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Back to the days of George Washington at Berne Swiss Days

Sunday, July 27, 2014 - 1:38 pm

Berne, a town about 34 miles south of Fort Wayne off US 27, was settled by Swiss Mennonites in the 1850s and incorporated in the 1870s. Friday and Saturday, the community held its annual Berne Swiss Days to reflect its history: at Swiss Heritage Village visitors got a look at the 1881 one-room schoolhouse said to be the county's first, engines dating back to the early 1900s, the 1870s cheese house with a video running inside on cheese making, a 55-vehicle car show with many from the 1950s.

But John Lindsey, of Geneva, brought a bit of the 18th century with him. Lindsey set up a giant spinning wheel, called a walking wheel, and other wooden equipment he used to show visitors how to turn flax plants into thread for weaving. He let young onlookers participate.

"I think it's more important to show the public" how the equipment is used, he said.

He held onto a handful of plants that had been soaked and dried. Lifting up a lever of a breaking machine Visitors could beat down on the straw to separate out the fiber as Lindsey drew the plant under the beater. Next, they could pull it through the heckling comb, like a bed of nails, to get rid of the last of the straw from the plant. Then Lindsey sat at a spinning machine, wet his fingers and drew bits of fiber out of a prepared bundle and onto a bobbin.

Lindsey, who started collecting his spinning equipment 47 years ago with the walking wheel as a house decoration, showed visitors the metal bottom of the heckling comb. Embossed on the side of the metal frame was the year 1759, the year George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, Lindsey pointed out to visitors. Now, he told visitors, they could tell people they had used equipment from colonial times.