BROWNSTOWN

Kids visiting the Jackson County History Center couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

Children used to gather in a log cabin for school, and the teacher wrote on a chalkboard. No way.

It wasn’t unusual for a family of 12 to live in a one-room cabin, and they all chipped in on chores. Oh my.

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Since there was no electricity, boys and girls went outside to play croquet, hopscotch and other games. That wouldn’t cut it today.

Those were among the reactions from Jackson County fourth-graders Tuesday during the annual visit to the history center in Brownstown.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays for three weeks this month, kids tour the campus as part of Indiana History Month.

“It’s a good thing that they can save these old, historic buildings and also teach the kids,” said Larry Raymer, a volunteer with the history center. “That’s the reason we started it. So they would know what life was like back in the pioneer era.”

Brownstown Elementary School used to host a Pioneer Day event where kids researched a certain topic and led demonstrations for other kids around the county. But the log cabin that was used for that event was moved to the history center, so fourth-graders have gone there for the past five years.

During the tour, kids break into small groups and spend 20 minutes at each station. Stops include the trading post, school, Ball Museum, Heller Museum, cemetery, log cabin, livery barn and string fort. They also learn about the circus wagon and Works Progress Administration wagon and play some games.

Raymer, who was principal at Brownstown Elementary School for 28 years, and his wife, Karen, who was a first-grade teacher for 22 years, run the games area.

Karen Raymer said the kids remember doing hopscotch at a younger age, and some of them said they play croquet while visiting grandparents.

“The kids love it because that is kind of a lost art,” Karen Raymer said of croquet. “I think they like it because it’s different and because they are actually moving about.”

Nearby, Myrna Ratcliff shared information about her family’s longtime involvement with the circus. She is the fourth generation on her father’s side and third generation on her mother’s side involved in the circus.

She performed from 1946 to 2001.

“When I was 9, I was old enough to learn and act, and I’ve been performing off and on all my life,” Ratcliff said. “When you get older, you learn to clown or you have a dog act or sell tickets. I chose to have the dog act when I couldn’t perform with them anymore, and I was a cook on the show for awhile.”

When she started talking to fourth-graders about the circus, she realized they wouldn’t always pay attention. So she changed things up and had them try juggling and other skills.

“They don’t want to hear what I have to say,” Ratcliff said with a smile. “So I started teaching them how to do some of the acts that I learned, and they enjoy that.”

She said she always likes sharing stories with the kids about the circus.

“They have no idea that the circus is a business,” Ratcliff said. “They think it’s all fun and games.”

History center volunteer Debbie Holle said the kids are always amazed while visiting the log cabins.

“They didn’t realize there’s no electricity, no plug-ins, no TV, no iPads, no iPods. They said, ‘I couldn’t live like that,’” she said. “It gives you an insight into their lives. They live such a different life now.”

Another center volunteer, Margo Brewer, said many items are new to kids. They thought the opening at the top of the circus wagon was for a satellite — it was actually an air vent. They also aren’t familiar with a television with knobs on it, a phone booth, a buggy and a wagon.

“Kids just don’t understand that today,” Brewer said.

Lutheran Central School fourth-graders Owen Bolte and Leah Pottschmidt both said they learned a lot during the tour.

“I’ve learned how they had school back then,” Owen said. “They wrote on chalkboards. They had log cabins for schools, and there’s only one room.”

Leah said she liked trying parts of a circus act and visiting the WPA wagon.

She said she also learned she can visit the history center other times of the year.

“If we come here with our parents, we can tell them what we learned, and they can know, too,” Leah said.

If you go

Jackson County History Center is a 501(c)(3) organization formed in 2010 with the merger of local historical and genealogical societies.

Jackson County Historical Society was formed in 1916 as part of the Indiana and Jackson County centennial observance. Jackson County Genealogical Society was formed in 1983.

The center is at 105 N. Sugar St. in Brownstown.

The office and genealogy library are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Friday; from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; and other hours by appointment. They are closed Wednesday.

An annual membership costs $15.

For information, call 812-358-2118 or email jchc@frontier.com.

Pull Quote

“They didn’t realize there’s no electricity, no plug-ins, no TV, no iPads, no iPods. They said, ‘I couldn’t live like that.’ It gives you an insight into their lives. They live such a different life now.”

History center volunteer Debbie Holle, on children visiting the history center’s log cabins

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.