Kaleidoscope: Pioneer village, weaving mill showcase 1800s era in Smithville

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

A few times annually I take a trip down Route 585 out of Barberton to eat at the Barn in Smithville, one of one my favorite restaurants in Ohio. The former dairy barn was built in 1937 to replace one that was destroyed by fire. It opened as a restaurant in the mid-1980s.

In the last three or four years, I've wanted to stop by the Smithville Community Historical Society's Mishler Weaving Mill and pioneer village during a trip to the Barn, but it's only open one Saturday or Sunday each month, so I missed out on a visit. That is, until an open house took place Oct. 19.

I spent a leisurely night in Wooster, one of my favorite Ohio county seat towns, the night before and awoke in my motel room to a cloudy morning outside. Not long after, as I headed back up Route 585 to Smithville, it began to rain and continued off and on during the afternoon.

But I had waited too many years to let a steady drizzle wipe out my plans to check out the mill, pioneer village, historic Church of God and railroad depot, plus a 1920s era wooden red caboose. All of the above structures are owned by the historical society.

THE PIONEER VILLAGE

Seven buildings in the center of Smithville, a town of about 1,250 residents, make up the pioneer village. Most were moved to the site in the last several decades. The latest is the springhouse, which showcases food preservation techniques of the 1800s.

The restored 20-by-14-foot, two-story springhouse dating from 1845 was moved in the fall of 2011 from a farm just west of Orrville. It has a hand-hewn frame and sawn rafters and flooring. Most of the siding was replaced, and the basement has a brick floor with a trough rigged to a pump that circulates water.

An 1866 fruit press is one of the items on the main floor. A butchering display is on the second floor, complete with clevers and knives. Other items displayed include a woodstove, wooden washing machine, tubs, crocks, a cream separator, wooden barrels and apple butter paddles.

The springhouse is sandwiched between the tin and blacksmith shops, where experienced tradesmen work during open houses. The tin shop is from the 1860s and originally was a summer kitchen. In the blacksmith shop, red hot iron is hammered into many useful items.

A large Yankee barn featuring hand-hewn beams with mortise and tenon construction, built in 1840 and moved from west of town, houses an extensive collection of antique farm machinery such as a McCormick reaper and a 1920s era wooden Champion thresher made in Orrville.

The artifacts are from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Other items are a Cletrac crawler tractor, stationary hay and straw bailer, corn shellers, John Deere large front wheeled single-bottom bar plow, hay hooks suspended from the barn's ceiling and various pieces of dairy farm gear.

A two-story pioneer log cabin shows how families lived in the 1800s before metal hinges, latches and nails became popular. Some items inside are a pioneer version of a toaster, a waffle iron, coffee grinder, candle mold, butter churn and betty lamp for burning animal fat.

Upstairs are two rope beds covered with straw and feather ticks. A coverlet on one bed was woven on a jacquard loom in the 1830s.

The Sheller house is one of Smithville's original log cabins (circa 1850s). A tailor once lived there. It is more modern than the other log cabin, with hand-forged locks, hand-poured glass windows, plastered walls and pieces of furniture made by local residents in the mid 1800s.

The adjacent carriage barn, built in the late 1800s and featuring pegged construction, once was a stables for a stagecoach line running between Wooster and Akron. On the first floor, pottery is made with clay vessels on kick wheels. The society sells items made there and in the tin shop.

MISHLER WEAVING MILL

This large wooden building is a few hundred feet down Route 585 from the pioneer village and on the other side of the road. It was built in 1887 by John C. Mishler, and was moved from its original spot in the village in 1930 by John's grandson Daniel.

John and his family emigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1882. They lived near Orrville before moving to Smithville. Daniel operated the mill until his death in 1982. It then was sold to and operated by another family until it was purchased by the historical society in 1993.

Originally, power for the mill was supplied by a coal-fired steam boiler, then by a large single-cylinder stationary engine. In about 1915, the mill was converted to electric, and the same 7 1/2 hp Westinghouse motor used after the conversion still operates.

John B. Mishler, son of John C., installed the mill's power looms. The mill produced dish cloths, dish towels, bath towels, wash cloths, rag rugs and cheese / cider press cloths. In fact, it is likely Aurora's cheese factories of the early 1900s used cloth produced at the mill.

Today, the mill has about a dozen looms, which volunteers use to make dish cloths, dish towels, placemats and rag rugs. The items are sold in the mill's gift shop, along with items from the pottery and tin shop. Small rag rugs come in a vast array of colors. Eight women were working in the mill when I visited.

The looms date from about the mid-20th century back to the oldest -- a two-harness barn beam rocker style from the 1860s. A great-great-grandson of the oldest loom's maker donated it to the society.

The mill also has a warping creel that carries 60 cones of thread which are fed onto the reel to make warps for dish cloth and press cloth looms. Two Crompton & Knowles power looms are used to make cheese cloth, which then is used for placemats and table runners.

Other machines in the building are a rag cutter and several electric and treadle sewing machines to sew rags together for the rag rug weavers.

A reception and welcome center features a display of Daniel Mishler's photography, John's original barn beam loom and the trunk that carried the family's belongings when they emigrated from Switzerland.

An "education room" has artifacts pertaining to the former Smithville Academy, the area's grammar schools, a meeting room and a kitchen.

Occupying a building in back of the mill is the Greater Akron Model T Club, which is dedicated to preserving the Model T and Ford Motor Co. heritage. It displays a restored 1926 Model TT truck, another partially restored Model T, old license plates, a cutaway engine and many antique vehicle parts.

SOME OTHER BUILDINGS

In the center of the village, the society maintains the 1867 Church of God, a Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway depot and a 1926 wooden red caboose. The congregation was founded in 1833 and is Smithville's oldest church and Ohio's oldest Church of God. The congregation disbanded in 2005.

The church was built for about $5,000 and originally boasted a 117-foot tall bell tower. In the 1920s, it was remodeled, with stucco applied to the exterior and the steeple removed. A Sunday school wing was added in 1967, and the building is now used as a community center. A bluegrass band was playing when I visited.

The train depot was built in 1882 along the W&LE tracks on the north side of town, moved to its present location in 1975 and houses railroad memorabilia and tools and equipment used in trades and crafts of the 1800s and early 1900s. The caboose houses a display of old toys -- including Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and dolls.

Although not owned by the historical society, the Smithville Inn across from the church, depot and caboose was erected in 1818 as a stagecoach stop and inn. William McKinley delivered a speech there during his presidential campaign, and he and President Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed meals there.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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