Traditional skills on display at Stately Oaks

By Joel Hall


In recognition of National Historic Preservation Week, the Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro is spending the week showing people how to do things the old-fashioned way.

The Stately Oaks Plantation Living History Guild is hosting free demonstrations of old-time skills on the plantation property from 10 a.m., to 4 p.m., each day this week through Saturday. Members of the volunteer guild are showing visitors the arts of open-hearth cooking, card weaving, yarn spinning, butter churning, belt making, and basket weaving.

Barbara Emert, director of the Stately Oaks Plantation, said the plantation's observance of Historic Preservation Week is a tradition dating back more than a decade.

"This epitomizes what we are really about," Emert said. "We're taking something about the past, demonstrating it, and making people interested in it."

Martha Wilson, co-chairwoman of the Living History Guild, demonstrates open-hearth cooking. She said many of the appliances we take for granted today replace tasks that would have taken most of the day to accomplish.

"Life was much harder back then," Wilson said. "It makes you appreciate your washing machine and dryer."

Visitors to this week's exhibition will learn how bay laurel, rosemary, oregano, and other spices were hung and dried; how sugar, salt, and brandy were used to preserve foods before refrigeration, and how cooking was accomplished before the use of stoves, Wilson said.

Devi McDaniel, another co-chairwoman of the Living History Guild, said while old-time skills are novel to most people today, those skills were key to a person's survival 150 years ago. She said she believes learning those skills can be empowering, particularly for people dealing with the slow economy.

"When you get into bad time, you really can survive," McDaniel said. "When you can't afford to buy it, you have to be able to do it. It's a very comforting thing to know that we don't have to run to the grocery store for these things. I think they'll [visitors will] learn that it's not impossible to do these things."

Emert said she hopes the exhibition will get more people interested in keeping the old arts alive.

"To visualize the kind of things the typical family had to do 100 years ago, or 150 years ago, it is a pretty unique opportunity for the average person, particularly children," she said. "Hopefully people will see a skill that interests them, so we can pass it to another generation."

The Stately Oaks Plantation is located at 100 Carriage Lane in Jonesboro. For more information, call (770) 473-0197.