Time capsule: Pioneer Village provides glimpse into early life on prairie
History books document that the first permanent settlers arrived in Nobles County about 150 years ago. Life was undeniably hard for those early residents of southwest Minnesota, who had to deal with the unending wide-open spaces, harsh weather conditions, wild animals and the area’s native inhabitants. We can’t really imagine what it was like.
But since 1968, the mission of Worthington’s Pioneer Village — a historical attraction operated by the Nobles County Historical Society (NCHS) — has been to celebrate the people who settled this land and give area residents and people who pass by on Interstate 90 a glimpse into what they experienced and dealt with in that era.Pioneer Village features more than 35 buildings that are set up to be typical of small prairie communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as accompanying features such as a train caboose, sand tower, gas pumps, merry-go-round, machinery and gardens.
“A big interest with a lot of kids is pushing these big old (manual) lawnmowers,” said NCHS President Jacoba Nagel, noting that the village hosts many school tours during the year.
Nagel, who devotes many volunteer hours to the site, is particularly fond of the train depot and railroad cars that anchor the north side of the village.
“I also like the General Store because of all the old things I can look back on,” she said. “I guess I like all of them. There’s something in each one that catches your attention.”
After longtime caretaker Roy Reimer retired at the end of last year, Gary Brandt, a retired local educator, came forward to fill the position. Brandt has explored all of Pioneer Village’s nooks and crannies and has new appreciation for what goes into maintaining the expansive property.
When the school tours came through in the spring, Brandt particularly enjoyed demonstrating some of the manual tools that were used by the pioneers, and he has some ideas on how to expand the tours, such as hooking up the telegraph so the students can send messages from the train depot to another building or letting them print type in the newspaper office.
But such efforts will require more volunteers. In fact, volunteer opportunities abound at Pioneer Village, where many buildings need painting and ongoing maintenance. Tour leaders and people who can do heritage demonstrations are also welcomed.
During the summer months, Pioneer Village is open seven days a week, staffed by local volunteers: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday. It’s also become a popular place for weddings, utilizing the village’s two churches and reception space in the Big Barn.
One of Pioneer Village’s biggest annual events is the Old-Fashioned Fourth of July celebration, which features a melodrama production, heritage demonstrations and the Prairie Reapers Antique Tractor Show. Details on the celebration will be available closer to the date.
For more information about Pioneer Village, contact the NCHS, 376-4431; or go to www.noblespioneervillage.com.