Depreciation Lands Museum offers 1800-era indoor wintertime activities

Thursday, December 26, 2019 | 12:01 AM

Winter is a time for spinning fabric, weaving, mending harness, repairing tools and other indoor activities, as well as sharing meals, tales and music.

At least, this is true for someone living locally in the middle of winter in the 1800s, as noted in the latest Depreciation Lands Museum newsletter. The museum is a colonial-era living history museum on S. Pioneer Road in Allison Park.

Without modern technology and everyday conveniences, children of the colonial times had no problem depending on their own imaginations to keep them busy, according to Karen Parsons, a coordinator at the Depreciation Lands Museum for more than 20 years.

Chances are a family would be spending a lot of time together in a main room of their log cabin house, much like the one that sits at the museum. The cabin there measures just 18-feet-by-19.5-feet, or 351 square feet, which is probably smaller than a standard garage today, Parsons said. The second generation of Armstrongs, an 18th-century family who lived in the area, raised 10 children in this house, she said. There was one main room used for dining, kitchen, living, playing, and sleeping, she said.

With this little space, children surely found ways to keep busy. After doing the daily tasks of hauling water and firewood for the house, Parsons said boys had a pastime they enjoyed.

“A great favorite was whittling. Wooden Toys, wooden chains, wooden spoons,” said Parsons.

Handmade dolls were a popular activity for girls. The museum holds an event every year that invites girls of today to bring their favorite doll for a Doll Tea, which is being held on Jan. 26, 2 to 3 p.m.

Any size doll is welcome though the event’s activities are suited for ones mostly 18 inches in height.

The event will feature traditional tea and treats as always, said Parsons. This year a Depreciation Lands Museum teen volunteer Andrew McLaughlin, who is a member of the N.A. Fiddlers of North Allegheny School District, will be providing live music for dancing.

“At the Doll Tea this year, young ladies will learn Colonial dances, which they would have enjoyed in this area,” Parsons said. “The girls’ dolls will also learn the dances.”

Space is limited. Registrations will be accepted up to a week before the tea, if space is available, said Parsons. Cost is $15 per child, and $12 for members. Parsons said parents can drop off their child as the activities are designed so mom or dad don’t need to stay and help. It’s best suited for girls 5 and older.

Register online at or call 412-486-0563.

The museum also features activities for adults throughout the year, with the next being the spring session of the Gun Klass, starting on Feb. 4, 6:30 to 9: 30 p.m. at Hampton Middle School.

This ongoing class guides students 18 or older in “designing and creating 18th-century firearms,” as noted on the website. It is run by museum volunteer Paul Claus.

Students can also work on other historical crafts of the time periods, woodworking, engraving or sewing. Claus has taught working with leather in the past.

This semester they will be working on designing scrimshaw onto handmade firearms or the powder horns that the students started in the fall semester.

Claus, who is president of the museum, said scrimshaw is scratching ink into an object for decoration. This was a popular pastime for soldiers during their “off time,” especially those at sea, he said.

Claus said students can join the class at any time and did not have to be in the previous semester. If someone wasn’t in the first semester to make a firearm or other handmade product, they can bring in their own to scrimshaw, said Claus of West Deer.

In the past, they made tankards, or a beverage cup, mugs, or fire bucket.

“You could make anything you want as long as it’s 18th century,” he said.

They also have a skilled gun maker that comes in during the semester to teach how to make flintlocks. He said it takes a long time to make an 18th-century firearm.

Claus, whose background is in computer programming, started teaching the class about four years ago. He’s been teaching leather work for approximately 10 years.

Tuition for all students is $65 per semester. Two 15-week semesters are run every year. Call the museum or email for information.