Garfield Farm Museum visitors take a step back in time

By on June 19, 2011

Photo: Joseph Coleman demonstrates his blacksmith skills during 1840’s Days at Garfield Farm. A photo gallery is located below. Photo by John DiDonna

by Susan O’Neill
CAMPTON HILLS—St. Charles residents Pat Wiedenman and Dona and Rebekah Eggar discovered the meaning of “sleep tight” on a tour of the 1840’s Garfield Farm Tavern and Inn last weekend. Garfield Heritage Society president and tour guide Sue Morton Lloyd pulled back the straw-filled mattress on a bed in the guest bedroom upstairs to reveal the sagging rope foundation. Using a special wooden tool called a rope bed key, Lloyd demonstrated how the ropes could be tightened to make the bed more sturdy and comfortable.

The bedroom, where the higher-paying customers would have spent the night, could sleep more than a dozen in close quarters. It offered no privacy, and people would often sleep not only in the same room, but in the same bed with fellow travelers and strangers.

Wiedenman and her daughter and granddaughter represented three generations of women who had come together to Garfield Farm for its 1840’s Days event.

“When you see it hands on, it brings it to light what people went through to establish our country,” Dona Eggar said.

Timothy and Harriet Garfield and their eight surviving children had come to this area in the 1840s by wagon from Pennsylvania to settle the 440-acre farm in what is now known as Campton Hills. Trained as a brick maker in Pennsylvania, Garfield made the 80,000 bricks that were used to build the tavern and inn.

“It gives you a sense of heritage and an appreciation for the entire United States and the people who went before you,” Wiedenman said. “How industrious this couple was. These are good role models for us and future generations.”

The inn, originally built by Garfield in 1846, includes a kitchen, a ladies parlor, a taproom or tavern, a ballroom and a customers’ bedroom. One of 41 inns between this area and Chicago at the time, the inn served as a stopping place for farmers making the three-day trip to Chicago with their grain.

The guests would be offered a meal, drinks and a place to spend the night, but the opportunity to meet with fellow farmers to share information about the current price of grain and other news was the most valuable commodity they received.

The 374-acre Garfield Farm Museum today is a historically intact prairie homestead and inn that serves as a living history of farm life as it was in the 1840’s. The Museum’s 1840’s Days, held on Saturday and Sunday, featured guided tours and period demonstrations by historical interpreters dressed in the costume of the day.

In addition to the tour of the inn, the two-day event offered visitors the opportunity to walk through the museum’s historic barns, including the oldest one built in 1842, and an 1849 horse barn, originally built for the horses belonging to customers staying at the inn.

“These 1840’s barns are all the original buildings. That’s what sets Garfield Farm apart,” Garfield volunteer Chuck Bauer said.

Bauer’s job for the weekend was to demonstrate for visitors how the farm’s two working oxen might have been used to plow the fields during Timothy Garfield’s day. The two oxen, 1,200-pound Duke and 1,600-pound Doc, are Devons, a breed that most likely had come from Devonshire, England, he said.

Despite their size, Duke and Doc are quite tame and friendly, having been handled and trained since their arrival at the farm more than eight years ago. Hitched together with a yoke, they walked forward, turned and backed up in response to Bauer’s verbal commands.

John and Judy Bierman, a couple from Elgin attending the event, said they enjoyed learning about the background of all the animals used on farms during the 1840’s. The farm is home to rare heritage breeds of chickens and turkeys, sheep and hogs, as well as the oxen.

The Biermans were also excited to be able to poke around the old barns on the property. Both of John’s grandparents had farms during the same time period in Schaumburg Township, and his father had been in the farm implement business.

“The barns are full of implements,” John said.

In addition to the building tours and the animals, a number of historical interpreters, dressed in the clothing of the period, demonstrated various aspects of what life would have been like in the mid-19th century.

Joseph Coleman, the resident blacksmith, stoked a coal fire of up to several thousand degrees as he demonstrated his craft. Coleman explained that, while his blacksmithing skills would have been in great demand in his day, typically he would not be paid in money for his services.

For example, a butcher in need of knives and cleavers would likely not have the skills needed to make his tools. The butcher and the blacksmith would work out a barter, through which the butcher would obtain his tools and the blacksmith would find his shed fully stocked with meat for the winter.

Dundee resident Peggy Hernandez and her friend Jenny Barber from Carpentersville watched Coleman with interest as he formed a tent post from a stick of iron. The two friends had each brought their two children with them.

“We’ve been teasing the kids about the hard work they’d be doing (if they had lived in the 1840’s),” Hernandez said. “There would be no need to go to the gym to work out.”

The answer to the question, “What child could resist digging in the dirt?” was the archaeological dig currently underway near the site of the original log cabin built in 1836. The dig provided a hands-on opportunity for adults and children alike to sift the uncovered earth through a screen in the hopes of finding an artifact.

“I found a piece of china,” 5-year-old Miles Gaber said.

Miles’ mom, St. Charles resident Julie Gaber, had brought him and his sister and their friend to the farm for the afternoon.

“It’s neat for the kids to get an idea of what archaeology is all about,” Julie said.

Miles, his sister Maddy and their friend Joey Serewicz, also had a chance to learn from homestead interpreters Gail and Joe Klein how to play some old-fashioned children’s games.

The toys and games from that era were typically made with items found around the homestead, Gail said. One such game included darts made with turkey feathers stuck into corn cobs that would be thrown through a wagon hoop held by another child.

“It’s a far cry from video games,” Gail said with a laugh.

Elburn resident Steve Thiel said he considers himself an armchair historian. He said he and his wife Jennifer have been to Garfield Farm multiple times.

“It’s nice to have something historical right here in the area,” Jennifer said.

Their 4-year old daughter had her own favorite of the day.

“I like the pigs,” Alexandra said.

Photos by John DiDonna