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Alpine Hills Museum:

Take a step back in time

By Catie Noyes • Editor Published: April 1, 2013 4:00 AM
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Swiss and German settlers began immigrating to the area in the mid-1800s bringing with them their skilled crafts and trades. Swiss settlers were very prominent in the Sugarcreek area and had a strong knowledge of making cheese. They began to produce Swiss Cheese from milk supplied by the local farming community and since become a staple in the community. Many of the early Amish heritages in the area can be traced back to Switzerland; specifically, originating from the Canton (Kan-tawn) of Bern.

Take a trip back in time and learn more about the heritage of this small village and discover why Sugarcreek has gained the nickname "Little Switzerland of Ohio." Three floors of Swiss history can be found at the Alpine Hills Museum at the heart of downtown Sugarcreek, also known as the historic Swiss Village.

Alpine Hills Museum will be starting their 37th year as they open for business once again during the month of April. "We started out as a small committee of the Ohio Swiss Festival," explained Lowell Younger, volunteer curator at the museum. With only a couple of small display cases featuring a few scattered artifacts, the committee felt the village needed a better representation of their history.

The committe was blessed with the donation of the current building and a larger committee was formed to address the need of the museum. "The committee was made up of all volunteers and no-one had museum experience," said Lowell. "Everyone did their part and the museum grew from there."

In order to truly capture the history of the community, committee members began spreading the word that they were in need of donations. They were looking for artifacts true to the area, family heirlooms that were just taking up space in people houses, anything that would truly showcase the heritage and growth of the community. "Donations began coming in and are still coming in today," said Younger.

"People are surprised with what is actually on the [3] floors," said Younger. To begin their visit, guests are seated in a mini-theater were they can watch a 12 minute informational video on the early origins of Sugarcreek. The rest of the tour is taken at your own pace. "People can spend as much or as little time as they like exploring," said Younger.

The walk-it-yourself tour is designed to be very informative and insightful. Cards with information are placed at many of the exhibits and six audio and visual displays are scattered about the museum. "Visitors press a button and hear audio or see a video about the display in front of them," said Younger.

On the main floor of the museum, a large display features a set-up of an Amish kitchen and has become a popular display among visitors, explained Younger. Another major display on the main level, is set-up to reflect the early process of Swiss Cheese making. A large kettle from the mid-1800s sits at the center of the display and is one of the only kettles left from the early cheese making days.

Also displayed on the main floor are examples of outfits worn by the early Swiss people. A small collection of dolls represent the Swiss Canton's as well as what each "state" may have worn for special occasions.

As you make your way downstairs, the basement of the building has been filled with various agricultural tools and equipment, early modes of transportation and other various machines. A small display in the back is dedicated to the early Swiss Fire Department.

On the third floor, more authentic pieces and display cases show off the rich history of Sugarcreek. War memorabilia from local soldiers, early photography equipment, artifacts from local factories such as a local tin company and new display featuring pictures from the Finzer Brother's Clay Company (now the Belden Brick Company.)

A large display of early women's clothing takes up most of the top floor and features a display of a local Millinery and Dress shop owned by the late Margaret Putt. The original store was located just a few doors down from the museum. A set-up from Itch's Barber Shop (originally located across the street) showcases an old barber's chair and another set-up features items from the Third Street School.

A small room off the far end of the hall, is a set-up to feature one of the most prominent of Swiss traditions; music. The music room features the very popular Alphorn or Alpine Horn, which is widely recognized by its cup-shaped horn attached to a very long, wooden tube that narrows as it reached the mouth piece. Other instruments from Swiss traditions such as the Dulcimer and various bells and organs complete the exhibit.

As the weather warms and the summer months approach, the Board of directors for the Museum plans to conduct a project of painting and restoring the front of the building. "We want to freshen up the building and we are always looking for donations to help fund the project," said Younger.

Without the local support, donations and volunteers, Younger feels the museum would not be what it is today. When Younger and his wife Diana took on the role of caretakers in 2008, they felt they needed to keep the museum going strong.

"We felt this is an attraction that needs to be here for the community and the public, and we need to keep it going," said Younger.

Alpine Hills Museum is located at 106 West Main Street, Sugarcreek. This is also the location for the Sugarcreek information center which can be found at the front of the building. The museum will open in April and remain open until October with hours: Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission is free but donations are always accepted and appreciated. For more information call 888-609-7592.

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