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History, Farming & the Environment:
Soap Making. Oxen Driving, and Woodland Wildflower Walk

     Leave the hustle and worries of the 21st century behind by stepping back in time to learn about life in the 1840s.  Join the staff and volunteers of Garfield Farm Museum for two separate classes on 19th century life skills; Soap Making (April 29, 2007, 9 a.m to 1 p.m.) and Oxen Driving (May 6, 2007, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Also on Sunday 29th at 1:30 pm a Woodland Wildflower walk will be held.

    These three activities echo the three themes of Garfield Farm Museum. To understand the history of the region, one needs to understand the basics of farming as the rich prairie soils attracted the first farming settlers.

     Making one's own soap has long been a practical and sensible way to save money but at no time is that statement more true than when speaking of the past.  From city dwellers to farmwives, 19th century women would save their own lard, leeched their own wood ash to make lye, mixed it all with water and waited for the mixture to saponify and turn into soap.   In turn, the soap made could be used to wash everything from clothing to ones hands.  Come to Garfield Farm Museum on April 29, 2007, to learn more about this fascinating and often forgotten process.  Participants will have the opportunity to make and take home two different types of soaps. Museum education director Patty Kennedy will conduct the class. There is a $30 tuition per person and reservations are required.

     On the afternoon of Sunday the 29th a 1:30 pm Woodland Wildflower Walk will be held in the Garfield Harley Woods and Ephemeral Pond. This is the first year the small woodland pond’s water levels are near normal after several years of drought. In addition to the ephemeral woodland flowers, hopefully wood duck and frogs will have returned to this vernal pool. Reservations are required and there is a $6 donation for the walk. Museum biologist Jerome Johnson will conduct the outing.

     Oxen were the driving force behind farming from the beginning of animal power until the mechanization of agriculture. For the 1840s farmer, a team of oxen was essential for work such as plowing fields or moving heavy objects such as logs. Oxen, a mature cow or steer that has been trained to work, were readily available, easy to equip and cheap. A well-conditioned team of oxen could be expected to plow about an acre a day and could pull 2/3 of their own weight. Because of the increasing reliance on gear driven mechanized equipment, horses became the draft animal of choice and oxen were used less. Participants for the class will learn to yoke, groom, and drive the museum’s ox team, with an introductory session at the beginning of the course. The class is $60 per person and includes lunch.

     Garfield Farm is a 370 acre historically intact former 1840s Illinois prairie farmstead and teamster inn that is being restored by donors and volunteers from 37 states as an 1840s working farm museum. Garfield Farm Museum is 5 miles west of Geneva, IL off Ill Rt. 38 on Garfield Road. For information or to make reservations call (630) 584-8485 or e-mail

For more information about Garfield Farm send an e-mail message to: or call 630/584-8485.