21st century kids step into 19th century

By danny restivo



It’s hard for many young people to imagine what life would look like with no phones, television, electricity or running water.

Some city students had a glimpse of that life during a visit this week to the historic Barnhisel House and Museum on North State Street.

“This really brings the lesson alive for them,” said Wendy DiBernardi, a fourth-grade Ohio History teacher at Girard Intermediate School. DiBernardi said her students learn about Ohio history in the curriculum, but they don’t get much time to learn about their local history. More than 70 fourth-grade students from the school watched as local historical society members re-enacted early 19th century life.

The field trip allowed them to watch as blacksmiths in pioneer clothing heated metal in hot coals until it was bright orange. They saw as the metal was then pounded into its desired shape without power tools.

“I think I liked the blacksmiths the best because it’s pretty cool how they heated up the metal before bending it into different shapes,” said fourth-grader Ellie Maurice. She and her classmates also saw various weapons, including a cannon, and learned how it served the Mahoning Valley settlers.

The group also ventured inside the house and learned how cooking, cleaning and washing was done without modern technology or running water. Students then saw how settlers bathed and used chamber pots as toilets. Although Ellie enjoyed watching the blacksmith at work, she made it clear that she prefers today’s amenities.

“I could never live like this,” she said.

The fourth-graders also learned about the 10-room mansion that was built by Henry Barnhisel in 1840. The house was said to be a stagecoach stop for weary travelers, as well as a possible stop on the Underground Railroad. The house was sold to Joseph W. Smith at the turn of the century, before he patented a process for leather preparation and started the Ohio Leather Co. in Girard.

“A lot of these kids don’t know about this stuff,” said Roberta Lorentz, Girard Historical Society president. “This stuff isn’t really being taught in schools.

Along with the Girard students, Lorentz said the society gave tours and lessons to St. Rose Elementary School and Liberty Middle School students this week.

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