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A portal through time

The new exhibit at the Afton Historical Museum offers a glimpse into what life was like for Afton farmers around the turn of the 19th century. Rivertown Multimedia photo by Youssef Rddad

New Afton Historic Museum exhibit offers a glimpse into life on the farm

What was it like to live and work on a farm around the turn of the 19th century? A new exhibit at the Afton Historical museum may have some clues.

The display, called Farm Life in Early Afton, is based off a series of short stories from former Afton resident Laura Berglund who writes about living on her family’s farm near Faribault during the Great Depression.

The exhibit also features homemade tools farmers from the early 1900s used, such as hand tools used for sowing fields and harvesting crops, as well as a metal cream separator. The display also includes a full-sized paper mache horse pulling a plow from around the same era.

“What we tried to do here is follow the story in the exhibit and show people what it was like to live in that time period,” said Stan Ross, the museum’s president.

Afton residents donated many of the items showcased in the exhibit, Ross said, adding that the actual tools give a sense of history about how tough life was at times.

Berglund, 84, of Hudson, Wis., said she always enjoyed writing, and the city of Afton asked to publish some of her stories for its newsletter some years ago.

Her narrative short stories reflect on her family and the day to day challenges families like hers faced living and working on a farm.

“Living after the Depression was survival,” Berglund said. “I wanted people to see the difference about what it was like in the 1930s.”

Her parents started the day around 5:30 a.m. most days and would work until it got dark.

Besides Sundays, when the family went to church and took some hours off from their normal routine, “there was still always something to do,” Berglund said.

Her father and uncle tended to livestock, machinery and the fields most days while her mom tended to the chickens, sewed and cooked.

Berglund’s mother would use the money she earned from the eggs to buy material for making clothes for Berglund and her other children.

Sometimes she would use empty flour sacks to fashion dresses for the girls.

“A lot of my summer dresses were made from burlap,” Berglund said.

The warmers months were mainly used to prepare for winter, Berglund said, adding that her family spent a considerable amount of time canning vegetables and storing other food during the coldest months.

After her father died, Berglund’s family moved into town and eventually sold the farm.

As museum-goers meander around the exhibit, Ross said he hopes people are able to put themselves in the era that Berglund and others before her lived through.

“It’s very different from the days we are in now living in Woodbury and Afton with all these creature comforts. This was a tough life and barely recognized,” Ross said.

The Afton Historical Museum is located at 3165 S. St. Croix Trail and is open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well as 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays through Labor Day.

Farm Life in Early Afton is part of a new exhibit the museum rolls out each year and will run until the end of October.

For more information, call 651-436-3500 or go online to