Rising fifth-graders learn how to make paper at Living History Camp at Carroll farm museum

Madeline Richelderfer feels grateful she wasn’t alive during the 1800s.

“I don’t think I could live without pizza, first of all. Or like, video games and stuff,” she said. “They didn’t have a whole lot — they had board games. Maybe like checkers. That’s about it.”


Richelderfer, 10, hasn’t learned a lot about that time period yet in school, but she learned a little more on Monday when she attended Living History Camp at the Carroll County Farm Museum. It’s a program that teaches children about farm life in the 1800s with hands-on learning opportunities.

On the first day of the camp for rising fifth-graders, campers learned how to make their own piece of paper from wet pulp, among other activities. The instructor, John Sies, gave a lesson on paper history to about 20 elementary schoolers — some donning long, time-period-appropriate skirts with their modern T-shirts — before they clustered around folding tables to make some of their own.

“Let’s get down to the wire,” said Sies, 76.

He brought in refined pulp the kids would have to “agitate” in a tub filled with water, before using a mold and deckle — what essentially looks like two small picture frames pressed together — to form a wet sheet they would place onto a towel, also known as “couching.” They’d continue to push out moisture using a rolling pin, using a hand iron to reach the final product.

The camp offers much more than paper-making — the kids will also get to work with a tin smith and a blacksmith, make pizzas from scratch, bake bread, make ice cream and participate in a 1800s-themed Olympics over the course of the camp, said Makenzie Gawel, a curatorial assistant and the camp’s director.

On day one, 10-year-old Violet Cooney said learning how to make paper has been her favorite experience so far.

And the best part of that?

“Getting my hands dirty,” said Cooney, with a smile and paper fibers scattered on her hands.

Bobbi Ward, who did the demonstration and helped Sies walk the kids through the process, also explained her ties to the paper-making industry to the group. As a descendant of the Hoffman family, her ancestors helped provide paper to the Continental Congress that this nation’s early leaders would need for money and stationery.

“They really did their part in helping their country become a country,” she said.

Instructors John Sies, left, and Bobbi Ward demonstrate paper making during Living History Camp at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster Monday, July 8, 2019.
Instructors John Sies, left, and Bobbi Ward demonstrate paper making during Living History Camp at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster Monday, July 8, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

For Ward, teaching people of all ages about paper basics is “so very, very important.”

“They learn to appreciate it,” she said. “And when they go into a store and look at a piece of paper, or even their piece of paper right on the stool, will have a whole different meaning once they’ve made a piece of paper, don’t you think? It’s the fact that they actually do it.”

It’s this hands-on experience that interested Richelderfer. The process was fun, messy and a “little bit frustrating,” since the paper would rip if you messed up a little bit, she said. It was different from school, where students are expected to sit and listen.

“I like it because you can actually do stuff,” she said. “Also, I like that you can ask questions without raising your hand.”


Richelderfer, who moved to the area when she was going into second grade, said she might use the paper she made to write a letter to one of her friends from another state.

“And like, say, ‘Guess what? I made this paper on my own — so don’t break it,’” she said.