Home for the Holidays with the Croghans: Part 1

All right, so I know this might not be welcome news for some of you, but there are only 29 days until Christmas! But even better news–only 10 days until Christmastide at Locust Grove! While Locust Grove has had Christmas programs in the past, Christmastide is new and improved! There will be interactive whist games in the parlor, an activity passport, dancing, hearth cooking demonstrations with refreshments, and lively conversation on the topics of the day–in 1816! And while the back door from the porch is most often used for guests’ visits, guests at Christmastide will enter through the front door, as would guests at a Croghan family party in 1816. Over in 2014, in the auditorium of the visitor’s center, new, used and antiquarian books will be for sale. I asked Brian Cushing and Amy Liebert to give us some insight into the historical interpreters program at Locust Grove and preparations for Christmastide.

What is the Historical Interpreters Program at LG?

The historical interpreters program allows our guests to meet the people who would have been at Locust Grove in the year 1816. Participants undergo training and research to be able to portray people whom we know were at Locust Grove at that time. Guests who visit Locust Grove when the interpreters are in action will be greeted by interpreters in authentic 19th century garments who will welcome them to the year 1816 with all the important news and gossip of the day.

Interpreters are trained in period pastimes, language and of course the history of Locust Grove. Seeing the interpreters in action allows visitors to experience the Grove as more than a static display. Our younger cast members will be running across the lawn playing period games while the adults play cards, sew and gossip. Guests are able to speak with and interact with our interpreters one on one, but even more than that they provide at least a little of the noise and bustle which would have been a party of daily life at Locust Grove



Christmastide rehearsals!

How does one become an interpreter at LG?

Locust Grove holds open auditions once or twice a year to fill our cast list. The cast list itself is limited to those individuals whom we can document to have been present at Locust Grove in 1816. Anyone is welcome (and highly encouraged!) to come audition.



Practicing historical hearth cooking skills!

Melissa, our hearth cook, is looking forward to Christmastide, calling it “not your average Christmas event.” She became part of the costumed interpreter program when she  was approached by Brian, about potentially doing a hearth cooking demonstration for Christmastide. She’s been planning the menu for months! According to Melissa, “All of the dishes I’m making in the outkitchen would be dishes the Croghan family might have eaten at Christmas, 1816. It took a lot of research to find out what would have been in season and in the area at that time, and I’m very happy with the menu!” Some familiar foodstuffs will be had, such as gingerbread and hot chocolate, although Melissa warns that “early 19th-century gingerbread was more like a gingersnap cookie, and drinking chocolate was a lot more bitter and intense.” Either way, it sounds yummy!

What’s the process of becoming a historic interpreter after auditioning? 

After a person has been cast in our interpreter corps, they will attend several workshops and rehearsals over the course of the year on the history of Locust Grove, period clothing and entertainments, language, and performance technique. Each member is also expected to do their own research on their character and the time period. The rehearsal process is designed to train interpreters to take their knowledge and convey it to the public through first person improvisation. The main goal of this program is to educate people about Locust Grove in a way they would not get on a regular tour or through static displays. Live interpreters provide our visitors with a tangible experience, and all of our training is with that goal in mind.




Working on costumes at rehearsal. All costumes are handmade and go through a rigorous approval process in order to ensure historical accuracy.

So, how excited for Christmas are you now? I myself am so very excited to celebrate all the work our interpreters have put into Christmastide and visit with the Croghan family. I’ve heard the whist game practices have been very spirited! Christmastide will be held on December 5 and 6 from 5:30-9pm. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children, or $18 maximum per household. Stay tuned for part 2 of this series to learn more about what to expect from Christmastide and let us know in the comments what you are most looking forward to this Locust Grove holiday season!

Many happy thoughts,


P.S. The Locust Grove Museum Store sale starts this Friday, November 28 and ends on December 7! Drop by for some shopping to take advantage of a 20% discount on all purchases!

Nancy Cow and the Secrets of the Locust Grove Dairy


Nancy the Cow, the Official Sponsor of the Locust Grove Dairy

Hello delightful people! As I mentioned recently, the dairy is up and running! And by up and running, I mean that it is now furnished as an 18th century dairy should be. Huzzah! Today, I thought we’d take a look at  how the dairy functioned as part of the farm operations during the Croghan residence at Locust Grove, as well as some of the “stuff” that’s now on display. 102_4866 The dairy is generally referred to as an outbuilding, but could also be called a dependency, or a building designed to be separate from the main house while also serving the needs of the family. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the production of dairy products like cheese and butter was relatively low in the South, so the fact that the Croghans had a dairy signifies the wealth of their farm.  The sale of cheese and butter served an economic purpose with the surplus product sold to supplement household funds, recoup funds spend to invest in cattle,  and purchase other commodities. Therefore, having a dairy meant that the family would not only be able to enjoy delicious cheeses and butter but also benefit from the extra income. While dairying was a time consuming process, the household dairy industry itself was also somewhat flexible and could fit the existing schedule of household tasks without overshadowing the other demands on a woman’s time.

