Tag Archives: living history

Old World Wisconsin

If you’ve been following my blogs for any length of time, you’ll probably have noticed that I not only love history, I happily visit it—traveling to places that combine historic buildings with costumed interpreters who demonstrate what life was like in the past. I’ve posted on Michigan’s amazing Greenfield Village on my The World’s Fare blog, about Sovereign Hill on my Waltzing Australia blog, and on this blog, I’ve offered multiple posts on both Iowa’s Living History Farms and Chicagoland’s Kline Creek Farm. Now it’s time to look north, to delightful Old World Wisconsin (OWW).

Like most of the Midwest, Wisconsin’s history stretches back into the days of voyageurs, fur trappers, and explorers, but with serious settlement starting in the early 1800s, after the United States had come into existence. Wisconsin was heavily enough settled by 1848 to obtain statehood. As with most of the Midwest, settlers came in waves, first from New England and then from overseas, especially Germany and Scandinavia. This varied settlement was reflected in everything from the cuisine to the architecture.

As the state grew, rather than destroying log cabins or leveling antique towns, researchers began documenting the old buildings—and then bringing them here. So when you go to Old World Wisconsin, you don’t learn a general history of what a typical Dane or Yankee might have been like; they can tell you exactly who owned the home, where they were from, and what their lives were like.

Iron Stoves cooked food and heated homes.

Iron Stoves cooked food and heated homes.

In some cases, the original furnishings have been preserved. As would have been the case with early settlement, so too at OWW, buildings are clustered by nationality of original owners. You can visit settlements of Poles, Germans, Finns, Danes, Norwegians, and Yankees (New Englanders).

Even the bathtub was kept in the kitchen pantry, as water would be heated on the stove.

Even the bathtub (back right corner) was kept in the kitchen pantry, as water would be heated on the stove.

In addition, there are fields and farms where you can watch traditional types of farming or see early breeds of livestock. Aside from farming, exhibitions range from early forms of baseball to classes in a one-room schoolhouse, from cooking to a working blacksmith shop, and much more.

New England's influence is seen in the 1880s village. The red building is the blacksmith shop.

New England’s influence is seen in the 1880s village. The red building is the blacksmith shop.

Old World Wisconsin is not merely historic, it’s also beautiful, nestled amid forests and dotted with ponds. Even as I type this, I’m planning a return trip. OWW id located in Eagle, WI, west of Milwaukee. For more information, from directions to scheduled events, you can visit their website: http://oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org/

OWW-Cabin

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Filed under Agriculture, Culture, Farming, History, Midwest, Travel

Kline Creek Farm, Part 3

I visited the barn and all the work sheds and out buildings, but I spent the most time in the old farmhouse. Here, a delightfully entertaining docent (Wayne, a former forest ranger) regaled me with stories of life on an 1890 farm.

By 1890, kitchens were fairly modern, at least compared to 50 years earlier. Stoves (vs. open fire places) were available, and iceboxes offered at least some ability to keep things cool and preserved. A pump at the sink brought in rainwater from a cistern, so no hauling water from a well.

In the first photo, you can see not only the “new” wood-burning stove, but also, on the wall nearby, the bathtub. Kitchens would be the only rooms with running water and, during the winter, the only ones that were warm. In the second photo, some kitchen essentials, including a butter tub and coffee grinder (in a style still available) sit atop the icebox.

KlineCr-Kitchen-with-stove

KlineCr-Kitchen-misc

A nice kitchen was important, because the kind of work done on a farm called for lots of meal preparation. People consumed upwards of 6,000 calories a day (though a large man might consume 10,000 or more), so five meals a day were the norm. A big breakfast was served at 6:00 or 6:30. Around 9:30 or 10:00, there would be a break for a light meal (cornbread was a popular choice). Dinner was served at noon. This was the main meal of the day. Another break, or “lunch,” came at around 3:00 pm, and the final meal would be supper, around 6:00 pm or after the sunset. (I did a little post-visit research on the word “lunch,” and learned that it is shortened from “luncheon,” which in the 1600s came to mean “light repast between meals,” and earlier meant “a large piece of food” or “thick piece, hunk”—I’m guessing of bread, since that was a common element of a meal for those handling ploughs, and even today, a “ploughman’s lunch” in England will get you a hunk of cheese and thick piece of bread, along with a bit of salad and pickle, in almost any pub in the country.)

Popcorn might be served with cream and sugar for breakfast. Wayne assured me that this was an awesome way to consume popcorn. He also related that popped corn was sometimes crushed with a rolling pin, with the white flakes being picked out and mixed with homemade marshmallow, in what would have been roughly the equivalent of Rice Krispie Treats.

The big meals were taken in the dining room. In the winter, families that had servants might have the servants stand in the dining room, to add a bit more body heat.

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