Old Time Craft Day at Miamisburg Heritage Village

By Terri Gordon

Photo: Karen Izor woodworks at Old Time Craft Day; photo: Diane Warrick

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Miamisburg was smack dab in the middle of the western frontier. Most indigenous peoples had been removed—though Miami tribes used some of the territory—and Euro-American settlers were coming from the east. But life for the settlers of the new frontier west was not easy. Food had to be grown or hunted, and preserved. Fibers were spun and woven then made into rugs, clothes, and bedding. Tools were forged, and baskets were made. Quilting and tatting, knitting and crocheting were necessary skills.

The Miamisburg Heritage Village showcases the skills of its frontier roots at its ninth annual Old Time Craft Day. The event takes place Oct. 23, and features an assortment of artisan crafters—spinners, weavers, rug hookers, furniture makers, chair caners, quilters, and basket weavers. An herbalist will be on hand to discuss early gardens, and a bow-maker and his assistant will display the role archery played in area history.

Storytellers in full regalia will share the lore of indigenous people, and a Mountain Man will tell tales of fur-trapping and of living off the land.

“He loves to tell stories,” says Judy Wuerstl, coordinator for Heritage Village and Old Time Craft Day, “and has a ‘Possibles Bag’ that he shows people,” explaining that these were like pouches “that carried all the things they would need out in the wilderness—like flint to start a fire.”

Dulcimer players along with a guitar player will perform. Seasonal apple cider will accompany homemade cookies. Special hands-on activities are designed for children. This year, they will make felted snakes from sheep’s wool that has been wetted and rolled into shape, shrinking as it dries. Felting is an old art, important for its durability and fire-resistance, among other things.

Miamisburg itself has a varied past. From paper mills, shipping, and buggy manufacture to WWII weapons parts, the town has endured, adapting to the changes of time and rising to ever-new challenges. As with many early towns, Miamisburg probably owes much of its initial success to its location on the Miami River, where Zachariah Hole built a stockade on the east side of the river in 1797. The stockade became a center of activity for newcomers and for those just passing through. It became known as Hole’s Station, and a small population began to grow around it.

In 1805, the family of Valentine Gebhart came west from Pennsylvania. Valentine died in 1810, leaving his youngest son, Daniel, to take care of the family. Daniel decided to build a tavern. A license for such is recorded as being taken out in 1811, in the name of Catherine Gebhart, Daniel’s mother, as, presumably, Daniel was not yet of age. In early 19th century America, any (and every) local tavern was pivotal to a community’s success. It was a place for food, for drink—and for gossip. It was where mail was distributed and town meetings held. And, at Gebhart’s, travelers brought news from afar (and extra income) as they followed the old “Indian trail” that ran from Cincinnati to the Great Lakes. A testament to its success, Miamisburg was platted and incorporated in 1818, and remains a busy town to this day.

Bobbye Sweny moved from California to Miamisburg as a young bride. She settled easily into small town life, helping her husband run a furniture store and devouring the area’s history. Now 94, she is an active member and past president of the Miamisburg Historical Society. Sweny has helped chronicle Miamisburg’s past—the families, the businesses—and takes its preservation seriously. Old Time Craft Day is her brainchild. She sees it as a way to introduce new generations to Miamisburg’s—and America’s—history, to remind folks where they came from.

“I think, for our own future, we need to remember the past,” Sweny says. “You need to build on the past—the mistakes and the successes. Miamisburg has been through so many things—from agriculture all the way to manufacturing—and we want people to appreciate this history. So, we’ve done everything we can to harbor and record the history of the town, and to teach it. There are many things Miamisburg is known for that are no longer in existence, and we like to keep that memory alive. We want to teach our children to appreciate the community that has kept this for them—the history of it—and make them a part of the future.”

Heritage Village stands on the site of the Gebhart Tavern, which houses the Gebhart Tavern Museum. Also on site is the Jacob Kircher Pioneer Home and a smokehouse from the original Gebhart family farm. Donated by family members, the outbuilding was taken apart brick by brick and reconstructed in Heritage Village. “The family tells me,” Wuerstl says, “the bricks were handmade with the help of friendly Miami Indians who still lived in the area.”

Old Time Craft Day takes place on the second to last Sunday every October in the Heritage Village plaza. The 2016 event takes place Oct. 23 from 2 – 5 p.m. Admission and refreshments are free. Craft skills are showcased and are not for sale, though the museum gift shop will be open for those wishing to make purchases. For more information, please call 937.859.5000 or visit Miamisburg.org/Miamisburg_Historical_Society.htm.


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Terri Gordon
Freelance writer Terri Gordon writes across a range of topics, including nature, health, and homes and gardens. She holds a masters in English and occasionally teaches college composition and literature. Her blog, WordWorks (http://tsgordon.blogspot.com) is a "bulletin board" of some of her favorite things.

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