AURORA, Ind. — A rainy morning greeted volunteers at the Hillforest Victorian Museum in Aurora, Indiana, on the day of the museum’s celebration of Indiana’s bicentennial.
“Pioneer Day” was a free event from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. May 14 at the recently restored Harris Cabin.
Docents, local Boy Scouts and high school students were there to set up tables and tents, and help the 14 crafters unload and set up their stations. Several students from South Dearborn High School crafted their own pioneer clothing and greeted visitors.
It was a community effort, and both the event and the restoration of the almost 200-year-old cabin were part of the Indiana Bicentennial Legacy project. They were made possible by a grant from the Dearborn Community Foundation’s Sprint Education Excellence Grant Program, according to Hillforest’s website.
“Pioneer Day” allowed children and interested community members to experience life in the early 1800s.
According to a flier about the event, “We want to bring to life the history of Aurora and provide a dramatic connection between pioneer existence and the opulence of industrial success that flourished here.”
Several booths showcased pioneer activities like log hewing, goat farming and chair caning. Others demonstrated arts like blacksmithing, wool spinning, quilting, pottery, dulcimer music, hair weaving and fraktur, a type of calligraphy.
Another allowed children to play with toy boats in a small pool, to show how pioneers used to travel up and down the Ohio River by flatboat. The Ohio played a large role in the economy of the region, and still does, said Suzanne Ullrich, the docent and volunteer coordinator at Hillforest.
The event was meant to teach what it was like to live in early Indiana, and was largely organized by John Blasdel, a retired teacher and docent at Hillforest.
“(Blasdel was) the chairman and brains behind ‘Pioneer Day,’” Ullrich said.
It was part of this year’s state-wide celebrations of the anniversary and took years to organize, Blasdel said.
“Lots of planning has gone into this event,” he said. “(It’s) two years in the making.”
He spoke of how the idea came about two years earlier, when the Hillforest education committee was looking for ways to celebrate the state’s bicentennial.
“The Hillforest education committee has always tried to promote Hillforest and its educational opportunities for our area youth,” Blasdel said.
He said the committee got the idea from a similar event put on by the Aurora Public Library in 1994 to celebrate Aurora’s 175th birthday. He was involved in the original event, on a committee of teachers, librarians and local historians.
“We felt that we could expand on that smaller celebration, while showing off Hillforest’s Harris Cabin,” Blasdel said.
Harris Cabin was built in 1823 by Samuel Harris, a clergyman in the Church of England, who immigrated to the area from Leeds, England, in the early 1800s. He settled in Aurora and bought the land, quickly building the cabin for protection in the winter months, according to Hillforest’s website.
The house and surrounding land was donated to the Hillforest Historical Foundation in 2007, and restoration was completed early this year. The cabin is believed to be one of the oldest that remains in the state of Indiana.
“The long term goal of restoring Harris Cabin is to create a hands-on educational program to share the early Aurora history,” Blasdel said.
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