Central School students get hands-on history lesson
By Ralph Morang
May 12, 2014 – 2:00 AM
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — On May 30, students in grades 1-3 will walk out the front door of Central School and take a “Hike Through History.”
This year, the hike will take in 22 tradespeople of the early 1900s at their actual historic locations in town. Eighth-grade students are now training to portray the tradespeople.
The annual Hike Through History features three themes that rotate each year.
A significant part of trading in the early 1900s was bartering, not using money. To prepare the third-graders, the Old Berwick Historical Society and school district are attending “Made for Trade,” “how-to-barter” sessions at the Counting House Museum in South Berwick. Ten third-grade classes from South Berwick, Berwick Academy and Eliot Elementary School are visiting the museum.
Kathleen McDonnell’s Central School class recently took over the museum’s second floor. They first toured the display cases of “Village Voices” labeled sawyer, farmer, sea captain, mill owner, shoemaker and ice man.
“We are excited to have children here,” said OBHS archivist Wendy Pirsig. “The cases have actual items from tradespeople of South Berwick.”
The 18 students were grouped by threes into “families,” taking the names of old South Berwick families. Each family was given a basket with trade items like bread, cloth and perhaps coins, and had a list of items to barter for. The Joseph Emery farm family, made up of students Jonathan Hanscom, Lilly Goodwin and Chloe Reed, needed to barter for trousers, bread, a chair and a sconce.
The six families each went to one of six stations around the room: a farmer, tailor, tinsmith, baker, woodworker and a shoemaker. Each family had a chance to barter at each station.
“You get new goods, and you can get coins,” Russell Leavitt said, adding he tried to trade cloth for a coin and could not, so he traded the cloth for bread, and traded the bread for a coin.
This is the20th year of the “Hike Through History.” There has been no cost until this year, when OBHS raised $20,000 to create the “Made for Trade” classes under the direction of consultants Nina Mauer and Nicole St. Pierre. Support has come from the Marshwood Educational Foundation, the Davis Family Fund, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Maine Community Fund.
Because it’s an annual program, “We have the honor of serving every child in town,” Pirsig said. “With over 200 children coming to enjoy a professionally designed program grounded in real local history, we don’t think any volunteer-run museum in our region can boast anything like this.”
The Vaughan Fund and VFW Post 5744 helped with hands-on materials.
OBHS Volunteer Vicki Stewart was the leader of the “Made for Trade” bartering game. Portraying the tradespeople were volunteers Ernie Wood, Michael St. Pierre, Joan Reilly, Erin Johnson, Nina Maurer and Pirsig.
A celebration for the Hike Through History’s 20th anniversary will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 29, at South Berwick Library. As part of South Berwick’s bicentennial, the Counting House Museum will open an exhibit, “Main Street, South Berwick: 200 Years of Downtown History,” in June.