Past masters

The Jennings County Historical Society’s 55th annual Sassafras Tea Festival and Civil War Living History event is set in Vernon.

It begins at 8 a.m. Saturday and ends that day with a Blue/Gray Ball at 7 p.m. The hours for Sunday are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The festival is named in honor of the root tea that was once a homestead staple of Hoosier pioneers and is still used today by health enthusiasts.

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Volunteers have worked hard to harvest sassafras roots that will be needed for the festival.

Roots were dug on Mondays and delivered to the Jennings County Historical Society Museum on Tuesdays, and volunteers cleaned, split and laid the roots out to dry from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, museum curator and historical society President Chris Asher said.

While crews were wading in water-soaked fields to dig the sassafras roots, local cooks were working to create the more than 700 pies that will be sold during the festival.

“We picked the berries last summer and froze fresh peaches and apples,” said Asher, who explained that volunteer pastry chiefs have been making individual pie crusts from scratch since January.

After the pie crusts are rolled into circles, the crusts are frozen until the weekend of the festival when a variety of pies are assembled and baked fresh.

In addition to the homemade pies and other desserts the festival has become famous for, volunteer cooks will prepare an estimated 600 meals for diners at the Jennings County Historical Society Museum dining rooms from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days of the festival.

The bake sale and the dining room meals are fundraisers for the museum to fund year- round activities.

Other festival activities are free to the public.

Hundreds of Civil War reenactors, first-person interpreters, musicians and demonstrators in the old-time arts will fill the green space in Vernon with encampments of the Civil War era.

Reenactors camp on the courthouse lawn and perform skits, skirmishes, mock battles and performing arts that tell the story of the 1860s era. Volunteers will wear their blue and gray Civil War uniforms, and the ladies will have stitching petticoats and hooped skirts.

At 12:45 p.m. both days, Civil War reenactors will perform a historically correct Civil War battle at Muscatatuck Park. Watching the battle is free, but spectators will be charged a $5 parking fee in the park.

Ben Thompson and the Hoosier Broadcasters band will play period music at the Blue/Gray Ball on Saturday night in the Vernon gym. Admission is free, and everyone is invited.

Festival visitors can walk through rows of tents and watch campfire cooking, quilting and spinning demonstrations.

They also can see a demonstration of an actual working blacksmith shop, tour the Jennings County Historical Society Museum and shop at vendor tents along the street.

The working blacksmith shop becomes a hub for members of the Indiana Blacksmith Association and onlookers as rough iron is pounded into unique items. Resident blacksmiths Charlie Weaver, Ray Sease and others pound rough iron into useful items.

Tea maker Jim Asher keeps the sassafras brewing in a large brass kettle until the tea reaches a deep red hue. Fresh processed sassafras roots are available for a small donation.

The Vernon Greys join the other reenactors to present the history of the Civil War era.

The North American House, society headquarters and museum houses more than 7,000 artifacts dating back to the early 1800s and is open free to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, the second Saturday of the month, during festivals or through appointments.

The historical society sponsors three festivals annually in addition to special programs and other events.

All proceeds from the festivals are used to maintain the society’s museum, Victorian Railroad office and blacksmith shop.

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Schedule for the Sassafras Tea Festival and Civil War Living History event this weekend in Vernon:


8 a.m.: Museum, blacksmith shop open; bake sale, hot meals

9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Civil War camps open to public; demonstrations: spinning, fire cooking, blacksmith shop, skits, skirmishes, children’s games

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Eric Jarboe and Friends String Band

10:30 a.m.: Underground Railroad tour (meet at museum)

12:45 p.m.: Civil War games, mock battle at Muscatatuck Park ($5 per vehicle)

1:15 p.m.: Civil War battle starts

2:30 p.m.: Concert by Brass Band

2:45 p.m.: Line up for parade at the firehouse

3 p.m.: Parade, Brass Band

7 p.m.: Blue/Grey Ball at Vernon Gym


8 a.m.: Museum open; hot meals, bake sale (homemade pies, breads)

9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Civil War camps open to public

9:15 a.m.: Demonstrations: spinning, fire cooking, blacksmith shop

10 a.m.: Regimental demonstrations

Noon to 2 p.m.: Eric Jarboe concert

12:45 p.m.: Civil War games, mock battle at Muscatatuck Park ($5 per vehicle)

1:15 p.m.: Battle starts

1:30 p.m.: Concert by Brass Band

2:30 p.m.: String Band concert

4 p.m.: Festivities end

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For information about the festival or Jennings County Historical Society, call 812-346-8989 or visit