The dairy  at Locust Grove is near the well, which is handy for cleaning.

The dairy at Locust Grove is near the well, which is handy for cleaning.

The most important thing to keep in mind in dairy maintenance was cleanliness. Dairies would usually be found near wells and spring houses, because water was needed for cleaning purposes. Because of the nature of work in the dairy, it was necessary to create a sterile environment for cheese and butter.The dairy was thoroughly cleaned at the beginning of spring, when cheese-making would generally begin, and then be cleaned out again in the fall. Charles Millington, the author of The Housekeeper’s Domestic Library; or New Universal Family Instructor, writes about cleaning dairy utensils and equipment: “‘They should be well-washed every day in warm water, and afterwards rinced in cold, and must be entirely cool before they are used. If, however, any kind of metal vessels are improperly retained in the dairy, they must be scalded every day, and well-scrubbed and scoured.’”Milk pans could be covered with cheesecloth to prevent bugs and dirt from dropping into the milk. Mr. Millington may know a lot about cleaning a dairy, but dairying was primarily woman’s work. In fact, the word “dairy” descends from the Middle English word “deierie”, meaning a place of female work. Due to sanitary concerns, milk was usually stored separately from wherever milking occurred. At the time when the Croghans were settling in Kentucky, milk would have been taken from the barns after milking to the springhouse or dairy to cool. Milk buckets are wider on the bottom so it’s harder to overturn them.


Mrs. O’Leary’s cow may be a myth, but let’s take precaution to prevent spilled milk just the same!

John Croghan’s 1849 probate inventory lists 12 cows, all of which would generally be milked twice a day. That’s a lot of milk, so dairy production, particularly in the summer, was likely very high. Because of the size of the Croghan family, as well as the size of their slave population, the dairy at Locust Grove probably was an operation on the medium size, producing cheese and butter for approximately 50 people plus any guests. Just as milk these days  has to be pasteurized and homogenized and a bunch of other things before it makes its way to our cereal bowls, milk in the 18th and 19th centuries had to be processed before it was used. And that’s where this beautiful pancheon comes in. 102_4853   Pancheons, or setting dishes, were used to cool milk and set cream. The steps for processing milk looked something like this:

  1. Milk cows!
  2. Strain the fresh milk in order to remove chunks and detritus like hairs and insects.
  3. Pour into milk pans—leave for cream to rise, about 12-24 hours.
  4. Skim off the cream and store milk in salt-glaze or earthenware pots.
  5. Use milk for butter, drinking or cooking!

If you’ve ever read Little House on the Prairie, you probably recognize this contraption. 102_4862 That’s right, the good, old-fashioned butter churn. Butter would  be made from cream in a plunge churn like the ones found in the Locust Grove dairy. Churning took place in the early morning or evening. Butter would be rinsed with water and worked by hand or with butter paddles until all of the water, or buttermilk, was removed from the butter. finally, butter was salted for preservation and could last for two to three months when stored in the springhouse.

The Locust Grove springhouse

The Locust Grove springhouse

The rest of the milk would be used in cooking or in making the best food of all time: cheese! Cheese comes in all sorts of scrumptious varieties, but can basically be broken into the categories of soft, hard, aged, and fresh semi-soft. Soft cheeses are made and eaten in shorter amounts of time than hard cheeses, but the initial process remains the same:

  1. Rennet (from the lining of a calf’s stomach) added to milk. Let stand for twelve hours.
  2. Cut into squares with knife or cheese knife. Whey leaks out through the cut lines. Cubes put through cheese press or whey strainer get rid of extra water–the whey.
  3. The curds are then put into cheese cloth and hung over a bucket from a tree, clothesline or cheese ladder to set.
  4. To make hard cheese, put the curds into a cheese hoop and press, turn and age for several months.

We have a whey strainer, but no cheese hoops or cheese press yet! (Dear Santa, the dairy has been very good this year…) 102_4851 All the various crocks and casks around the dairy would have been used to store butter and milk over time in either the dairy or the springhouse. 102_4858 I like to think that Lucy Croghan and the dairy staff at Locust Grove would be very pleased at how the dairy has turned out! In the future, we’ll talk more about cheesemaking, but for now, let’s just admire all the work that our Croghan predecessors put into their farm!

Cheesily yours,


(How do you get a mouse to smile? Say cheese!)

P.S. For more information on colonial dairy practices, look no further than these great sources!

Michael Olmert, Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies: Outbuildings and the Architecture of Daily Life in the Eighteenth Century Mid-Atlantic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.

Michael Olmert, “Cool, Calm, and Clean.” CW Journal, Winter 2005-2006.

