Summertime at Pennypacker Mills

Bob Swain will bring his big wheels to Pennypacker Mills.

In the Northeast, where winter, spring, summer and fall each require their own clothing and recreational activities, seasons supply a footing for memory. Personal histories can be charted through weather clues; one water gun fight suggests the heat of that July, and the people with which the months were sweat away: “Remember last summer when we ...”

But what about seasons we cannot remember, or seasons for which we were not alive? What markers existed in the 17th century for people to hang their memories on? How did families in the early 20th century enjoy the warm summer months?

On Aug. 3, Pennypacker Mills in Schwenksville presents “In the Good Old Summertime,” an event where visitors can try out for themselves summer activities, including lawn games and bicycle-riding, played by a family in the early 20th century.

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Much like the present day, “Summertime was a time for picnics and outings,” says Linda Callegari, a museum educator at Pennypacker Mills, a Colonial-revival mansion in which former Pennsylvania Gov. Samuel Pennypacker and his family lived at the turn of the 20th century.

“There was a large emphasis on lawn games: croquet, badminton, hoops, ring toss,” she says, most of which will be available to play throughout the day.

For those who prefer activities on wheels, Bob Swain “The Bike Guy” will be on hand with his collection of antique bicycles. Prompted by a mid-life heart attack to reconsider his exercise habits, Swain began biking. Soon enough he started collecting bikes, and antique ones at that — among them a bicycle with a looming front wheel, its size dwarfing those of the two wheels at the back.

A beacon of history year-round, Pennypacker Mills offers visitors a taste of life in any season, especially in the 1900s History Center, which houses a reconstructed general store.

“We’ve outfitted the room with fake food that kids can pick up safely — pears, oranges, tomatoes, apples, potatoes,” explains Callegari. “All the produce you could need, plus all sorts of canned goods and soaps. We have little wedges of cheese, bottles of milk, baskets of eggs.”

Whereas the foods people ate in the early 1900s may not have changed drastically, ways of communicating have; while nowadays texts and emails can be mined for exchanged sentiments, back then mailed letters were how people communicated in long form.

The 1900s History Center includes an interactive post office.

“One of the jobs the kids can do is sort mail and put it in the different mailboxes,” says Callegari. Young visitors also have the opportunity to make calling cards, or small notes left when visiting someone who was not at home.

Just as visitors to Pennypacker Mills can play the part — from lawn tennis to shop owner — families can also look the part with costumes that authenticate the feel of a gone century.

Callegari says, “Inside the house, families can go to a new venue we have where you can dress up in period clothing. We have all different types of clothing. Some are more casual than others; we have a baseball uniform for boys, party dresses for girls, blue jean overalls and a plaid shirt, or a top hot and an overcoat.”

More importantly, you can document your visit.

“Using your camera or smartphone, we’ll take a picture of you in period clothing and you can post it on your Facebook. Our hope is that visitors will also post photos on our Facebook page,” says Callegari.

It’s a kind of documentation and socializing of which the Pennypacker family never knew. They made do with human memory, an oft-unreliable documentarian, as they viewed the summer goings-on from their house’s porch.

“The house has a beautiful wide porch that’s covered,” says Callegari. On Aug. 3, the porch will be the ideal spot to sit and listen to Cracked Walnuts, a washboard duo playing popular 19th century songs, but when the Pennypacker family lived in the house, the only porch music was the ringing of meals. The family gathered on the porch in the summer months, Callegari explains, in order to escape the heat of a large, but suffocating, house.

“You didn’t stay in your house because it was too hot. There’s always a breeze on that porch, even on a day like today,” she says, referencing this 21st century summer and temperatures in the high 90s.

“It may not have been a cool breeze, but there was always a breeze.”

IF YOU GO: “In the Good Old Summertime”takes placeat Pennypacker Mills,5 Haldeman Road,Schwenksville, PA 19473,Saturday, Aug. 3, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free.For Information, call610-287-9349 or visitwww.montcopa.org/pennypackermills.com.