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Alpine Hills Museum: The Town Time Capsule

By Kate Minnich • Amish Heartland Writer & Designer Published: October 1, 2015 12:00 AM
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Sugarcreek was first founded by Swiss and German settlers who began immigrating to the area in the mid-1800s, bringing their skilled craftsmen and trades. The Swiss settlers put their cheese making knowledge to work and produced cheese from the milk supplied by the local farming community. This cheese has become a staple in the community and the Swiss presence has earned the town of Sugarcreek the nickname "Little Switzerland of Ohio".

Ranson Andreas and a small committee began the Alpine Hills Museum in 1976 with the understanding that the history of the town needed to be preserved. The building currently housing the museum was donated in 1977 because more space was needed. Alpine Hills Museum is currently operated by director and curator, Kelly Kuhn and a volunteer based Board of Trustees.

Acting as a time capsule, the building contains different components of the Sugarcreek and Shanesville history from 1814 to 1980's. All of the items within the museum have been donated by various people throughout the community. The donated pieces have come from people still living in the town as well as families who have moved; providing others the opportunity to learn their history.

The Swiss and Amish culture, military pride and achievement, local clothing, and transportation are just a few topics that track the advancement of Sugarcreek into the present day. The Swiss heritage of the town is represented in several exhibits including a cheese making exhibit complete with large kettles, whisks and other equipment. The Amish community, many of whom can trace their roots back to Switzerland, are acknowledged through an exhibit displaying a kitchen that could be found in an Amish home. The exhibit allows visitors an inside glimpse of the Amish lifestyle.

Among the artifacts displayed rest old means of transportation including an early photography cart and firefighting equipment. The early photography cart is one of the first same day photos options. The photographer would drive his cart to the photo shoot location, take the images and then take the camera to the back of his wagon. The floor of the cart contains a semi-circle cut out that allowed the photographer to stand behind a curtain securely fastened to the back of the cart. This created a dark room for the photographer and allowed for on-site printing of the photos. The early firefighting equipment consists of buckets and wheels attached to the hose spindle. A recording accompanies the exhibit, from which you learn that when a fire would be noticed a community member would run to gather the fire equipment. The buckets and hose would then be carted out to the fire and a line of people would be formed from the water source to the fire. Rounded buckets would then be filled and passed down the line to be thrown on the fire. The buckets were rounded so that they could not be set down.

The museum contains more than the everyday artifacts of the people; it also contains objects from history that are not well known. Housed in the basement is a wicker casket that was used by the town to collect the dead. Before the age of funeral homes, the bodies of the departed would be laid out at home, after the viewing, the coroner would come by with his wicker casket and take the body away. The body would be transferred from the wicker casket to one of pine or simply wrapped in cloth.

Alpine Hills Museum should not be discounted because it is not located in a large city; this museum has many features worthy of a visit. Visitors will be submerged in the local culture, but not just the present culture. One large exhibit showcases Sugar Creek during the Victorian period, complete with hair art and clothing. Alpine Hills Museum is able to represent several periods of the town's history that directly correlate to the history of the United States. World War I and II artifacts complete with uniforms, gas masks and other supplementary materials grace the halls of the museum. Among the war artifacts is a guest book of the Hermann Goering Aeronautical Institute from 1940 to 1945, used by Colonel Donald Putt for identification of key German Aeronautical scientists.

The museum boasts five automated scenes that explain the history of the artifacts in front of you, the narration eliminates the need of large plaques or guided tours. One such exhibit displays The Budget and the equipment used to create the publication. As the visitor stands before the exhibit the spotlight shifts from two presses to the lead type displaying the past technology. When the narration begins, visitors will learn that The Budget is the local newspaper and resource for the local area. The newspaper is recognized by the government as an official birth and death certificate, meaning that those who place a death or birth notice within the paper can then take the newspaper to the government office and file for a social security number.

Three floors are not enough to contain the artifacts that the people of Sugar Creek have collected. Stored on the fourth floor and within Kelly's office are more artifacts silently waiting their turn to the exhibit floors. This winter, Kelly plans to categorize everything at the museum and then begin to switch out the exhibits.

Alpine Hills Museum has been visited by people from all over the world; in the past six months they have had visitors from 40 different countries and 48 states. Whether you are looking for the history of Sugarcreek, or oddities from history, Alpine Hills Museum promises to entertain. Alpine Hills Museum is located at 106 West Main Street, Sugarcreek, Ohio. This is also the location of the Sugarcreek information center which can be found at the front desk. The museum is open from April 1 until October 31, Monday- Saturday from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to move through the museum at their own pace. Admission is free, but donations are never declined and always appreciated. For more information call 888-609-7592.

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