April 6 – The Thompson House celebrated History Day on April 5 by opening its doors to third-grade students from Tahlequah Public School so they could learn about what life was like in Tahlequah in the 1880s .
The Thompson House was built in 1882 for Dr. Joseph Thompson, a Cherokee health worker, and his family lived on the site for decades. Historian Beth Herrington was instrumental in preventing the demolition of the Thompson House, as she found value in the site’s history. The Thompson House now welcomes students from across the county to learn about Tahlequah’s history.
Volunteers taught the children skills that would have been useful in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The students made cornbread using ingredients from the era. They also shelled corn, ground it into flour, churned butter, drove nails, and washed clothes with a washboard and hung items to dry.
For lunch, students ate food that children in the 1880s would have eaten at school, consisting of a ham cracker, an apple, and a molasses cracker.
“They would bring a lunch like this to school from home. It would be a typical lunch because most schools didn’t have a cafeteria. They would pour water from this bucket. There’s a ladle” , said Etter Nottingham, chairman of Thompson House. “It wasn’t unusual for the kids to use the same ladle and put it back in the bucket, but we won’t. We provide paper cups for the kids.”
Children in the 1800s had to do chores and use tools. Hammering nails was considered a child’s responsibility.
“It’s something the kids learned to do when they were young. They were very helpful with their parents,” she said.
Nottingham said it is important for students to learn about the past as it gives them an understanding of the technology of the time.
“These tools are not with these students. By providing a living history, we can share with them what life was like in their town in the early 1900s or late 1800s. We believe children should know that there was a way to do these tasks before we had all the automation we have now,” Nottingham said.
She said she asked the students where they could buy bread ingredients, and they all said the grocery store. She said most children don’t understand where food comes from and how it gets to today’s markets. Demonstrations like these help children understand how food is made and produced.
“Our goal is to let kids know how people lived before automation. We also allowed kids to do these kinds of things, and they appreciate that,” she said.
Herrington also enjoys these events because they provide a way to connect with young people. She said “living history” is an essential tool for understanding the past.
“Living history is important because it’s fundamental to our understanding of our community and its growth, and if we don’t understand where we’ve gone, or the input of all those people who came before us, we don’t ‘we have no incentive, and maybe we won’t have the understanding to move our community forward,’ Herrington said.
Wayne Kindell is a volunteer who taught children how to shell corn and drive nails. He enjoys working with children and believes these demonstrations are important.
“We shelled and ground some corn on the porch a while back. We’re going to give them a chance to drive a nail in. They didn’t experience that the way they grow up today. That’s a new experience for them, both boys and girls,” Kindell said.