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Cabin to show off work, ingenuity

Harmony Museum volunteers Dave Szakelyhidi and Frank Luek install solar panels Thursday on the museum's information cabin, which is being transformed into an exhibit on how early Harmony-area residents worked.
Solar panels will power lights

Solar panels on a 200-year-old cabin?

Why not, says Historic Harmony.

Volunteers on Thursday installed panels on the museum's Visitor Information Center, at 551 Main St., as part of Harmony Museum's move to renovate and update its off-the-grid, 1820s-era log cabin.

Rodney Gasch, president of Historic Harmony, the nonprofit that operates the museum, said the panels will be part of a larger project funded in part by a Rivers of Steel grant intended for new and innovative programs and exhibits.

Although the visitors cabin doesn't have a finished interior — guests can retrieve informational pamphlets, maps and other literature from the porch — Historic Harmony will transform it in to an interpretive exhibit on how early settlers worked.

It will function in combination with the Ziegler Log House, at 538 Main St., which shows how early Butler County residents lived. The visitors cabin will have displays featuring old tools, skills and other items related to work.

And, Gasch said, it isn't just about industrial or agricultural work: Domestic work will be a prominent feature too.

“They weren't importing items from overseas, so people had to be resourceful,” Gasch said. “I think it's a testament to the resourcefulness of people, in making tools that made their lives easier.”

So why the solar panels?

Gasch said they will charge a battery, which will then go toward powering lights used on displays. The lights, he added, aren't traditional display lights, but rather adopted from items like marine lamps and headlights.

One positive of renovating the cabin, according to Gasch, is the museum's ability to use it in tandem with the Ziegler house.Like the visitors cabin, the Ziegler house is dated approximately to the 1820s, and was built with logs. Originally, the visitors cabin was two stories before termites claimed much of the logs.Harmony Museum uses the Ziegler house to show the domestic life of early Butler County denizens, featuring the resourcefulness they had and the hardships they endured.For instance, Gasch said, the house shows old rope beds — a platform of ropes, rather than wood slats, on which a mattress sat that needed consistent tightening and which sagged in the middle — as well a dough box in which, as the name suggests, dough would be left to proof.The visitors cabin will take that same idea, of showing the travails and ingenuity of 19th-century denizens, and do so through the lens of labor.“It really shows off the old workmanship,” Gasch said.More than that, the two cabins will be located within minutes of each other, making it convenient for the museum to offer walking tours and allowing for a metaphorical transition between work and home life.“It's good for us because when people tour the museum, they will walk between four buildings,” Gasch added. “So, it's great they're so close.”

Unlike some of the museum's properties, both the Ziegler house and visitors cabin date to after the Harmonists left.The Harmonists, led by George Rapp, were a religious society that founded Harmony in the early 1800s as a religious commune before selling it to the Mennonites a decade later.Like many of the other sites, however, both cabins were donated from families around the area — the Ziegler cabin stems from the family of Abraham Ziegler, who bought Harmony from Rapp's society, while the visitors cabin was donated by the Carothers family, who similarly were descendants of Abraham Ziegler.The visitors cabin wasn't originally located in what is today Harmony Borough, however, having been on Textor School Road before being donated to and relocated by Historic Harmony roughly a decade ago.It's a relatively new acquisition for the nonprofit, even compared with its sister Ziegler house, which began exhibits roughly 40 years ago.Gasch said the museum looks to the future with the property while honoring and exhibiting the past.

Harmony Museum volunteers Dave Szakelyhidi and Frank Luek install solar panels on the museum's information cabin Thursday, which is being transformed into an exhibit on how early Harmony-area residents worked. Submitted photos.

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