Lester the Rooster holds court in the Historic Forestville chicken coop.  He's the new guy in town, though he spent some time being called "Esther" because his luxurious feathers hadn't grown yet.  Visitors to the site will be able to see him in his chicken glory this season.   GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWS GROUP
Lester the Rooster holds court in the Historic Forestville chicken coop. He's the new guy in town, though he spent some time being called "Esther" because his luxurious feathers hadn't grown yet. Visitors to the site will be able to see him in his chicken glory this season. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWS GROUP
Historic Forestville has grown hours, transformed a hen to a rooster, and doubled the bread and butter.

Opening day is this Saturday, May 3, and the site has extended hours from May through October, said Historic Forestville site supervisor Alyssa Wagner, surveying the little town within Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park to be sure every last thing is in place before the whitewashed front gates are flung open for a new season.

The kitchen garden will soon be sprouting in the Thomas Meighen yard, Wagner and interpretive staff members have cleared the cobwebs from the ceiling, washed the parlor wallpaper, blacked the kitchen wood stove, hung the long johns from the displays in the Meighen Store and made room in the chicken coop for Lester the rooster, formerly known as "Esther" until "she" started crowing.

No matter whether the rooster used to be a hen, Wagner and Historic Forestville site manager Sandy Scheevel have a busy schedule for this spring, summer and fall, beginning with school educational tour groups that come from area and regional schools to meet history where it walked...even L"esther" and the plucky poultry's partners in picking chicken feed.

"Our first school group came April 29, and we'll have had more than 2,000 kids here by the time school's out. Our school tours are very interactive and have lots of hands-on opportunities to see history where it happened. They're not just being talked to - they're being involved, building their own experiences and memories," said Wagner. "Plus, our educational tours are based on Minnesota history class standards, adapted for grade levels from kindergarten through third grade and fourth through eighth grade. There's also a field trip educational transportation fund through the Minnesota Historical Society that can help schools when they plan their field trips."

The first event of the season, "They Built This Town," is set for Memorial Day weekend - Saturday, May 24 - and features the stories of some of the pioneers that were among the first Minnesotans upon statehood in 1858. The event - which hasn't been held since 2005 - offers a tour of the Zumbro Hill Pioneer Cemetery, where those who were laid to rest there are represented by costumed Historic Forestville interpretive staff.

The next special event has risen from a single event held one weekend each June and has become a month-long weekend tutorial on loaves and pats. The site now has two bread days and two separate butter-making days, for a total of four separate experience days. The bread oven will be fired up on June 7 and 21 and the cream and the churn will be in action on June 14 and 28.

"Part of the reason for that is we would have been making bread and butter more frequently, and this gives people the opportunity to experience the interpretation," said Wagner.

She has churned butter on the Meighen kitchen porch and helped bake bread in the wood stove, and she knows firsthand what it's like to be curious about how that cream becomes a thick lump of butter.

"I think the most exciting thing is that there's more availability and opportunities for people to come here - if they want to see bread being made or butter being churned the first day but can't get here, there are second days available - pretty much during the whole month of June, we'll be making bread on Saturdays and churning butter on Sundays," she elaborated.

The historic village's rousing Independence Day celebration is again on the calendar, and Wagner noted, "We'll be having a vintage baseball game again, the glee club, all the usual doings...pie eating, the reading of the Declaration of Independence, a nice Independence Day celebration, and this year, it's good that Independence Day is on a Friday so that it will bring people from out of town."

The former "Pickle It" food preservation program has now become "Pickling, Drying and Sugaring Day" on two different Saturdays, Aug. 16 and 23, and besides just pickling, they'll be doing other demonstrations, such as herb drying and possibly meat preservation, which they haven't done before. A lot of the produce that they will be preserving will depend on what's coming ripe in the garden, and the gardener will be showing what produce is in the garden and which is good for the table but not for the can. The "sugaring" part is jams, jellies and preserves.

"This past fall, we preserved our citron, and while it wasn't a special event, this year, we're going to get more involved in it. Citron, after it's preserved, gets baked into tin wedding cakes and other recipes," said Wagner. "We've added to the processes that we'll be doing, and the event will not only be in the kitchen, but outside in the garden as well. I think this will be a good event because a lot more people are gardening, so it would be nice for them to see how abundance and shortage were dealt with."

The site's annual evening event, "By the Light of the Lantern," is set for Aug. 30, allowing visitors to experience the village at dusk, enjoying live music and activities in the parlor and the wagon barn. Oct. 11's "Apple Cider Pressing" replaces a longtime Historic Forestville event, "Harvest Day," as there's less focus on the harvest and more on the cider pressing. "Apple Butter Making Day" is Oct. 18. The site is open every Saturday and Sunday in September and October as well.

"No Such Thing as a Poor Pie" is a unique addition to the Historic Forestville event schedule, as Scheevel has observed during past kitchen-centered events that visitors often comment on how awful their own apple pie-baking skills are, and that they wish they could lend a hand in the Meighen kitchen to learn the fading art of homemade pie creation. The two-session event has yet to be placed on the September or October calendar, but Scheevel anticipates welcoming former site interpreter Sue Cavanagh to the kitchen to teach young and old how to make pie crust the way it should be made for ultimate under-the-apple-tree enjoyment.

Wagner and Scheevel extended an invitation to anyone interested in virtually crossing a bridge into the past as the interpretive season begins at the historic site, adding that there are already "interesting new things to come" in the future for learning about the pioneer past.

Historic Forestville is located inside Forestville-Mystery Cave Park at 21899 County Road 118, Preston, MN 55965. General public tours are available Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 3, through late October. The last tour starts one hour before closing time. For more information on events and admission, call (507) 765-2785, or log onto the Historic Forestville website at www.mnhs.org/forestville.