Fourth-graders learned about pioneer toys at this station on the Bear's Mill grounds. At one point, they learned how to use a whirligig (Linda Moody photo)

Area fourth-graders experience pioneer life

GREENVILLE—It’s pretty safe to say that the first-ever “Pioneer Days” at Bear’s Mill involving an estimated 400 fourth-graders across the county for two days this past week was a success.

The students rotated to eight different stations each day from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The eight stations were grinding grain and a tour of Bear’s Mill; preparing ground for crops and shelling corn; baking cornbread by the fire; corn shelling; candle dipping; tinsmith; pioneer toys; blacksmith; and pioneer life.

The stations were located in the mill and just across the mill in the field close to the parking lot, while several of the other stations were much further spread out.

Many accolades went out to their park staff and volunteers, the Friends of Bear’s Mill, and Eikenberry’s IGA for making this experience possible.

Forty-five volunteers, including staff at the mill and nine from the park district, assisted in making it successful.
Students attending Tuesday were from Mississinawa Valley, Arcanum, Franklin-Monroe and Bradford, while Greenville and St. Mary’s students in Greenville participated on Wednesday.

“Students stepped back in time to the 1880s where things were simpler, yet harder,” indicated one report on the experience. “At the site of Historic Bear’s Mill, they will feel as if they are the farmer bringing their grain in by wagon, the miller cleaning and grinding the grain with water power and even the wife baking the bread and cornmeal over the fire.”

It went on, “Appreciation for pioneer life will be greater after experiencing these hands-on activities. These young Darke countians will grow up with a sense of what their county looked like in the 1800s. Students may be home that night questioning if they could survive pioneer work every day or  if they would like the simpler way of life without modern-day technologies.”

“When Darke County Parks obtained Bear’s Mill as a park, I knew we would do great things,” said Parks Naturalist Mandy Martin.

“This is just one of them!  Huge shout out to Sophie Nieport for being the driving force behind this first time event.”

According to Nieport, the program was made possible by the Ohio History Connection with a grant to start this new endeavor that they are hoping will be an annual educational experience for the children.

The prairie days project was funded in part by the Ohio History Fund, a grant program of the Ohio History Connection. The fund is made possible by voluntary contributions of state income tax refunds, sales of Ohio history “Mastodon” license plates and other donations.

The Ohio History Fund awarded Darke County Parks $15,860 to fund the first two years of this annual event. The Darke County Parks and Friends of Bears Mill are matching $11,973 to get this project started.

This funding makes it possible to provide all activities, including bussing, making it free of charge to the students and school corporations.

The mission of the Darke County Park District is  “to acquire and preserve land areas possessing special natural and historical features and to manage and maintain these resources for the benefit of its residents through appropriate educational and passive recreational programs and activities.”

The staff of Darke County Parks is grateful for the financial support of the Ohio History Fund, as well as the dedication of local sponsors and volunteers to make new educational events like this happen.

For more information, Nieport can be contacted at 937-548-0165 or

Sophie Nieport was the one who wrote the grant that enabled Darke County fourth-graders to attend Pioneer Days, a first-time event, at Bear's Mill.(Linda Moody photo)
Steve Stebbins, in foreground, is working on a demonstration, using a portable forger, while Roger Bowersock, in background, operates a blower. Stebbins' wife, Diane, was also there. She is a master blacksmith. (Linda Moody photo)
Here was the station for the cornbread making. At one station, the corn was shelled by hand, then taken to the mill to be ground before ending up here. (Linda Moody photo)
Darke County Now Staff - Linda Moody - Staff Writer

Linda Moody / Staff Writer

I am a Darke County native living in the Ansonia area with my son. I have been in journalism 50+ years and enjoy what I do.

Contact Darke County Now Media Correspondent Linda Moody @ or 937-337-1955.

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