Students travel back in time at Barnhisel House



For once, kids were excited to do chores.

Local students had the opportunity to experience life in the 1840s while touring the historic Barnhisel home this week.

Students learned about daily routines of the 19th century and eagerly volunteered to wash clothes by hand and gather firewood.

Roberta Lawrentz, president of the Girard Historical Society, drew on her experience as a former Girard High School math teacher and engaged students with hands-on activities.

“Students respond well when there’s a tactile element and when they can really participate,” she explained, while dressed in a floor-length dress similar to something that Mrs. Susan Barnhisel might have worn.

Among other activities, students played 19th-century games, such as dropping a clothespin into a jar, and toured an herb garden.

The Barnhisel House, 1011 North St., serves as the historical society’s headquarters.

The home’s storied history began when Henry Barnhisel acquired 318 acres of the Connecticut Western Reserve and built a farm home on that property sometime near 1843.

According to legend, there were once secret tunnels under the home because the Barnhisels operated a stop on the Underground Railroad, which was used to help slaves escape from the South.

Local historians, however, have not yet been able to find evidence to support that claim, said Sue Ellen Harris-Davis, a society member.

At the turn of the century, Joseph W. Smith gained ownership of the home. Smith made his fortune after patenting leather-making techniques and founding the Ohio Leather Co.. His descendents owned the home for decades.

Eventually, the historical society gained the property and got to work restoring the home to its former 19th-century glory. The home reopened as a museum in 2003.

Girard fourth-graders toured the home Monday and Tuesday; Liberty fourth-graders visited the home Wednesday; and St. Rose School fourth- and fifth-graders will visit Friday.

On Wednesday, Liberty students stood on their toes to peer at Civil War artifacts, including badges, regional money and prayer books for the Union and Confederate armies.

Many of the artifacts, which included originals and reproductions, belonged to the personal collection of Ralph Chuey, a Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant enthusiast, who dressed as a Union soldier for the school tour. Grant, born in Ohio, ended up as our nation’s 18th president.

The Barnhisel House Museum is open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. May to December on the second and fourth Sundays of the month.

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