Who doesn’t love history? I do and a trip to the Swiss Heritage Historical Village and Museum was right on my radar! When Keith and I headed to the Portland area we made a beeline for the museum before they closed. This cool Swiss Village began around 1985. It is home to northern Indiana’s largest collection of historic structures. Some of regional and national significance like the 1839 Luginbill farmhouse and the 1856 Hauenstein Cider Press, the 1900 Swiss barn and other treasures. The village also includes a one room Brick School, a doctor’s office, an 1841 pioneer log cabin, a cheese house; saw mill, indoor museum, and the restored Mennonite Baumgartner church.
We arrived at 3 and got in by the hair of our chinny chin chin! Located on the edge of Berne, Indiana the Swiss Heritage Historical Village and Museum is northern Indiana’s largest outdoor historical village. Located on 26 acres we parked our truck with the golf cart in back since we came for a tractor show. We headed into the building to sign up for 3:00 tour, the last tour of the day. Phil Montgomery, the tour guide, had just finished giving a tour. He was taking a break before he loaded us on the golf cart and we headed out on a whirlwind tour before they officially closed. Thankfully Phil wasn’t worried about time and he gave us the deluxe tour and took his time telling us all the stories. “I have the keys,” Phil joked when we worried that we were running him over the closure time.
While Phil had his break, Keith and I walked around the indoor museum. We were amazed by the cool things we saw. The museum had a neat mail wagon, clothing like the early Swiss would have worn and more.
We soon learned that the Swiss Village was settled during the early 1800’s. The Swiss originally came to the area to avoid religious persecution. They arrived in 1838. They were part of the Old Order Amish called the Swiss Anabaptists. The Order is still present in the area today and now number more than 5,000! The Swiss Heritage website explained that “Persecution for the Swiss Anabaptists began as early as January, 1525, as believers in Zurich were arrested, imprisoned or killed for their religious convictions. Some were forced into the military with double fines or drowning if they persisted in their beliefs. As the numbers of followers of Menno Simons and other reformers increased, they became a threat to the established churches and authorities. They endured many decades of harassment before large groups left the Motherland and sought freedom elsewhere.”
Soon Phil came and we loaded up on the golf cart and headed for the first building, a cabin built in 1841.
Our next stop was the Hauenstein Cider Press, this was Keith’s favorite. It was so cool that it made our entire trip worthwhile! The press was built during the Civil War by William Hauenstien.
Hauenstein, a Swiss immigrant came to the US first for the California Gold Rush. He eventually settled near Huntington, Indiana in 1856 where he bought a farm with a large apple orchard. Hauenstien built the cider press from memory of those he had seen in Switzerland. The press is similar to wine presses found in Europe.
Guide Phil Montgomery pointed out some of the highlights of the Hauenstien press. Pointing to the overhead beam he said, “This is one white oak beam. It had 300 rings, it was over 300 years old when cut.”
The screw that runs the press is of a single red oak and is 12-feet long and about eight-inches in diameter. There is also a spare nut and screw assembly. Phil pointed out that the mill is a peg structure and that is was in operation until 1972 when the Hauenstien family stopped production. The press set for years until it was moved to the Swiss Heritage Village in 1996. “Once a year we have a cider pressing in September at our Heritage Festival,” Phil said.
Our next stop was the beautiful Swiss bank barn built in 1900. Inside there are a few beautiful wagons on runners. Phil had emphasized that the roads couldn’t always be traversed so equipment had to be able to move in snow.
The cheese house is also quite amazing with the huge kettle and wooden pulleys. “Wood was all they had and it had to fit together just right,” Phil added.
We also visited the Doctor house where I saw pictures of the ravages of Small Pox for the first time and how crude some of the doctoring was during the 1800’s. The local doctor took care of everything from birthing babies to surgery. He was much beloved. There was a photo of his funeral and it was so crowded it was hard to get everyone in the picture.
The one room school house was great fun. I sat on the Dunce chair where Keith indicated I belonged.
We also toured the lovely restored Mennonite church where they still have services on occasion and sometimes weddings.
Without a doubt, the Swiss Heritage Village & Museum is farm history at its best!
Be sure to check the calendar for local events such as Berne Swiss Days, the Heritage Festival, Heritage Soup &Sandwich Supper, Holiday Bazaar and Christmas Eve. Check for groups, advance reservations may be needed. Log onto www.swissheritage.org or call 260-589-8007 for hours and times they are open.