Students experience 19th-century life at historic Girard house

Students study 19th-century life at

By Sarah Lehr


After experiencing a taste of what life was like in the 1800s, 10-year-old Jackson Strain, a Prospect Elementary School student, is unequivocally thankful for 21st-century conveniences.

Jackson joined about 60 fourth-grade classmates Tuesday for a tour of the historic Barnhisel House, 1011 N. State St.

Students from E.J. Blott Elementary School in Liberty and St. Rose Catholic School in Girard also are visiting the house this week.

Members of the Girard Historical Society dressed in period costumes and organized interactive stations, which included opportunities to complete 19th-century chores.

The children eagerly volunteered to wash clothes by hand and gather firewood.

“It’s better now,” Jackson said. “They didn’t have cars or electricity. They had to grow everything instead of going to the grocery store.”

Jackson and his peers gathered around a real bellows as historical society member Ray O’Neill melted iron to make hooks.

O’Neill, a historical society member, inherited many of his tools from his great-grandfather, who was a blacksmith.

Another volunteer, Frank Young, showed students weapons such as those that would have been used in the Civil War. He explained that soldiers often were so hungry that they boiled leather from boots for food.

Sue Ellen Davis, another historical society member, said the hands-on nature of the activities made facts more memorable and helped students imagine a vastly different time.

“Back then, school was a coveted privilege,” Davis said of the 19th century. “You were lucky if you could stay in school until the sixth or eighth grade and didn’t have to help your family on the farm.”

The historical society opened the Barnhisel House as a museum in 2003 after restoring the home to an approximation of what it would have been like in the 1840s.

Henry Barnhisel purchased 318 acres of the Conneticut Western Reserve circa 1843 and built what was then considered a mansion on the property. Barnhisel and his wife, Susan, raised six children at the home.

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