Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mifflinburg Buggy Museum - You Must Go There!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, we spent the past weekend exploring the "Local Color" of our own area.  Sunday we traveled to Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania to visit the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum.

Now I know there are lots of buggies in our area, because there is a large segment of Amish families in this area.  We regularly see buggies on our roads.  And I know that Mifflinburg had something to do with buggies, because they have their annual Buggy Days event, which I have not yet attended.  But what I didn't know until our visit is how extensive Mifflinburg was involved in the manufacture of buggies during the late 1800's and early 1900's! Although this museum primarily exhibits the artifacts of the William Heiss' Coachworks, at one time there were as many as 20 buggy manufacturing shops in this one small town!

This museum is simply top notch.  For a $10 entrance fee ($9 if you are a member of AAA), you have access to all four included buildings, accompanied by a very knowledgeable historian.

1.  The Visitors' Center
      You start your tour in this building by watching a 7 minute video which is a brief and interesting summary of the buggy manufacturing industry during the time period, in Mifflinburg in general, and specifically the business of William Heiss and his family members.  The walls have informational posters about the era, the family, and the buggy making process.

On the floor there are several fancy buggies parked that you can examine up close.

There is a hands on table, where you can examine tools, take buggy wheels apart, and study various parts of buggies.  My father and my husband had some trouble even identifying what all the tools were, but they were like two kids in a candy shop. Give them tools and a tool bench and they are happy.

"Tom, what do you think this tool is for?"
2.  The William Heiss Family Home
      When you are finished in the Visitors' Center, a docent takes you on a short walk across the street to the home of William Heiss and his wife and two sons.  The home is a good look at how a family would have lived around the 1900's. The extra bedrooms were set up as tenants' rooms, as it was common for the Heiss family to offer room and board to several of their employees.  Apparently William was somewhat concerned about social status and image, and so he had some "fancy" things in his home that the average family of that time might not have had.  I was particularly fascinated with the washing machine in the kitchen, as I remember my grandmother having an electric version of the same.  I was amused that the brand name was Bucknell, the same name as my college alma mater, although there was no relation, I was told.

The wife had an organ which had been shipped in somehow to the Heiss family from Chicago.  It is speculated that William Heiss made an arrangement for shipment of the organ along with shipments of buggy parts from his suppliers in the Chicago area. 

3.  The Workshop
      Another short walk behind the family home takes you to the production shop, where the raw materials were stored, the buggies constructed, and the painting and finishing work done.  On the day the business closed up in the mid-1920's, the doors were closed and locked.  Nothing was changed or disturbed until the Mifflinburg historic committee  re-opened the doors in the late 1970's.  So standing in this workshop, we were seeing it as if the workers had gone home from work the day before.  Truly stepping back in time.

The historian explains the layers of buggy wheels.
An outside look at The Workshop shows a ramp used to take finished buggies to The Repository.

4.  The Repository
      I had to ask the tour guide what "repository" meant, and he explained that this building would be comparable to a car dealer's showroom today.  So this is where the customers would come to look at (and drool over) new buggies, wagons, sleighs, etc. before purchase or rent.  (Heiss also rented out buggies and wagons when the buggy making business was slow.)  In this showroom we saw various buggies and several other vehicles from the era, including a horse drawn fire truck, an early pickup truck, a mail truck and a conestoga wagon that actually moved a family from the Lancaster County area to Mifflinburg.
     When the production of motorized cars dried up the buggy business in the mid-1920's, William Heiss and his wife found other ways of supporting their family.  Heiss learned to keep bees and sell their honey, and remembrances of this endeavor are housed in the Repository also.

Folks, I have been to many museums and exhibits in my lifetime, and comparably, The Mifflinburg Buggy Museum is superb.  Go there.  If you are from central Pennsylvania, or traveling through this area, put this museum on your LIST OF THINGS TO SEE.  The greeter at the Visitors' Center had told me the whole tour would take about 45 minutes to one hour.  We ended up using 2 1/2 to 3 hours to see and enjoy all four buildings.  It was worth our time and money.  We were amazed at this "gem" in our own backyard.

Again, go there.  It's worth your while.

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