Travel: At living-history farm, residents toil a la 19th-century artisans
ARCHBOLD, Ohio — They don’t make ‘em like they used to.
Except at Sauder Village.
Visitors to Ohio’s largest living-history farm and village can watch as talented artisans produce the household necessities and luxuries of yesteryear using old-fashioned tools, craftsmanship and creativity.
They’ll also learn how the earliest settlers turned the Great Black Swamp, one of the largest swamps in North America, into the fertile fields and bustling towns of northwestern Ohio.
Sauder Village was founded in 1976 by Erie Sauder (rhymes with “chowder”), whose Archbold-based Sauder Woodworking Co. became one of the largest ready-to-assemble furniture companies in the world.
Sauder grew up in the area, and the workshop where he began his company at age 16 now has a place of honor on the village green, along with a picturesque collection of other historic and reproduction shops and buildings moved to the site.
Many of the buildings house workshops for the village’s resident artisans. Basket makers, tinsmiths, coopers, broom makers and weavers craft beautiful goods that can be purchased at reasonable prices.
Visitors will also find a blacksmith, potter and glassblower demonstrating their venerable trades and selling their beautiful and highly collectible wares. And even if you’re not buying anything, watching artisans working at glowing, coal-stoked forges and hand-operated looms is a rare treat.
Sauder Village also offers several more “modern” shops: A quilt and fabric shop, a chocolates and coffees shop, and a woodworking shop where toys and other items with a traditional flavor are made for sale using modern methods.
With all the great shopping, visitors can be forgiven if they forget they’re probably learning something, too.
At the village’s grist mill, I learned that by the 1860s, every county in Ohio had at least two grist mills, an important component of the agricultural economy of the late 19th century. My 12-year-old twins were fascinated by the mechanical workings of the water-powered mill, which produces cornmeal for sale to visitors.
They were perhaps more interested, however, in the village’s old-fashioned ice-cream parlor and hand-scooped ice cream.
The village is located on what was once the Grime Homestead, whose original 1920s farmhouse has been restored and decorated with period pieces and is open for self-guided tours.
Farm demonstrations are given at the original timber-framed barn — a real beauty and an archetype of Midwestern farm architecture and craftsmanship. Young visitors might even get a chance to milk a goat or slop a pig.
In another section of the village, an early pioneer settlement has been re-created.
Visitors will find a covered wagon and crude log shelter, similar to those used by the Lauber Party, settlers who left Europe and arrived in the area in 1834.
The pioneer settlement progresses through time, next offering the original 1850s cabin of area settlers Jacob and Barbara Eicher and a re-creation of the 1870s Stuckey Farm.
Also part of the pioneer settlement is an 1840s-style one-room log schoolhouse, where my kids volunteered to “toe the line” for a (good-natured) grilling by the costumed “teacher.”
Holdeman Church is an original Mennonite church relocated from the town of Pettisville; there, visitors can board a horse-drawn buggy ride.
The village’s large, modern museum has exhibits about local history, the agriculture industry, the Great Black Swamp, early explorers and the Native Americans who first lived in the area. There’s also a large exhibit devoted to Sauder and the company he founded — a rags-to-riches tale of a man who loved his community and who left behind a legacy of historic preservation.
The large Sauder visitor complex now extends well beyond the historic village and includes the Barn Restaurant (in a historic barn moved to the property), Doughbox Bakery and an outlet store selling Sauder woodworks products.
Exploring Sauder Village can take an entire day, or longer. Travelers who want to spend the night can stay at the village campground or at Sauder Heritage Inn.
The modern inn, built in 1994 and expanded in 2006, has 98 guest rooms, an indoor pool with a waterfall, beautifully landscaped grounds and a pretty fire dancing in the lobby’s stone fireplace.
The inn’s massive two-story, timber-framed lobby is like a work of art itself.
The soaring and graceful post-and-beam construction represents a modern version of the village’s historic Grime barn — another example of Sauder making ‘em like they used to.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveStephens.