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Reliving history

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A small army of volunteers will turn local Civil War history into a day of free family fun and adventure during the Sassafras Tea Festival and Civil War Living History this week in Vernon.

For more than 50 years, the Jennings County Historical Society and community volunteers have celebrated the history of the tiny but historic town southeast of North Vernon during a two-day festival every April.

Members of the community have perfected their costumes and are ready to don hooped skirts and military uniforms for this year’s event, Saturday and April 27.

Beginning Saturday morning, a Civil War-era encampment will span the county courthouse lawn in downtown Vernon.

“It’s very realistic. Rows of tents will be set up, and whole families of re-enactors will actually live in them. You see kids in period dress playing around the tents while adults tend to cooking on the campfires and other chores which go with the times,” Vernon Mayor Daniel Wright said.

“We encourage people to visit the encampment and to talk with the volunteers who are ready to answer all kinds of questions about life in the times. Our volunteers take their roles seriously and spend time researching history to create a realistic display. It’s a great way for people to experience their history,” Wright added.

The public can visit the building across the street from the courthouse that now serves as a museum and the headquarters of the Jennings County Historical Society. It was built as an inn for the stagecoaches that once traveled Indiana during the early 1800s. When the railroads replaced the stagecoaches, the building continued to serve as an inn.

Free cookies, sassafras tea and tours of the museum will be offered to museum visitors.

Jennings County Historian Tom Rice will be at the museum to autograph his recently published book, the first of two volumes that includes facts and photographs of the railroads that ran through the county.

Behind the museum building, a working blacksmith shop will demonstrate a variety of typical operations. Displays will run on both days.

Civil War battle re-enactments will be performed throughout the weekend. The mock battles will take place at nearby Muscatatuck Park. The battles are also free and open to the public. However, there will be a $5 per car fee for parking if the Muscatatuck Park parking lot is used.

A Blue-Gray Ball is at 7 p.m. Saturday. It also is free and open to the public. While period costumes are encouraged, current dress is appropriate.

While all of the festival events are free and open to the public, the sale of homemade food makes the event a profitable fundraiser for the historical society, which helps maintain the museum building.

“The festival has become famous for our homemade pies,” volunteer Wanda Wright said.

Based on previous years, more than 600 pies are expected to be sold during the festival, Wright said. Each pie is made from scratch and will sell for $9 or $10 depending on the type of pie.

“We always run out and have to make more during the festival,” she said.

Homemade chicken and noodles, ham and beans or vegetable soup will be available for $3 a serving. Ham sandwiches, Coney dogs and slices of pie or cake will be available for $2.50.

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