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Kids Can Get Hands on With Historical Games at Old Economy Village

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hoop Dreams. Children roll hoops with sticks at Old Economy Village. Old Economy Village Museum

Long before the days of battery-operated Buzz Lightyear toys and Wiis, kids had to get pretty creative in order to make toys and play games.

Children in the 19th century would amuse themselves with activities like rolling hoops with sticks, and doing “Lady Ann’s ring tosses,” which involved a stick tied to a wooden circle about the size of a doughnut. Kids would toss the stick around, and try to catch the circle with it. In another old-fashioned game, quoits, people would throw rings to land around a peg in the ground. Many of the toys were made with scrap wood that came from building houses.

“They had to make their own toys, mostly,” says Lynn Popovich, who is organizing a play-themed event at Old Economy Village this weekend. “You couldn’t go to the store and buy them. … Most of the toys back then were creative things that the parents sort of invented when the kids were little to keep them busy.”

On Saturday, Old Economy Village — which re-opened in April, after a state budget crisis closed the National Historic Landmark for a few months — will let its visitors explore, learn about and try out toys and games from the 1800s, when the Harmonists from Germany settled the Beaver County village. Hands On History Day features the old-fashioned amusements, along with arts and crafts, sack races, a historical scavenger hunt, and more. Kids can get their pictures taken while wearing reproduction 19th-century clothing, attend an 1830s schoolhouse session, watch puppet shows, play old instruments like kazoos, and more.

The activities will allow visitors of all ages to step back in time and enjoy getting a feel for early American life, says Popovich, who is the village’s volunteer coordinator and store manager.

“We just want them to come and have a fun time and experience the days of yore … with their children,” she says. “It’s something for the entire family. There aren’t a lot of activities where kids and parents can enjoy themselves together. They can walk around the garden, pavilion and gazebo, sit on the bench and reflect how people lived back then.

Kids, Popovich says, are “fascinated, I think, with how the children of yesterday lived, without the modern conveniences.”

“They love playing with the old-fashioned toys,” she says. “You wouldn’t think that they’d be interested because they’re so involved with iPods .. and all that high-tech stuff.”

Hands On History Day includes demonstrations from a blacksmith, weaver, broommaker, baker and other artisans, and visitors can try out these activities, Popovich says. The Ambridge Steel Drum Band will be performing at 1 and 3 p.m. Hot dogs, drinks and other snacks will be sold.

During school tours at the village, she says, the kids are fascinated by how their predecessors amused themselves without batteries and electricity.


Hands On History Day

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $9 for age 11-64; $6 for ages 3-11; $8 for age 65 and older; free for age 2 and younger

Where: Old Economy Village, 270 16th St., Ambridge, Beaver County

Details: 724-266-4500 or website

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633