Rain doesn’t dampen interest in local history

Published 7:53 am Friday, October 19, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Even the rain and cooler temperatures couldn't keep area students from learning about our local history.
On Friday, elementary students from Niles, Brandywine, Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg and River Valley schools, as well as area home schooled children, visited south Riverfront Park on Bond Street at the French Paper Dam for an outdoor living history classroom program. Students were able to learn about the history of our area and how we came to where we are today.
This is the fourth year for the Education Day and Jan Personette, board member of Support the Fort, said the program gets bigger every year.
When it was first held in 2004, Education Day was held for Niles Community School students. Through the past three years, it has gained recognition and, as more schools were invited, more showed up. This year, Personette said around 900 students were scheduled to visit the site.
"It's very important for kids to learn about our local history. They should know how this city came to be what it is. I really get tickled when the kids come and we've heard nothing but positive feedback from the students and their teachers about how much they enjoy this," Personette said.
The program gives students a chance to see how people lived and how lifestyles have changed.
Six villages with 24 presenters were set up at the park, which was manned by Michigan and Michiana reenactors plying their trades and skills. The reenactors demonstrated and talked about life circa 1750 when Michigan's early fur trade history was vibrant.
Students were able to test out what kind of games were played and reenactors told stories about what life was like. Students were also educated on what people ate, where they slept, what they wore and what they used for transportation.
"This is a hands-on experience for the kids. It gets them away from the text book and gives them a real life visual of how people used to live," Personette said.
Grif Cook of Niles, also a board member with Support The Fort, said the Education Day gives children some insight into their own history.
"You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been. Everyone should know about their own history and unfortunately, a lot of places cities and other countries don't know much. This gives students a chance to learn about people who lived here before us," Cook said.
The public will get an opportunity to view the same program as Education Day is free open to the public today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They will be staging a fashion show, author Cheri Hallwood will be sharing stories and the villages will again be manned for demonstrations and questions, along with a number of other interesting sites and stories.
Also this year, representatives from the Sons of the American Revolution will be in the area for their fall gathering and meeting.