A growing appreciation for history


By Sophie Nieport

Darke County Parks

Why do we grow more of an appreciation for history as we get older? I know this statement isn’t true for everyone, some kids and young adults are very interested in history and social studies. But for me, and I’m sure a lot of other people, history was the most boring subject in school! I had zero interest in learning more, or seeking out historical sites/stories. But now I’d say I spend a lot of my professional and personal time thinking about family history and local history, and seeking ways to preserve it.

I owe most of my recently-piqued interest in history to these three things: Ancestry.com, the Carter Bog, and Bear’s Mill.

My brother, Zak Hurley, and my coworker, Mitchell Pence, have recently sparked my interest in my family history by talking about Ancestry.com. Zak has created a good part of our family history tree, but there is so much more to tackle! I have recently explored this website and have decided to spend more time on this, especially before my grandparents are no longer here to help answer questions that will arise. Coincidentally, the Darke County Genealogical Society held their meeting at Bear’s Mill last week, and I was privileged to give them a tour of the mill. This local organization is a great resource for historic preservation.

Last fall, my husband’s family was invited to the Boonshoft Children’s Museum in Dayton for a private ‘back room’ tour. In 1966, a farm owned now by our family near the 49 and 47 intersection used to be a large bog with ponds. The previous land owner, Mr. Carter, was dredging the ponds to create more farm ground, when he found several large mastodon bones. The Carter Bog Excavation in the early 1970’s was the most prolific dig ever done in Ohio. They discovered 3,000 bones, and identified 21 different ice age species including: mastodon, giant beaver, and giant sloth. We were able to see the real 12,000-year-old bones, not just the replicas in the museum displays! This was a thrilling day.

In 2021 when the Darke County Parks was gifted Bear’s Mill, I was hired to help run the Mill. This career change for me inspired most of the historical interest I have today. I work to not just run the mill, but also preserve it. Making sure the integrity of the building continues to stand strong for another 175+ years is top priority. Next on that list would be education. Giving tours is my favorite part of my job. I feel that teaching and showing people of all ages how the mill works is an important lesson.

In 2022, we were awarded a grant from the Ohio History Connection to provide a free field trip to Bear’s Mill to each 4th grader in Darke County. The fourth graders come to the mill and travel to 8 stations throughout the day, learning all about what pioneer life was like in the 1800’s. They shell corn, grind corn at the mill, bake cornbread over the fire, churn butter, make a candle, dabble in tin smithing and blacksmithing, and learn about pioneer and Native American life. It takes thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours to provide this amazing field trip. The OHC grant funded our supplies for the first two years. We are wanting to continue to provide this trip for free starting in 2024, and are seeking sponsors. If you or your company would like to learn more about the event and becoming a sponsor, we would love to invite you to the event in May to learn more about it. Please reach me at 937-548-5112 or [email protected].

There is an old adage from George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This saying is true for the more tragic history lessons, but what about the more positive ones? Rich Wallace from Sidney, Ohio has been quoted “Those who embrace the successes of the past are likely to repeat them.” For me, when I look at the inner-workings, and structure at Bear’s Mill, I get inspired by the past. How they were able to create such a large mechanical, water-powered masterpiece inspires me to learn and do more. We are all capable of learning and doing more if we put our minds to it.

For more information about Darke County Parks and Historic Bear’s Mill Preserve, visit www.darkecoutyparks.org or www.bearsmill.org or call Sophie at 937-548-5112

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