Early 1900s skills on display in Genoa

Published: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

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GENOA – Churning butter has been a tradition with Orion Carey's family for generations and the skill has not been lost on the 26-year-old Sycamore resident.

The former Kishwaukee College student demonstrated to a small crowd at the Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Society's Pioneer Days event the old-fashioned tools and strength needed to create homemade butter. Using a Dazey churn from the 1920s, a bowl and a spoon, Carey managed to produce one pound of butter.

It's a process that can be befuddling for many people not familiar with how butter used to be made.

"I've taught more 30- to 40-year-old people than children," Carey said. "... So many adults wonder 'What is he doing?'"

Churning butter is representative of many of activities and demonstrations at Pioneer Days. The event in Genoa presents technical skills used to create items such as rope or furniture from turn-of-the-century Genoa and passes those skills on to the next generation, said Orrin Merritt, Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Society president.

At one station, children washed their clothes by hand and used a wringer to squeeze out the water before hanging them to dry.

"It puts things into perspective," Merritt said. "The kids are leaving thinking 'Gee, washing clothes really was a task.'"

But it was not all work. Participants viewed shows such as gun fights and played games from the turn-of-the-century period. Children dug for fool's gold in a tub filled with water and rocks. They also dug for treasure in bales of hay, spun wooden tops, threw rings onto a bottle and rode in a horse carriage.

Genoa at the beginning of the 20th century was a fast-growing area with theaters, hotels, blacksmiths and trains. Meritt said during one Fourth of July celebration at the time, more than 1,000 people attended, which was "pretty sensational" in his view.

"The turn of the century in Genoa was hopping," Meritt said.

Making their first appearance at the event was Ney Grange #1845, a fraternal organization advocating agriculture that began in DeKalb County in 1929. The county used to have nine granges altogether but by the 1980s Ney Grange was the only one left, said Barry Schrader, Ney Grange president.

"Genoa is our home base," Schrader said, "and being here, we wanted to introduce ourselves."

Also making an appearance were U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, played by Max and Donna Daniels respectively. Lincoln and his wife visited with many attendees and Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address on the caboose at the Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Society.

Max Daniels, a Wheaton resident, said he decided to perform at Pioneer Days because he found it to be one of those "great, small Midwest events."

"This is the Midwest at its best," he said.

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