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Ushers Ferry Historic Village

upl_ushers-ferryUshers Ferry Historic Village is a recreated village that strives to interpret life in a small Iowa town between the years of 1890 and 1910. Through a combination of restored and furnished historic buildings, open air exhibits and living history demonstrations, Ushers Ferry helps visitors to understand what life was like in a small Iowa town at the turn of the 20th century.

The Village is named for an early ferryboat operation that was established by the Usher family just a short distance up the river, in the late 1830’s. The land that the village is built on was originally part of the timber claim deeded to Henry Usher in the 1850’s. It is believed that his home, which was brought to Ushers Ferry in 1983, was built of lumber cut and milled on this land.

This property, as well as most of Seminole Valley, was used as farmland until it was purchased by the City of Cedar Rapids in 1966 to provide for an extension of the city well system and the creation of Seminole Valley Park. The idea for the creation of a Pioneer Village was developed in 1973, when several urban renewal projects threatened many old structures in the Cedar Rapids area with demolition. Among these was the Christ Holy Sanctified Church (originally built as the Oak Hill Free Methodist Church) then owned by Mrs. Viola Gibson. She expressed her wish to see the building preserved rather than demolished. With the help of Parks Commissioner Stanislav Reinis, and the Turner Alley Chapter of Questors, a ten-acre section of Seminole Valley Park was re-dedicated as Pioneer Village in 1975 and the Church was relocated to this site. In 1986, the name was changed to Ushers Ferry Historic Village to reflect its ties to the history of the Valley and the Usher family that once owned this land.

A six member volunteer commission appointed by the Mayor and the City of Cedar Rapids governs Ushers Ferry. Ushers Ferry is a Department of the City of Cedar Rapids and the Commissioner of Parks and Public Property sits as an ex-Officio member of the Commission.  The Village has a full time staff of four, a small crew of seasonal interpreters, and a volunteer staff of about sixty.  The Village welcomes about 30,000 visitors a year to “take a step back in time.”

Ushers Ferry is open May, September, and October on Saturday’s and Sundays from 1-4. June, July, and August the Village is open Thursday to Sunday from 1-4. Beginning in 2005 the Village will be open Tuesday to Sunday from 1-4 in June, July, and August. Throughout the year the Village hosts a wide range of special events that help visitors explore specific aspects of small town life in the nineteenth century.

September features the Village’s annual Civil War Reenactment.  This large living history event is structured with plenty of interactive activities to get visitors beyond looking at the soldiers in their uniforms and actually talking to them.  In the evening visitors can take advantage if the Candlelight Camp Tour and Military Ball.

October is one of the Village’s busiest months and one of its prettiest as the trees all around the valley blaze with color.  The month opens with All Things Scottish on October 2.  October 17 the Village looks in depth at nineteenth century woodworking in our Woodworkers Jamboree.  October 26 is the Safe Halloween for Kids.  This event is purely for fun as 1500 kids in a host of hilarious costumes trick or treat around town at homes and businesses sponsored by Cedar Rapids area companies.  October 30 the Village’s Parlour Theater Company will present an old time radio broadcast of Orson Welles’ version of Dracula.  Following the performance guests will enjoy dessert and coffee by candlelight in the Village homes.  The Parlour Theater Series gives guests the opportunity to see the Village in the evening, lets them enjoy some of the nineteenth century’s great literature, and helps them experience small town entertainment.

The Village season winds up with the Thanksgiving Candlelight Tour on November 26-27.  This event immerses visitors in the sights, sounds, and smells of a turn of the century Thanksgiving.  The Village streets are line with more than 250 luminaries. Guests learn the schottische and other dances at the Thanksgiving Ball, sing hymns in the Village Church, help with a class program at the school, and sample the tastes of a woodstove meal in the Village homes.

In addition to its regular events, Ushers Ferry offers a wide range of education programs.  Girl Scouts from all over Iowa and Illinois have enjoyed the Girl Scout Overnight Programs.  The basic overnight program allows large groups of girl scouts to experience a hay ride through the park, a dance at the Village church, and s’mores around the bonfire. The girls then spend the night in the Village homes.  The “Living the Life” program immerses small groups of scouts in turn of the century life.  The girls come in the afternoon, fire up the wood stove with their guide and prepare their dinner.  While dinner is cooking they play period games and make period toys.  After dinner they wash up and go do some dancing or take a nature walk and head to bed tired out.  Bright and early the next morning they get up and fire up the stove to create a big country breakfast.  Before heading back to the modern world they have time for touring around the Village.

Ushers Ferry also hosts hundred of school children each year for field trips.  The “Day in the One Room School House” program is a favorite for teachers and children alike.  In the program each class is supplied with an information packet ahead of time.  The packet contains background on one room schools, a reading assignment to start in class, and biographical information on children from Ushers Ferry.  The children pick an Ushers Ferry child that they would like to be and then learn about their family.  When they arrive at the school, they then become that child for the day.  The teacher/ tour guide is in first person, and the children also stay in character.  They complete their lessons, have recess, and in the process learn a  good deal of history.  Many of the groups go all out for this tour, assembling old fashioned clothes, making hats and bonnets; and one group even arrived for the tour in a Model A.

With the completion of a new visitors center in the spring of 2004, the Village looks forward to expanding its programming into the winter months and helping even more people explore life in a small Iowa town one hundred years ago.  For more information on Ushers Ferry visit their web site at www.cedar-rapids.org/ushers or call 319-286-5763.

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