Even if you've been to John A. Logan College in Carterville more times than you can count for myriad reasons, you might not have noticed the Harrison-Bruce Historical Village.
The five buildings that make up the village sit on a grassy hill, just to the south of the main entrance and parking lot, overlooking the hustle and bustle of a major Southern Illinois junior college.
But if you had been to the campus last Wednesday evening, you might have noticed groups of chattering fourth-grade Girl Scouts -- several in period dress -- who toured the village and peppered their guides with questions.
The guides didn't mind, really. In fact, they take glory in answering questions: the better to share their extensive knowledge of the village's historical buildings and the artifacts contained within.
Still, that description falls far short of what was going on Wednesday, as the junior girls from Carterville Girl Scout Troop 8092, led in two groups of 10, seemed absolutely absorbed in the stories that the two village docents, Jetta Chiaventone, and Susan Coriasco, were telling about the everyday lives of the people who lived in those buildings, nearly 200 years ago.
"Do you know what this is?" asked Coriasco, holding up a large ceramic pot. After several guesses, she told the girls that it was a chamber pot and after they all understood what it would have contained, she asked if they knew whose job it probably was to empty it. "Yes," she said, "usually it was the children's job."
"Eeew," said a chorus of girls.
Both docents led their groups through the Harrison Storefront, a replica of an early 1900s double-dog-trot-style cabin, divided into two rooms, one that has a general store exhibit and one that holds pioneer household artifacts. They told stories of children long ago doing chores that might have included running a cider press or an operating a corn sheller. They described work that the men might do every day using the tools on display.
"They built the cabin with this breezeway between the two sides to keep the heat of kitchen away from the living space in the summer," Chiaventone said. "You could go from side to side under this covered walkway and if the dogs were tired, they could rest out here, too."
Then it was on to the Harrison-Bruce House, the docent leading the way, fielding questions as the group walked along the red stone pathways that connect the buildings.
"How did they get all of the buildings here?"
"Does anyone live here now?"
"When did they have electricity?"
"When did they have real bathrooms?"
Once inside the Harrison House, they were surprised to learn that Julia Harrison Bruce was instrumental in the organization of the Girls Scouts in Herrin, as well as the building of the Girl Scout Camp at Little Grassy Lake. She and her brother, Fred, established the Fred G. Harrison and the Julia Harrison Bruce Charitable and Civic Foundations. Much of the Historical Village was funded by those foundations.
The Girl Scouts were earning their "Play in the Past" badges with this tour and seemed to love the experience. And although there were a few cellphones in use, it was only the camera function, as the girls snapped photos of artifacts and themselves and giggled about some of the docent's stories.
They seemed completely absorbed in the past, at least for the length of the tour, and couldn't stop talking about what they had seen, even during a lunch break.
While the girls munched, they learned about the kind of lunches that schoolchildren packed more than a century ago.
"They might have beef jerky or a biscuit," said head schoolteacher and docent Jane Stalker. "They would often spread lard on their biscuits and then sprinkle a little sugar."
"Eeew!" said several girls in chorus.
"None of these girls were able to come here on the annual school trip," said Jennifer Whitehead, troop leader for the fourth-grade juniors. "So, it's especially nice for them. They always learn so much when they come here. They can't stop talking about it all for days."
The Girl Scouts who toured Wednesday were Abby Stalker (Jane's granddaughter), Adelyn Horn, Natalie Whitehead, Macie Clark, Sophia Rask, Avery Chapman, Kenadi Compton, Hannah Dueker, Hayley Dueker and Maleigha Harris.
The village is open for spring and summer tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of the month from April through October. Volunteer docents serve as guides. Tours are free and last about an hour and a half.
Private tours for any size group can be arranged by calling JALC at (618) 985-2828, ext. 8425. For more information or to ask about becoming a village docent, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (618) 985-2828, ext. 8343. They're on Facebook, too; search for Harrison/Bruce Historical Village at John A. Logan College.