The Jennings County Historical Society announces the arrival of spring with the 59th Annual Sassafras Tea Festival and Civil War Living History. The two-day event is slated for April 24 and 25 in Historic Vernon. Civil War re-enactors camp on the courthouse lawn and around the square as society headquarters, the North American House Museum, and the town of Vernon become a bustle of activity.
The festival has something to offer every age group. The working blacksmith shop is a great attraction. Members of the Indiana Blacksmith Association pound rough iron into beautiful items ranging from courting candles to pot hangers. Members of the Indiana Woodcarvers Guild will be on hand for hands-on demonstrations. Award winning artist, Karen Chilman, will “throw mud” at the pottery wheel and Eric Santiago will spin and weave. Musicians surround the museum throughout the two-day event just to name a few of the attractions.
Jennings County has a direct link to the Civil War with the challenge by John Hunt Morgan and his band of raiders to take the town of Vernon by force on July 13, 1863. Knowledgeable Civil War re-enactors, first person interpreters, Union and Confederate artillery, perform skits, skirmishes and mock battles both days. A spectacular firing of the artillery will take place on Saturday night.
Wood carvers and other turn-of-the-century arts are demonstrated throughout the weekend. Carriage rides and Underground Railroad tours are available on Saturday. The only admission fee will be $5 per vehicle for the mock battles.
Over 700 pies are sold on the society’s bake sale with flavors ranging from blackberry, rhubarb, spring fruit, bumbleberry, peach, sugar cream, cherry, apple and more! Hundreds of bundles of freshly dug and processed sassafras roots are available as well as free samplings of fresh brewed sassafras tea.
“Society volunteers have been serving the deep red brew since 1962. Locals and visitors alike line up for the ‘spring tonic,’ ” comments festival chair, Chris Asher. “This event is the society’s biggest history program of the year and has become nationally known for the quality of the Civil War history, sassafras tea and homemade pies!”
Sassafras trees were plentiful in Jennings County in 1806 when Government Surveyors came to the area. Surveyors kept very detailed journals and there are many entries describing “quite large sassafras trees, growing in groves, throughout Jennings.” These trees are basically a midwest/eastern U.S. native.
Digging sassafras roots has gone on for centuries. Roots are dug in the spring before the sap starts to run. Native Americans made medicine from the roots. Old-timers tell us the tea is a spring tonic, good for rheumatism, a blood thinner.” Others say it is “an energy booster, gets the blood flowing.” The Surgeon General says it “could be toxic to your health when taken in large quantities.”
The best part of tea-making is all the stories that surround the huge brass kettle as the tea is brewed outside throughout the event. Some locals recall the aroma of sassafras tea and gingerbread cookies filtered through the house while their grandmother worked from the kitchen. Those tasting tea for the first time aren’t sure what to expect. Most like it from the first taste, while others don’t care for it.
The Historical Society is looking for sponsors to help cover expenses for the tea festival and Civil War Living History as well as all society-sponsored events and programs. Donations may be sent to the Jennings County Historical Society, PO Box 335, 134 E Brown Street, Vernon, IN 47282. The Historical Society is a not-for-profit 501c(3) organization.