Nuzzled between barn exhibits at the Indiana State Fairgrounds lies Pioneer Village, a town taken right out of the 1800s. The visitor momentarily travels back in time as he sees the coppersmith waiting on customers in his shop, the general store clerk in a white apron selling bags of flour, the blacksmith banging away at a red-hot piece of metal.
Pioneer villager Stacy Vosters has participated in the exhibit since birth, a newborn her mother dressed in costume and stuck in the corn crib. In her 26 years at Pioneer Village, she has come to consider this her family and returns year after year.
Today, dressed in a pink blouse and ankle-length skirt, standing in the traditional coppersmith’s shop, Vosters looked as content as if she were sitting on her living room couch in sweatpants.
“I know everyone here. I’ve come here my whole life,” Vosters said. “I grew up with these people and their kids. We’re all in it together.”
The Pioneer Village, funded by the Purdue Agriculture Alumni Association, has been a standing attraction at the fairgrounds since 1961. It started with Mauri Williamson, the executive of the association, who took the initiative to display the equipment.
“One day Purdue decided we needed to save some of these old farms, so I decided to help preserve [farm life] from technology,” Williamson said.
Purdue continues to help fund the village, which continues to grow in equipment and visitors. Farming families have donated almost all the tractors and steam engines and hand tools—even a saw mill—allowing the village to expand.
“We didn’t know if anyone would come see [the village], but our first year we had 20,000 people walk through our doors,” Williamson said. “Now we have over 300,000 people visit us each fair, and we have 300 people working here.”
Pioneer Village is not the only time-warp themed attraction, but Williamson insists it’s unique.
“There’s nothing like this, not to this extent,” he said. “We have Connor Prairie, but that’s a museum. We’re really a community here.”
A notable tradition the villagers have developed is called the “threshing meal,” taking after an old farming tradition. When farmers traveled together to share the work during harvest, the wives would cook a feast called a threshing meal to serve to the tired farmers after a long day.
“It came to be a time for the women to show off their skills, and all of those families wound up bonding over it,” Vosters said. “So we do it here. We eat in our kitchens that look like displays, but it’s where we eat lunch and dinner everyday. It’s important. Even outside of here it is important to us.”
From sharing meals to staying at the 4-H dorms on the fairgrounds, the group considers one another family. Jacqui Dykstra, Dakota Shirar and Vosters call themselves “the three musketeers.” These ladies began a tradition of fair pranks early on.
“One year we had a triple shotgun wedding with the three of us,” Shirar said. “I was maybe 12, the others were about 16 or 17. Wade Johnson brought out the altar and was hyping everything up.”
Vosters continued the story through peals of laughter.
“Yeah, he brought out the whole rigmarole, and our dads were holding shotguns. They started pulling random guys out of the audience. Some people freaked out. They thought it was real,” she said.
The musketeers were always doing something to get a laugh, like using pillows to make fake pregnant bellies, then riding the train around the fairgrounds for a reaction. No one was spared from the pranks.
“One year, we posted a wanted poster of [a villager], and a visitor saw the poster and took it seriously,” Vosters said, “They called the cops.”
While Vosters has her fair share of fun, the time spent pioneering is special to her and the other musketeers. As they grow up, the residents of Pioneer Village are coming back with their own children to start the next generation of pioneering.
“I don’t have kids yet, but if I ever had a family I would always want my kids to be involved,” Vosters said. “This isn’t just my family while I’m here, this is my family outside of the fair. I spend all of my time with people I met here.
“We’re best friends, forever.”