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550 students participate in annual Pioneer Days events
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550 students participate in annual Pioneer Days events

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As more than 550 fourth graders from Gage County and surrounding schools exited their buses this week, they entered a pioneer world of shelling corn, cutting logs and riding horse-drawn carts.

Pioneer Days has been an annual area event for over 20 years. Each day, the students participate in hands-on activities at the Filley Stone Barn, where they learn about early agriculture, and at Homestead National Monument, where they dip candles, wash clothes with a ringer and washboard and do other activities a homesteader would’ve done.

On Friday, Stoddard Elementary and St. Joseph’s Catholic School students participated in the third and final pioneer day of 2019.

Megan Sothan, Museum Administrator at the Gage County Historical Society & Museum, spoke to the students about the history of Filley Stone Barn and how it was built during a farm crisis brought on by drought, grasshopper invasions and crop failures.

“There were so many grasshoppers that they would blot out the sky like big clouds covering the sun,” Sothan said. “These grasshoppers would come and eat all of the green things, even the leaves off of the trees and all of your crops.”

Sothan said the crisis left farmers unable to feed their animals or sell crops to market, so Elijah Filley offered them jobs building his barn to keep them from having to move.

The barn was finished in 1874, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places over 100 years later.

The farm was willed to the Gage County Historical Society in 1978, but by then Filley’s house was no longer standing.

An additional 20 acres of farm ground were added to the site in 1986, and today the Gage County Historical Society and Museum works to preserve the structure and share it with visitors.

“I think it’s important to have a program like this for the students because I am very much a proponent of hands-on learning,” Sothan said. “For them to be able to actually get out and see it and do it and experience it is a completely different experience than if they’re just reading about it on the page of a textbook. Programs like this allow the students to come out and actually experience a part of our past, and that visual and hands-on learning I think really helps to help them remember.”

The events are sponsored by the Blue Valley Antique Collector’s Club.

Kurt Schroeder, a member of the Collector’s Club, said that while some of the pioneer equipment is owned by the historical society, several pieces are donated each year by volunteers like himself.

“That’s what we love,” Schroeder said. “It’s what we did, what our parents did, what our grandparents did. That’s why I do it.”

The Filley Stone Barn is also the location of the annual Harvest Festival on Saturday from 10a.m. to 4p.m. and is open to the public.

The festival provides a chance to experience the nostalgia of harvests past with live action antique farm equipment demonstrations, blacksmithing demonstrations, wagon rides, artisan crafts and trades, folk music and more.

“There’s just a variety of implements used in the past on farms that the kids get to see how it was done so we don’t lose that part of history,” Sothan said. “Since agriculture is changing and evolving all the time, we do like to keep the past alive so kids get to see where their roots are from.”

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