By Dawn Hatfield
GREENVILLE — Over 400 Darke County students stepped back in time to the 1800’s where things were simpler, yet harder, during Pioneer Days on May 10 to 11. At the site of Historic Bear’s Mill, they experienced what it felt like to be the farmer bringing grain in by wagon, the miller cleaning and grinding grain with water power, and even a wife baking bread and cornmeal over the fire. Hands-on tinsmith and blacksmith workshops, pioneer life/toys, and candle dipping rounded out each student’s pioneer day.
Mississinawa, Bradford, Franklin Monroe, and Arcanum Elementary Schools enjoyed the events on Tuesday, and Greenville Elementary and St. Mary’s attended Wednesday to round out their study of Ohio history, part of fourth-grade curriculum.
All students received a free copy of the book, “A Story of Bear’s Mill, A Darke County Treasure,” two weeks before attending Pioneer Days to aid in their study of the historic mill. Book gifting was made possible by a grant from Friends of Bear’s Mill.
Students’ appreciation for pioneer life will certainly be greater after experiencing these hands-on activities. These young Darke Countians will grow up with a sense of what their county looked like in the 1800’s. Students may have gone home questioning if they could survive pioneer work every day without the luxuries of our modern world.
Pioneer Days is funded in part by the Ohio History Fund, a grant program of the Ohio History Connection. The Ohio History Fund is made possible by voluntary contributions of state income tax refunds, sales of Ohio History “mastodon” license plates, and other donations. The Ohio History Fund awarded Darke County Parks (DCP) $15,860 to fund the first two years of this annual event. DCP and Friends of Bear’s Mill matched $11,973 to get this project started. The funding made it possible to provide all activities, including busing, to make the experience free of charge to the students and school corporations.
At least 45 people helped make this event happen, including DCP staff and Friends of the Darke County Parks volunteers.
Bear’s Mill, at 172 years old, is one of the few operating water-powered mills in Ohio today. The mill still grinds grain into flours and meals, using the same cool-grind practices as old-world millers. Grain is carefully passed through the French Buhr millstones to produce a healthy, whole, minimally-processed product. Bear’s Mill gift shop is open Tuesday through Sunday and offers a wide array of gifts, locally-made jewelry and art, as well as staples, such as tea and freshly-ground flour from the mill.
Exciting news at the mill includes the passing of a levy that will allow for a three-stage project to preserve the concrete foundation and pillars of the mill as well as other needed repairs.
Bear’s Mill, in conjunction with Bish Discovery Center, will fully launch their kayak and canoe rentals this summer. For a modest fee, water enthusiasts can rent their crafts at Bish and travel down Greenville Creek to exit at Bear’s Mill without the need to transport boats. Visit www.darkecountyparks.org and click the menu for rental information or to join Friends of the Darke County Parks for one free rental per season.
As the seasons change, favorite events at Bear’s Mill include, Fall Open House in October, Christmas Open House beginning late November, and the Candlelight Walk in December. Visit www.bearsmill.org for more information.
For Pioneer Days questions, contact Sophie Nieport at [email protected]
Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Dawn Hatfield at [email protected] or 937-569-0066.