History came alive recently for more than 130 fourth graders from across the Dells-Delton area.
The youngsters spent an hour of a recent school day participating in an intensive, guided tour of Wisconsin Dells’ historic Bowman House and its historical riches within, courtesy of several volunteers from the Dells Country Historical Society.
Each of the area’s eight fourth-grade classes made the trip over to the historic Dells home on Broadway, where they received a warm and informative welcome from the big front porch by none other than the home’s original proprietor and namesake, Hannah Bowman — as played by long-time Dells resident and Historical Society member Jean Brew.
The students then went inside to learn about and examine the building’s dense and exhaustive array of historical artifacts and information, from the uniform once belonging to local Civil War hero General Joseph Bailey to the “hiding spot” in the home’s staircase where the residents’ silverware was once stored.
Each of the area’s eight fourth-grade classes — four from Spring Hill and one class each from Lake Delton, Neenah Creek and Trinity Lutheran schools — filled the building from basement to second floor for a single hour, with each class divided into small groups for sufficient interacting with their history-minded hosts.
The day of history was presented in the interest of getting the students interested in history in general and the Dells-Delton area’s history specifically, with the goal of turning the occasion into a recurring, yearly event.
“It was a really good experience and we want to do it every year,” said Spring Hill Teacher Laura Theiler, whose class “learned some interesting things about the house.”
Among those “interesting things” was the so-called “potty chair” in one of the home’s second-floor bedrooms, where the youngsters learned about life before running water.
Another was the “upstairs room where the army dude was,” in the words of Spring Hill fourth-grader Devon Henry, the “army dude” being Gen. Bailey. Henry was especially impressed by Bailey’s Union uniform, “Thanks of Congress” and an actual signature of President Abraham Lincoln, all on.
“It was cool,” Henry said regarding his overall experience, an assessment shared by his classmates.
The students spent time in the Bowman House’s basement learning about the local dairy industry, and they got a taste of genuine churned butter spread atop of muffin baked the day before by Brew and served up outside by volunteer Donna Ochsner.
Another highlight was the “hiding spot” within the walls of the home’s staircase, where the home’s extensive silverware collection on display on the main floor was secured by residents only to be later discovered where it was originally hidden.
The small size of each group of students enabled them “to ask questions and get more information,” Brew said.
“If we’d had 24 at one time, it just wouldn’t have worked,” she said.
Along with Brew, Ochsner and Bowman House Curator Carol Burgess, the volunteer guides included Mark and Deb Hamburg and Donna Timm.
Due to the unseasonably warm temperatures of the early-fall school day, not all of the volunteer guides took their tasks quite as seriously as Brew with her 19th-century outfit. The period costumes will have to wait for cooler climes, Burgess said.
“We thought about it, but it was about 90 degrees that day,” Burgess said with a laugh.