mouse, an early version of tug of war; or get some school marm discipline in the form of having to wear a dunce cap.

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