Sauder Village near Archbold, Ohio is a beehive of activity as craftspeople welcome visitors to their workshops, farmers tend to their fields, while villagers worship and go to school as nearly 100,000 people visit this living history site each year in northwestern Ohio.
Things weren't always so lively in this corner of northwestern Ohio, though.
Few people dared to travel to, or settle in, this area during the early 1800s as Ohio began developing as a state.
The so-called Great Black Swamp covered a 1,500-square-mile area in the state's northwestern corner and the northeastern corner of what would become Indiana. Native Americans forced into the swamp by westward expansion kept their settlements on the edges of the swamp, even as the area proved to be a fertile hunting ground.
The first European settlers to venture into the area were Mennonite immigrants who arrived in 1834 seeking freedom from religious persecution and affordable property.
The Mennonites set to the hard work of draining the swamp so they could farm it. Within 10 years, they drained much of the swamp, and the area became some of Ohio's best farmland by the end of the nineteenth century.
Woodworker Erie Sauder descended from those early settlers, and historic Sauder Village was his way of honoring their hard work and sharing his heritage with younger generations.
One of the first buildings visitors see when entering the recreated historic village is the small woodshop from the Sauder family farm where young Erie, born at Archbold in 1904, began following in his grandfather's footsteps to become a woodworker.
Sauder started his own business in 1934, making chicken coops, cabinets and other items needed by local farmers. His company grew from being a small home business, becoming the largest ready-to-assemble furniture company in the country and continuing today under the leadership of a third generation of Sauders.
The idea for Sauder Village came when Erie Sauder began giving tours of his furniture factory.
Sauder embraced new techniques and technology as his furniture company grew, but he worried that future generations might not appreciate the effort, artistry and entrepreneurship of their own ancestors that made today's successes possible.
Sauder bought 15 acres for his re-created village in 1969, opening Sauder Village to the public in 1976 as a living history site with several dozen buildings and other structures from the area to create a nineteenth-century style village.
Erie Sauder died in 1997, but his legacy lives on at Sauder Village, which is an 80-acre non-profit site and Ohio's largest living history destination.
One of my favorite sections of the village is at the entrance where two concentric circles of workshops and stores circle an open courtyard. Knowledgeable guides greeted us at each stop to explain and demonstrate crafts like basket making (I bought one of those baskets as a birthday present for my mom), broom making, glass blowing, pottery, blacksmithing, woodworking and printing.
Erie Sauder insisted on having costumed guides welcome visitors at each stop, rather than making visitors listen to recorded explanations or tour buildings with static displays of artifacts.
Sauder Village visitors can also move through a living timeline through Ohio's history. The "Natives and Newcomers" area evokes Ohio's earliest days and on through the 1830s. The "Pioneer Settlement" illustrates the beginning of European settlement in the 1830s and follows though into the last decade of the nineteenth century. Plans call for developing another section of the timeline to move from the very late nineteenth century and into the twentieth century.
The "Little Pioneers Homestead" features pint-sized buildings designed with Sauder Village's youngest visitors in mind.
If it's raining or particularly hot when you visit the village, you can pop into the air-conditioned museum building to check out Erie Sauder's eclectic collection of artifacts that includes everything from cars to commodes, and everything else in between.
The museum building also houses a 3000-square-foot quilt store and temporary exhibits like the knitted presidents show we saw (yes, it's just what it sounds like, a pretty amazing collection of knitted likenesses of every U.S. president from Washington to Obama).
Sauder Village hosts special events like antique car gatherings, farm demonstrations and quilt shows throughout the season, which runs from mid-April through October.
Admission is $15 for adults, $8 for students ages 6-16 and free for children age 5 and younger. You can easily spend two days exploring the village, so the best deal may be the two-day admission pass that costs $20 for adults and $10 for students.
Thanks to Sauder Village for providing village admission, lodging and meals during my recent visit for my review, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about the stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2013 All rights reserved