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Forestville's history comes to life for young campers

Kiya Ruggeberg, left, and Lexi Kromminga water plants Monday during the 19th-Century Homestead Day Camp at the Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park.

FORESTVILLE — From now on, a button and string will suffice for entertainment for Sydney Eickhoff.

"I could do it for hours," said the 11-year-old from Wykoff, as she spun her new button toy.

She and 11 other campers mixed compounds for medicine, gathered eggs and shoveled horse manure off the Carnegie Steel Bridge on Monday at Historic Forestville , a pioneer town that existed from about 1853 to 1910. The town is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society and portrayed in 1899, at the peak of the political career and farming operation of its owner, Thomas Meighen.

Staff recreating the roles of people who lived on the property in the 19th century guided the 8- to 12-year-olds around the Meighen home, general store, barn, granary and chicken coop, playing games and teaching them about how their ancestors lived for six hours.

Site director Sandy Scheevel said the camps began three years ago to get more young children engaged in history, which she said is "being lost in society today."


"It doesn't always have to be boring," Scheevel said. "We make history fun."

Living history

Jette Berken has played the part of Martha Healy, formerly Meighen, for nine years, showing visitors and the children at the day camp around the Meighen general store.

She said many of the kids compare their experience to the Little House on the Prairie Books, which follow the life of pioneer girl Laura Ingalls Wilder.

"They think it's cool," she said of showing them the general store.

On Monday, Berken taught her groups how to measure fabric, act as shopkeeper and mix medicine to counteract a bellyache.

The 12 kids also ground corn for the chickens, learned about plow parts, weeded corn and pumpkins and made ice cream.

After playing marbles, Elizabeth Amundson, 10, of Oronoco, hoped to buy a set to play with her cousins back home. She said she registered for the day camp because she loves history.


Amundson, Mariangely Linder, 9, of Northfield, and Kaileigh Weber, 10, of Stewartville, all bonded at the day camp.

Weber visited the camp earlier this year with her school and wanted to come back, but it was the first time for Amundson and Linder.

The girls gushed about how much fun they were having during the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. camp. They said they enjoyed the buggy ride, with a staff member acting as their horse, watering the garden and "living old-fashioned," Amundson said.

"I would like to live here," Linder said.

A hidden gem

From personal letters and diaries and original furniture and merchandise, Forestville is as close to what it was in 1899 as it could be.

Even the chickens are historically accurate, Scheevel said.

She said from these items, she knows that the hired help would pick the lint out of the dryer to use for the mistress's ingrown toenails, what each Forestville resident bought and how much they spent at the general store and how much one of the Meighen sisters hated candling eggs -- looking at them through a flame to see if they're good or bad ones, Scheevel said.


Staff learn the history of characters through these items and interact with Forestville visitors as those people would have in 1899.

"They don't come out of first person unless it's an emergency," Scheevel said.

Forestville developed in the mid-1850s, but townspeople and businesses dwindled in 1868 after the Southern Minnesota Railroad bypassed the town. The town transformed into a large one-family-owned farming operation until the general store closed in 1910.

The place lay forgotten between Preston and Spring Valley until 1963, when the property became a state park. In 1978, Historic Forestville opened and operated by the Minnesota Historical Society.

"We're kind of a hidden little gem," Scheevel said.

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