In one of the oldest barns in Oregon, a fiddler is playing "Oh! Susanna." There's a woman in a hoop skirt swinging in time to the rhythm, while more visitors clap to the beat on worn wooden benches. Outside, young children are playing yard games, absentmindedly tapping their feet to the fiddle's tune. It's a painting come to life, a glimpse into the 1860s, happening in 2017.
It's the Champoeg Park Barn Dance, and its mission is to keep the pioneer spirit alive.
At the latest event, held Saturday, July 8, the Friends of Historic Champoeg taught square dancing and folk songs to people of all ages.
"We have been doing the dancing at Champoeg for about 10 years now," Kay Demlow, one of the coordinators of the event, says. "We want people to experience the social life of the 1860s. In the summer, when the weather was good, a farmer might have a social. It was an all-day event."
The living history event pays homage to a simpler time of community connection.
"The magic comes from the dancers and the (square dance) caller," Demlow says. "It's not the kind of dance where people will criticize if you don't know the steps. It's a friendly event."
Lending both his voice and fiddle to the event, square dance caller Truman Price creates a lively atmosphere for all who enter the old threshing barn, getting visitors up and swinging to the beat of old Americana tunes with the help of the band Worn Out Shoes. For the coordinators of the event, there is nothing better than seeing the joy on the faces of guests as they learn about the 1860s lifestyle .
"I just love the socialization," Chris Myers, a volunteer at the event, says. "Every person in the barn is smiling."
"You can't help but smile," school teacher Emily-Rose Rosewood adds.
Myers and Rosewood sum up the welcoming nature of the event, one catering to everyone from history buffs to Champoeg Park overnight campers with outdoor games, snacks, music and dancing.
"Part of the fun of the barn dance is that people can dance with strangers," Demlow says. "By the end of the dance you'll know these people, you'll be laughing together."
Above all, the event is an educational opportunity, a hands-on experience that teaches about the American pioneer lifestyle and showcases the joys of farm life fun.
"I happen to love history. I especially enjoy living history," Demlow says. "For me, there's always a chance to get a history moment and understand the past a little bit better. Plus, it's a lot of fun."