The old William A. Heiss Coach Works, which manufactured horse-drawn vehicles in Mifflinburg from 1883 to 1931, lay dormant for more than 40 years after it closed.
Then the late owner’s son Norman unlocked the factory doors for some residents interested in preserving the town’s unique heritage of having 80 independent buggy makers in an 80-year period over the turn of the 19th century, and the activity inside hasn’t slowed since.
It’s been 30 years since those residents transformed the old factory into the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum, and the 27th annual Mifflinburg Buggy Festival set for Friday through Sunday will offer a way to celebrate its anniversary.
The museum grounds will be open and free to the public on Saturday and Sunday, with docents available to talk about the buildings on the museum grounds, such as the old Heiss home, the restored factory with its original tools and machines, and the historic buggy showroom.
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Several streets surrounding the museum will be closed to traffic over the weekend and filled with food and craft vendors, children’s activities and a multitude of historic trade demonstrators. A local Mennonite buggy maker will demonstrate buggy painting and striping on Saturday while both days will feature gun making, spinning, wheelwrighting, and blacksmiths and tinsmiths, among others.
“We’ve gone back to the original vision of buggy days as a celebration of heritage,” said Bronwen Sanders, executive director of the museum.
Of course, buggy rides down Market Street will be available on vehicles from the museum’s collection.
The festival will be held in two locations, downtown and at the Veterans of Foreign Wars fairgrounds about a mile west of town on state Route 45, with free parking at both locations.
The downtown locations will feature the Victorian and Edwardian eras through the museum buildings as well as an example of the Federal Period at the Gutelius House, and a historic log home on Market Street once owned by a carriage maker that will also be open to the public.
The fairgrounds will be transformed into a scene filled with gun smoke, battles and simmering pots over open fires.
As many as 130 Civil War reenactors, as well as researchers and authors who write about that period, are expected to converge on the fairgrounds for educational events and an encampment Friday.
From mock battles and living historians to ghost stories and descendants of Civil War veterans, the schedule from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday is full. There will be a few special evening events on Saturday as well.
Shoppers will find plenty of interesting items to browse and buy from the Civil War sutlers, merchants who set up shop at army posts or followed an army and sold goods to soldiers.
Sanders said the different experiences at the festival, from war time to a prosperous time, fit together because they portray important eras in the history of Mifflinburg and central Pennsylvania.
“It’s hard not to do all the periods of history,” she said. “People need to plan to spend the day.”
The festival is the largest fundraiser of the year for the museum, which doesn’t use any public money for its operations. While admission to the event and most activities is free, boxes for donations will be scattered throughout the locations.
The Heiss factory is the only intact 19th century carriage factory to feature original machinery inside its original building and be open to the public. The museum has won awards for its restoration of the Heiss carriage factory but the work is not yet done.
“We’ve done a lot in the last 30 years,” Sanders said. “But we’ve got a lot more to do in the next 30 years.”
For a schedule of events call the museum at 570-966-1355 or visit www.buggymuseum.org.