Whiteside students take trip down memory lane in Belleville

News-DemocratMarch 23, 2014 

Whiteside Elementary School fourth-grader Anaia Crow, 9, exclaims, "this thing is huge," as she walks into the Victorian Home Museum in downtown Belleville during a school field trip.

"I thought it was really big and really cool," Anaia said after touring the home built in 1886. "It's nothing like we have right now."

Crow and her classmates were given tours of two historic homes in Belleville -- the Victorian Museum and the Emma Kunz house. Volunteers with the St. Clair County Historical Society and Delta Kappa Gamma, a women's education society, provided students an insight into what life was like in the late 1880s.

The Victorian Museum, built in 1866, was the home of a wealthy Belleville business owner, Colleen Hensel told the fourth-graders. Hensel is a volunteer with Delta Kappa Gamma.

Anaia's group first stopped in the dining room at the Victorian Museum where former Whiteside teacher Roselie Stovey talked to the students about how food was prepared in the 1880s and how the house didn't have a kitchen.

"In a house like this, the kitchen wasn't part of the house," Stovey said, since most food was cooked over open flames.

"They made it by hand," Anaia chimed in.

Stovey highlighted an antique wooden high chair with wheels, which she said could be converted into a stroller.

Volunteer tour guide Marsha Cremer talked about the wooden chairs in the parlor and how they sit low to the ground.

"The chairs fit the women," she said. "They were really short back then."

Women in the 1880s also made chair and foot stool cushions using needle point, Cremer said.

The students especially enjoyed touring the children's room upstairs at the Victorian Museum, which had toys from the 1880s including a porcelain doll.

"The china dolls were only to look at," said volunteer Jean Keen. "These were usually very expensive and probably came from Germany."

Keen also pointed out the wardrobe cabinet where clothes were stored. "They did not build homes with closets," she explained. "In the Victorian era, you had to pay taxes on every door in the home."

Volunteer Carol Prince told the students that the three pieces of wooden furniture in the adult bedroom were very expensive at $170 total. "That was a lot of money back then," she said. "The furniture was very elegant at the time."

When the tour of the Victorian Museum, 701 E. Washington St., was finished, the students walked over to the Emma Kunz house, 602 Fulton St., to see how a working-class family lived during the same time period.

During the walk, fourth-grader Camryn Franklin, 9, said her favorite part of the Victorian house was seeing the children's bedroom and what toys were like back then.

Emma Kunz' house was built in 1851 and lived in by German immigrants, who came to Belleville for religious freedoms, according to volunteer tour guide Jackie Bainter with Delta Kappa Gamma.

The house used to sit across from the downtown Belleville Public Library, but was moved in 1972 to the empty lot at its current location.

The stove in the kitchen cost $75 in 1873. The receipt for it now hangs on the wall near it.

Volunteer Anne Alves talked to the students about how women back then would spend all day Monday doing laundry by hand using a wash tub and then iron all day Tuesday using a heavy iron they had to heat up on the stove.

Tour guide Cindy Meinardi described the parlor as the home's "gathering place." It had a couch and rocking chair with coverings made from horse hair and a throw made from Buffalo fur.

When asked which home he would like to live in, fourth-grader De'Shawn Ware, 10, said he "kind of likes both of them. They are so unique," he said. "They are different than the houses we live in today."

Fourth-grader Bennett Grzina, 10, said he would like to live in the Emma Kunz house, because it has more "plain stuff."

The field trip to the Victorian Museum and Emma Kunz house was paid for by the Delta Kappa Gamma society in Belleville, which covers the $150 bus fee.

"We have gotten a lot of positive feedback from the kids, teachers and administrators," said Sue Miller, a Delta chapter field trip committee member.

Delta Kappa Gamma hopes to make the students more aware of the history of the Belleville area, according to Jackie Bainter with the Delta chapter.

"We have fun doing this," she said. "It's exposing them to what we have."

Each student who attends the field trip gets a souvenir photo taken at the Emma Kunz house. Miller makes prints of the photos and brings them to the school for the children.

"They are thrilled to death to have those pictures," Miller said.

More Whiteside students will tour the two historic homes on Tuesday and Abraham Lincoln students are slated to tour the homes April 1.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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