The Greater St Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau began a living history program on South Main in 1994 as part of a Historical Tourism project to enhance visitor experience. The focus of the program was to bring period music, trade demonstrations, and first person interactions to the public on weekends May through September.
This event entertained, educated, did not include sales to compete with merchants and kept the activity on the street.
In 2010, Living History received no funding and was canceled. Volunteers from South Main Preservation Society, recognizing the need to provide context to the historic significance of the Historic District, mounted a well-crafted effort to find grant funding, but without success. The loss of this program and promotion for Main Street is significant. Funding for this well-known and well-received program was $30,000-$40,000. The program was entirely managed by Carolyn Whetzel and therefore required little city staff time.
Creation of the program followed the research of Ray Bruen, the then Director of JNEHA, which clearly demonstrated that when visitors are greeted and engaged they stay longer, spend more, and have a positive experience. It was also understood that the public is much more informed with respect to history thanks to the popular appeal of sites like Colonial Williamsburg and Deerfield Village. More accurate film and television costuming has brought public attention to accuracy in period clothing. The general public can now recognize the “right look” even if they haven’t thought about historical clothing or how a garment should fit. The program was therefore developed to be engaging, educational, and authentic.
All Living History participants were carefully selected. They represented History Channel consultants and production directors, museum staff, college and university instructors, military historians, state historic site directors, local and international recording artists, musicologists, luthiers, authors, and artisans representing Best of Missouri /Best of Illinois Hands with work in museums across the country.
This Living History program was the only one of its kind in the Midwest. Many historical reenactment events happen on weekends all over the country. This program, however, was specially developed to be an ongoing recreation of village life full of trade and commerce, music and traveling entertainments, and men and women who were raising families and making a living in the early 19th century.
The following is an excerpt from a letter written by one of the participants:
"Historic tourism gives old Main Street in St. Charles an advantage over the increasing number of "cookie cutter" malls that have covered our communities. No matter how many hours we spend in modern commercial settings or how oblivious we can be to history, we are all drawn to "quaint old buildings". This is because these quaint buildings are indexes to a time when we lived in smaller, more accessible communities: places that were on a more human scale. "
The following are comments from visitors:
A spinning wheel!! I have always wanted to see one. Please show me how it works.
My granddad was a carpenter. He had a wooden tool box like that full of planes and chisels. Haven’t thought about that old box for years.
Wow! Do you guys do this everyday?
Could you come to our library and do a program?
Did you really make this? Do you mean people used to do this all the time?
SAMPLE PRESS RELEASE:
Historic Time Travelers in St. Charles. They are First-person Historians who represent the French villagers and American farm and townsfolk of St. Charles from 1790 to 1830 with respect and good-natured fun. After all, it takes a lot of humor to live to be two hundred years old!
Saturdays and Sundays during May and June 2007. Hours: Saturdays 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. & Sundays 12 noon to 4:00 P.M. The last weekend June 22, 23, 24 includes Friday 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
On the sidewalks of South Main Street. You will recognize them because they wear funny clothes made by hand, copied from old museum pieces.
A Virginia merchant, a French boatman, a German farm wife, a chairmaker, a preacher, a flatboatman, a papermaker, a laundress, a French trapper and more interpreters. All have engaging stories to tell. None of them have a clue that today is really 2007.
THE FINAL WEEKEND: June 22, 23, 24 will include on stage PERIOD ENTERTAINMENTS.
LIVER TONIC COMPANY
This Musical Entertainment & Medicinal Edification troupe shall share the Best Songs of Our Times and introduce to each citizen who wishes to know The Only Sure Way to Save Lives: Yaqui-mako-padi-quatz Liver Tonic. All Rehabilitative, Restorative and Guaranteed to Effect a Change! Fit for Woman, Man or Horse!
One Hundred Years of American String Band Music with gourd banjo, fiddle, guitar. We will amaze the audience with our dexterous fingers and the flying feet of the best step dancer in 13 states.
A 1812 variety show at its best. Complete with stage, curtain and oil lamps!
The program is Free to the Public and is provided by The Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau and has been created by Time Traveler Living History.