Peotone: Old Mill Fest an Eye into 19th Century Life

Despite a steady drizzle, a good crowd came out for the 21st annual Old Mill Fest in Peotone. (Photo courtesy of the Peotone Historical Society)
Despite a steady drizzle, a good crowd came out for the 21st annual Old Mill Fest in Peotone. (Photo courtesy of the Peotone Historical Society)
By Karen Haave
If you ever thought you’d like to tour the inside of a windmill, take a selfie with President Abe Lincoln, watch thread spun into cloth, or tin made into ornaments, Old Mill Fest was the place to be this month.
The popular event, held on the Corning Road grounds of Peotone’s historic A.J. Rathje Mill, had all that, and more, during its 21st annual festival.
Hosted by the Peotone Historical Society, the event draws hundreds of visitors each year. A pesky drizzle this year meant fewer attendees, but no less enthusiasm.
“Yes, the rain did dampen the crowds for the fall fair,” said Ann Marie Nagel, PHS treasurer. “But we had over 100 people attend. Our re-enactors were quite pleased by the turnout despite the rain.
“Our Civil War surgeon (Robert Norton), who performed surgery on our ‘victim,’ I mean volunteer, Nick George, had a nice turnout in the theater viewing his work.
“He explained how the surgery was performed and how the surgeons from that period in time used the instruments he had on show.
“President and Mrs. Lincoln (Max and Donna Daniels), had a nice crowd listen to his speech under the big blue and white tent. They walked about taking pictures with everyone who wanted them.
“Our blacksmiths (including Mr. Holtz) were busy pounding away once they got the fire started and even in the rain were going at it. Our black powder expert (Robert Judge) had a glorious time. He was extremely pleased with all the attention and questions from the young ones on what he had done and what he had to offer.
“Our boot maker and lace maker (Norman and Dona Walzer, respectively) were busy with their trade, but were impressed by all the questions of their trade, too. We had a great tinsmith (Scott Cochran),
who made beautiful items of time by hand with instruments used in the late 1800s.
“We had beekeepers (Mr. and Mrs Norman Koster), who explained that honey bees are not native to the US, but came from Europe. They also explained why they are so important to us. We had (Donna Tufano), who played the dulcimer, and beautifully I have to say. Her melodies drifted through the day.

Reenactors at Old Mill Fest included Civil War surgeon Robert Norton, who explained how surgery was performed on volunteer Nick George using battlefield procedures of the day.
(Photos courtesy of the Peotone Historical Society)

“We had a Civil War sergeant from the Union Army and his wife (Andy and Eileen Partak), who mingled with the guests and blew off his musket now and then.”
Kathy Tovey mesmerized visitors with her spinning wheel, Nagel said, but a non-human stole the show for the kids.
“We had many of the young children ride the horse, Scotch, on the premises, and their parents took oodles of pictures of their children with the horse,” she said. “Her owners, Liz Manning and Trevor Hetzer, were troupers with rain and kept her dry for all those who wanted to ride Scotch.
“Of course the horse was in heaven with all the special attention and the many treats she was receiving from the little hands placed under her noses.
Nagel said the vendors were extremely happy with what they sold that day, helped by the fact that the rain closed the local farmer’s market.
Visitors also gobbled down BBQ, as well as ice cream and popcorn from Archy’s, Nagel said, and Kloie H. working the bake sale, just about sold out just before the end of the day.
“Then to help out after the fair, the Boy Scouts came out and took down the tents, put the tables and chairs away and did a real bang up job for us,” she said. “We could not have had such a smooth cleanup without their help. Carter Bettenhausen helped with the cleanup, as well.”
“Coordinators of the fair were Karen Ward and Nick George. They did a fantastic job coordinating the attractions and getting the job done.”

“We had a great day despite the rain.”

Karen Haave is a freelance reporter.

Many young children rode Scotch, while their parents took pictures. Scotch also was an especially good sport about the treats from the many little hands.

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