|Thatched roof barn at Old World Wisconsin|
Since I was a child I have loved visiting places of history. There was one in particular, a place my mother took us occasionally, that I loved. The Kerbyville Museum in Kerby, Oregon. It was located on a rural highway not more than 20 minutes from our home. I loved visiting this quaint spot. A house museum, adjacent history center and outside grounds speckled with tools and equipment, perhaps some of them we could touch and climb on. I was happy to discover upon writing this piece that this museum is still in operation, while another of my favorites was shuttered within the past eight years due to lack of funding.
|Photograph Kerbyville Museum Facebook page|
As a child there was a little bit of magic at the Kerbyville Museum, it was a place that made me feel as though I was somewhere else, and it spurred my imagination. Always I remember a lady showing us around and it seemed as though we were often the only ones there. I have to admit as someone who now works in the small museum industry, sparse visitation is never desirable; but as a child I loved it when we were the only ones; as if I had this land all to myself, imagination unbroken by the intrusion of other souls, representing the outside world.
|Entrance drive at Old Word Wisconsin|
The desire to engage with places of history has always stayed with me it is a passion and now a part of my profession. Historic places still engage my senses and imagination. As an adult visitor I love even more the experience of a historic place. And now as a parent I have the glorious opportunity to tour my children around the grounds of places that stood long before us. I think, at not yet five, my daughter is still too young to fully grasp the concept of history. But the idea that something is different and has existed for a long time, seems to have some resonance.
It is not my intention at this stage to provide history lessons to my children by taking them to these places, but to give them the experience of place; that I believe was also my mother's intention.
Here in rural parts of the Midwest, that experience often includes the vast landscape, nature at their fingertips.
This past weekend we visited a place quite steeped in both history and landscape. Old World Wisconsin located in Eagle, Wisconsin is a vast acreage, home to more than 60 structures relocated from around the state of Wisconsin. It opened in 1976. The academic in me first winced at the thought of so many buildings being relocated. But upon visiting, I was fully enveloped by this gem.
The grounds are sprawling, dotted with buildings reestablished in farmsteads, and villages; there are working animals and growing crops. Gardens that produce vegetables to be used in workshops and cooking demonstrations. Interpreters, bake, sew, build fences, shave shingles, play games in addition to a host of other period appropriate activities.
And amongst it all visitors are welcomed to roam the roads and farms, and help themselves in and out of houses, churches, barns, hotels and city halls. There is posted information, but if you don't look you will almost miss it; this place seems to offer only what you are seeking.
Old World Wisconsin is an entirely immersive experience. It equaled in me the experience of my youth; of feeling fully enveloped in a place. And although there were other people there, this time it did not seem to matter, we all moved about at our own pace, it seems, the space around us conforming to those movements, nothing was obtrusive.
It is this kind of experience that I still relish and I relish bringing my children to. It is a place of discovery and learning, but also a place of reflection.