Alpine Hills Historical Museum
Small independently-run museums are a bit of a crapshoot. Sometimes you find a gem, other times you wonder why you bothered to visit. Alpine Hills Historical Museum which is in Sugarcreek, Ohio, falls into the gem category. Run by the local historical society, you can go through for free, though the museum does ask for a very modest donation. Having opened in 1976, it also serves as Sugarcreek’s visitors’ center.
Before beginning your journey through it, you can watch a short video about the village and its history. From it I learned that Sugarcreek is known as the “Little Switzerland of Ohio.” A large concentration of Germans and Swiss settled here because the surrounding rolling hills and its climate reminded them of home. According Sugarcreek’s official brochure, it was founded by Abraham Shane in 1814 at the crossroads of two Indian trails that ultimately developed into State Routes 39 and 93 and was originally called Shanesville. The arrival of a railroad in 1882 prompted a second settlement, Sugar Creek, to appear on the east side of the tracks. In 1969, it and Shanesville merged to become the present village of Sugarcreek. The Swiss facades on many of the buildings didn’t start appearing until the early 1950s after a resident Mennonite artist, Tom Miller, added a one to his art studio. Seeing the positive reaction of tourists, other local businesses followed suit. Miller painted a series of murals for the village’s stores, six of which can be seen around town. Sugarcreek is also at the center of a huge cheese making area, the biggest type produced being Swiss (imagine that). The village is also in the middle of a large Amish settlement of about 35,000.
The museum covers the history of the Amish, Mennonites, and English (the term the Amish use for non-members of their community). On the main floor and in the basement are rooms designed to look like the interiors of historical places once found in the village, such as a nineteenth century kitchen, a cheese making workshop, a blacksmith, and the local newspaper office. At each of these you can press a button and a voice will give you information about it, using spotlights to shine upon what the narrative is currently talking about. There are also button-activated videos you can watch scattered about. The museum is filled with historical artifacts from the area that run the gamut from wagons to clothes to a songbook to a pistol equipped with silencer. Given the area’s history, it ought to come as no surprise there are many cheese making artifacts, including a cutter, a cream separator, and a milk tester.