Sandra Louise Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Rachel Kennedy and William Macintire, “Agricultural and Domestic Outbuildings in Central and Western Kentucky, 1800-1865.” The Kentucky Heritage Council, 1999.

Monticello, “Dairying at Monticello.”

A blog post detailing a cheese making workshop at Old Sturbridge Village led by foodways interpreter Ryan Beckman provides a complete outline of 19th century cheese making practices and can be found here.

History at Play: Locust Grove in the Community

On this day in 1860, Kentucky native Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. But long before Lincoln was born in 1809, one of Locust Grove’s most famous residents, George Rogers Clark, was fighting the good fight as leader of the Illinois Regiment, securing Lincoln’s second home state of Illinois for the fledgling United States during the Revolutionary War. Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Hannah, we know all this! What’s the big deal?” Well, recently, Locust Grove sponsored an event that celebrated GRC and the American Revolution, paving the way for Lincoln and his ideas for a “new birth of freedom”.   On Wednesday October 15th the Bullitt County Campus of Jefferson Community and Technical College put on a Revolutionary War Day. This event was put on in partnership with Locust Grove, and was facilitated by Amy Liebert, historical interpreter, and Brian Cushing, our program director. Amy and Brian were kind enough to share the following photos and write-up of the day, demonstrating Locust Grove’s ongoing outreach education efforts.

According to Amy, Locust Grove provided a great deal of material support including costumes for Bullitt staff and students and textboards about George Rogers Clark and his life and the war in the West. Locust Grove Program Coordinator Brian Cushing was there as a volunteer. This was Brian’s second trip to visit to Bullitt, as he visited earlier this semester to give a talk on Locust Grove and George Rogers Clark.


Amy is a transplant from the San Francisco Bay Area, and in her professional life, she is a history instructor for Jefferson Community & Technical College at the Bullitt County Campus and Downtown Campus. She has also been involved in living history for over a decade, through the Great Dickens Christmas Fair and the Guild of St. George, Inc. in Northern California.

Amy began volunteering at Locust Grove within two weeks of her arrival in Louisville. “Carol Ely told me I was not going to have any free time after I got here,” Amy grins. “This has proven very true, and I couldn’t be happier!” Amy volunteered as a consultant when Locust Grove was redesigning their First Person Interpreter Program and serves as the Theatrical Director for the program. “When I moved to this new city, Locust Grove was there to give me a community. I have made some amazing friends there, and I am so excited for all the things ahead!”

Brian and Amy during Market Fair

Brian and Amy during Market Fair

Students and volunteers were treated to a meal prepared by Bullitt Campus librarian Sandy Smallwood with authentic 18th century recipes. Brian Cushing and Lance Minnis, a regular volunteer at Locust Grove’s Market Fair, portrayed members of the Illinois Regiment of the Virginia State Line and Kentucky Militia. They gave a lecture on George Rogers Clark and the differences between Militia and State Line troops.  Afterwards there was a demonstration of fire from Lance and Brian and a cannon demonstration from Taylor Rose Historical Outfitters. Taylor Rose is a frequent vendor at many Locust Grove events.

Firing demonstration!

Firing demonstration!

It was Carol Ely, Locust Grove’s executive director,  who made the offer for Locust Grove to partner with the campus. “One day last fall when I was at the Grove with a colleague of mine, Carol made a point of chasing us down to tell us how much the Grove would love to partner with our campus. I certainly did not forget that offer!” said Amy. “This was an incredible opportunity to give our students a real, tangible connection to the material we have covered in class. How many American history students are able to taste rabbit stew or see a musket demonstration?!”.

Bullitt Rev War Day 062

Explaining cannon mechanics

Lance and Brian were also able to share their research experience with students.

18th century military fashions on view

18th century military fashions on view

“Our students often struggle with understanding the difference between primary and secondary sources. Having Lance and Brian come in to back up that part of our curriculum was very helpful.”

Bullitt students enjoying the day

Bullitt students enjoying the day

American History students at Bullitt can visit Locust Grove for extra credit any time during the semester. And in addition to Revolutionary War Day at Bullitt, Brian and Archives intern Sam Hagan visited a local school for yet another outreach opportunity. Locust Grove is certainly making it around the community!

Brian and Samantha Hagan

We look forward to welcoming Bullitt students (and every other kind of student!) to Locust Grove! Thanks for sharing, Amy and Brian,and for all that you do!

Respectfully yours,


P.S. To receive updates on all the goings-on at Locust Grove, why not join our e-mailing list? Sign-up HERE to receive monthly updates! Or if you foresee numerous visits to Locust Grove in your future, why not become a member? Friends of Locust Grove receive free admission, invitations to members-only events, a 10% discount in the Museum Store, a copy of our quarterly newsletter, The Grove Gazette and much, much more! More information can be found HERE.

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