FORESTVILLE — You'd be hard-pressed to name a holiday that evokes more Americana than the Fourth of July. It is, after all, a commemoration of America's freedom.

And nowhere, perhaps, is that more obvious than with a stroll through historic Forestville, which hosts an annual celebration of Independence Day, 1899-style.

For Tim Knapp, of Fountain, it's just what the country needs.

"We don't bring everybody together like we used to, just for the simple things," he said Thursday. "Maybe that's what we need to do more of. This is fun, and it's simple."

He and Nissa Rojas, of the Twin Cities, stood in the shade, watching an 1860s-era baseball game featuring the Rochester Roosters Vintage Base Ball Club. No gloves, no real umpire, no showy, swaggering athletes.

It was one of many "favorites" throughout the day, which featured a grand ceremony with the reading of the Declaration of Independence, pie- and watermelon-eating contests, and sack- and three-legged races.

Visitors could also see 19th century merchandise in the Meighen family store, costumed guides cooking in the kitchen, buy rock candy and other treats, and help the hired hands with chores in the garden and farm buildings. Costumed guides portray Forestville's former residents and their daily activities.

Forestville, once a rural trade center, struggled to survive after the railroad bypassed it. By 1890, Thomas Meighen, son of one of the town's founders, owned the entire village. The town's 50 residents made their living on his farm, working for housing and credit in the Meighen store.

The guides reliving those days seemed to have as much fun as anyone.

"This is just like family," said Jette Berken, of Cresco, Iowa. This was the 10th year she's portrayed Martha Meighen Healy, Thomas Meighen's youngest sister. "And it's a fun job. Where else do you get to stand around, talk to people and play dress-up?"

Berken works at a convenience store the rest of the year, but her day at Forestville is never far from her mind.

"I sew, so I'll see some fabric, and wonder what (costumes) I can make from it," she said. "I miss this during the winter."

So does Alisa Wagner, of Austin. She's portrayed Nellie Moyles, a house servant, "since I was fresh out of high school."

Eight years later, Wagner said, "these ladies have taught me how to bake bread" and other skills that remain true to their love of history.

Now a paraprofessional for special needs students at Austin High School, Wagner said she first came through the historical site during an eighth-grade field trip.

"I had great memories of it," she said Thursday, "and applied for a job when I saw an opening" with the Minnesota Historical Society.

"I couldn't imagine not celebrating the Fourth of July this way."

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