Spring into history

By on June 5, 2019

The white arbor at the entrance to the gardens at the Johannes Mueller House seemed like a gate into the past.

As the Lititz Historical Foundation held its first annual Spring Into History Festival on June 1, a world more than two centuries away came to life in the Mary Oehme Gardens at the Lititz Museum and Mueller House.

There, soap was made by hand from lye and animal fat. Baskets were woven from strips of black ash. Flax was spun into linen thread. Bowls were carved from wooden logs. Flowers and herbs were used to dye fabric in bubbling pots over a fire.

“Things were done a lot differently in the past,” said Gina Yoder, who organized the event on a sunny Saturday on the first day of June. “It’s interesting to see how these methods have been preserved in modern times.”

It was a chance to learn the origin of terms like pot holes, which were the holes left after potters scooped clay out of the dirt road when wagons passed. The clay would be molded and shaped into pots.

Shelby Buckwalter. Photos by Laura Knowles.

The tavern keeper played an important role in early transportation

Military reenactor Tim Kuntz was onsite and discussed how soldiers lived during the Revolution.

Art Reist of Lancaster provided a full-sized Conestoga Wagon for the festival June 1.

Hundreds of visitors learned about early history and craftsmanship during the Lititz Historical Foundation’s Lititz Spring Into History Festival.

Todd Eaby

Rick Brouse shared the story of early transportation, complete with pot holes, as he detailed the use of the early Conestoga wagons that originated in Lancaster County. A reproduction Conestoga wagon was on display with its massive interior that served it carry freight in the 1700s and 1800s.

“A wagon has four wheels, cart has two wheels and a carriage has four wheels. The difference between a wagon and a carriage is that a wagon is for freight and a carriage is for people,” explained Art Reist , as he explained how a single horse could pull the heavy load of wood, barrels, coal and other materials.

Just then an Amish carriage came by, pulled by a single horse. The woman inside smiled as she observed the much larger mode of transportation that has been replaced by the tractor trailer to haul goods.

Not far away, Reist’s son, Andrew, was demonstrating the lost craft of blacksmithing. As a red hot flame created charred wood, Reist fashioned shaped of metal that would have been used to shoe horses or create hinges and locks.

Inside the Johannes Mueller House, Frank Comi explained that blacksmithing was one of the few tasks that colonial homes used beyond what they did for themselves. Most families grew all of their own fruits and vegetables. They raised their own animals and had chickens for eggs. Then even grew their own flax, which would be spun into thread and made into linen fabric.

Weaving thread into linen fabric was another task often left to the skilled weavers. The fabric would then be sewn into pants, shirts, dresses, aprons, and bed linens- thus the term for bed sheets still used today, even though they are mostly made from cotton.

Fabric was dyed by boiling herbs and flowers in pots of water. Lavender would yield a very pale lilac shade, while marigolds would create brighter oranges and yellows, explained Lee Ann Martin, herbalist and gardener for Lititz Historical Foundation.

“Herbs were used to dye fabric, provide medicinal treatments, and add a fresher scent, such as this lavender,” said Martin.

Soap was another way to keep things clean and fresh in the old days. Ironically, cleansing soap was made from some rather unsavory ingredients.

Sue Steffy of Suzanne’s Soaps described the process that was used in soap making, which involved the use of lye from ashes and thick animal fat. Somehow the very dirty ingredients allowed people to clean their clothing and wash themselves, although baths were uncommon.

Nowadays, Steffy and her daughter, Shelby Buckwalter, make old fashioned soap balls, moisturizers, and shaving soaps from more appealing ingredients, like fresh scented herbs like lavender, lemongrass, and mint. The fats are not greasy animal fats, but clean, sweet fats that add moisture to the cleansing process.

“We come up with all sorts of combinations, like poppy seeds and lemongrass. The sangria soap is one of our newest, made with real wine and fruits,” explained Buckwalter.

For Yoder and her volunteers, the sunny Saturday was a breath of fresh air after many story days.

“We’re so happy the weather has held out. We are hoping that this will be the first of many more Spring into History Days for the Lititz Historical Foundation,” said Yoder. “There is so much to see and so much to learn.”

Indeed, children and their parents learned how cornhusks could be crafted into small dolls, thanks to Joyce Snyder. They were able to see how Steve Horst uses clay to make redware pottery and paint it with glazes in red, green or yellow. Horst allowed the youngsters to fashion clay pots of their own.

There was seat caning by Darlene Roehme, natural dyeing and hands-on yarns by Debbie Houck, hand-braiding wool chair pads and rugs by Marsha Campbell, black ash baskets by Laura

Koebnick, 18th century textiles, spinning, hand carved spoons by Tood Eaby, weaving by David Carlson, flax processing by Eric and Kim Weit, bonnet and hat making by milliner Lynnette Miller, tinware by Winfield Harrison, wood turning by Gary Hockenbroch, whitesmithing by Larry Long, tape looming by Sharon Peffer, and more.

There were even cups of mint tea, buttery Moravian sugar cake, whoopie pies, and slices of shoofly pie. JoBoy’s added a more contemporary touch with tacos, nachos, and barbecue.

“It’s just a fun day to see how things were made in the past and get people off their cell phones for a few hours,” said Yoder, smiling as she snapped a photo of fabric dyeing on her own smartphone.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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