By Katie Doolittle
I am a self-proclaimed history nerd and have been since childhood. I crossed the Oregon Trail (otherwise known as my parents’ backyard) many times, trailing a Red Flyer wagon full of Cabbage Patch Kids behind me.
It’s therefore no surprise that I’m counting down the days to Cider Sunday, an annual event occurring on October 5 this year. Come join the fun at Tumwater Falls Park. You won’t be disappointed! The Tumwater Middle School Homesteaders recreate the pioneer era with considerably more veracity and panache than my childhood self ever possessed. All day, these budding young historians will adhere to the period-correct personas they’ve adopted as children of the Bush-Simmons party, the first wagon train to this area. They will be joined by adult living historians, portraying Thurston County residents from the era spanning roughly 1850 to 1875.
“This is a very wholesome, family friendly event which teaches local history as a side benefit,” says Sandi Gray, a member of the Tumwater Historical Association (THA). She goes on to mention the other exciting opportunities occurring simultaneously. “The Olympia Tumwater Foundation, which owns the park, will be providing its popular riverwalk tour, and the Stream Team will be there offering salmon watching and activities.”
All of the events are wallet-friendly. In fact, the whole day can be enjoyed for free.
I’m looking forward to viewing the salmon as they navigate the three fish ladders at the falls. Together, these ladders form an 80-feet hurdle in elevation. There are also holding ponds–the main purpose of which is to imprint the juvenile salmon, but which will also provide easy fish-viewing for my small children.
After the Salmon Stewards teach us a thing or two about the salmon life cycle, we’ll head down the trail to enjoy Cider Sunday’s period music and fashion. We may buy some tasty treats or pioneer-era goodies, such as quilts and sunbonnets, from the Tumwater Historical Association. Additionally, there will be demonstrations on 19th century ranching, basket-making, stone-cutting, and blacksmithing. Children can participate in pioneer games or even give rope-making a try.
The hands-on nature of this event mirrors the activity-oriented approach of the Tumwater Middle School Homesteader program. Originators Brian Buntain and Anne Kelleher founded the Homesteaders as a Washington State Centennial Project. Its goal has always been to change how kids see history. Now entering its 27th year, this exciting program meets the required eighth grade state history requirement… and then far exceeds it.
Robert Cooksey, the Social Studies teacher in charge, explains, “They actually learn the skills, language, and mannerisms of the 1800s while at the same time researching primary and secondary sources. It isn’t just studying an old dusty book with names, dates, and places. It is about students being part of history. They do this by actually doing the tasks along with studying the history.”
THA member Chuck Hornbuckle elaborates. Skills students learn are period-correct and, as such, gender-specific. Girls practice carding wool, spinning, knitting, and quilting. They also learn to do laundry with lye soap on a washboard. Hornbuckle notes, “They have won blue ribbons and outstanding exhibit ribbons at the Thurston County Fair for their hand-stitched quilt blocks.” Boys apprentice in tinsmithing, woodworking, and blacksmithing using period appropriate tools.
Hornbuckle adds, “All students also learn and practice skills so they are able to teach and explain how pioneers churned butter, made rope, pressed cider. They are also able to explain what lessons were like in a pioneer schoolhouse, and what games children in the 1800s would play as a pastime.”
The Homesteader program also includes a service learning component. Cider Sunday is one of several events in which the middle schoolers educate the general community. They also teach younger students, most notably through a partnership with fourth graders in the spring.
The program is so popular that students write essays to apply for the two Homesteader classes. Cooksey says, “We attract kids from across the spectrum of ability.” He appreciates how the hands-on approach can open doors for all types of learners, which is the ultimate goal of every teacher.
Come support the Homesteaders as they reenact a seasonal pioneer activity. You’ll have a fun time learning about local history. And if you bring a gallon jug and your own apples or pears, they’ll even clean and cut your fruit before pressing it into cider on your behalf. The cost is $3 and all proceeds benefit the Homesteader Program.
Cider Sunday is October 5, 2014, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Go to Tumwater Falls Park, located at 110 Deschutes Way SW in Tumwater.
All photos courtesy Tumwater Historical Association.