AVELLA, Pa. – The school bell rings from the belfry, signaling the beginning of class. Students of all ages line up at the door – boys in one line, girls in another. The girls enter first and take their seats at desks near a potbellied stove. The boys follow.
Class begins with the 1892 Pledge of Allegiance, a salute to the flag, 10 toe touches and 10 arm circles. Then the teacher checks students’ hands for dirt. A basin is provided for those who need a little extra cleaning.
After being checked for cleanliness, several students are chosen to “toe the line,” meaning they stand on a chalk line facing the class and read aloud from a McGuffey reader. After the reading lesson, other students are chosen to do math problems on the blackboard.
Interaction. The students of this one-room schoolhouse are visitors to the Meadowcroft Museum of Rural Life in Washington County, Pa.
Meadowcroft has preserved 19th century rural life and teaches rural history through participation.
The museum sits on 275 acres in Avella, Pa. Fifteen acres of the museum is known as Meadowcroft Village and consists of sites like the schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop and a country store. Employees dressed in period-appropriate clothing give demonstrations and help visitors navigate the village.
Founders. Albert and Delvin Miller founded Meadowcroft in the 1960s. The brothers appreciated their rural heritage and wanted to preserve it for future generations. The museum displays many of their belongings.
The Miller Log House, built by Albert and Delvin’s great-great-grandfather around 1800, provides a lesson about the lifestyles of long ago.
Not to be confused with the log cabin, log houses were made from hewn logs, had glass windows and two stories. Log cabins were built quickly from non-hewn logs, usually a first home on new land, and typically featured only one story.
Demonstrations. At the Hamilton Log House, visitors get a lesson from a rural housewife about textiles and fireplace food preparation. Meadowcroft provides its own flax and wool for these textile demonstrations.
The flax is harvested from a small garden outside the Hamilton house and the wool comes from a flock of Delaine Merino sheep.
The sheep, which are almost extinct, produce an extremely fine fiber wool. They have very wrinkled skin because wrinkles make more skin surface, which produces more wool. In keeping with the 19th century atmosphere, they are sheared with hand shears, despite the challenging wrinkles.
Trying to grow. Nearby farmer Dave Smith helped the museum get its flock up to about 30 sheep before dogs and coyotes greatly reduced that number. The museum currently has five Delaine Merino sheep.
Meadowcroft also has several displays. In addition to a variety of 19th century farm equipment, the museum also has about a dozen carriages, from hearses to sleighs.
Horse racer. Delvin Miller made a name for himself at the race track – his career focused on breeding, training and driving Standardbred horses.
The Miller museum at Meadowcroft displays many of his trophies and awards. He first raced in 1929 and didn’t finish racing until the ’90s, becoming the only athlete in any sport to participate for eight decades.
In 1957, the brothers bought 200 acres of abandoned strip-mined land that originally belonged to their grandfather. They planted more than 300,000 trees to rescue the land that later became Meadowcroft.
Relocating. In 1962, they began bringing historic structures to Meadowcroft. Pine Bank covered bridge was the first structure to be relocated.
Meadowcroft Village opened to the public in 1969.
Currently, Meadowcroft is restoring the Fairview Southern Methodist Episcopal Church to its original condition.
Teaching children. Each year, 15,000 people visit Meadowcroft; 11,000 of them are school children.
David Scofield, museum director, said the schoolhouse, Miller museum and blacksmith shop are the most popular attractions.
“Visitors enjoy being out here. They enjoy the quiet country setting,” Scofield said.
Hours. Meadowcroft is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. through Labor Day weekend.
There are activities such as taffy parties, a 19th century baseball game and a beginners quilting workshop scheduled throughout the season.
Admission is $6.50 for adults and $3.50 for children.
(Janelle Baltputnis welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 21, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
Get the details
Meadowcroft Museum of Rural Life
401 Meadowcroft Rd.
Avella, Pa. 15312