Sunda Peters

Sunda Peters, center, addresses a crowd of volunteers and donors during the dedication of the Petersburg Cabin in South Park.

MANSFIELD -- Sunda Peters sat on the porch of the old log cabin, looking out at what had been merely a dream just six years prior.

The cabin had been built in Mifflin in the early 1800s. Volunteers began the process of disassembling it and moving it piece by piece in 2015.

Today, it's just one in a collection of historic buildings situated on the grassy plain at South Park. The first to be relocated was the 1812 blockhouse. The log cabin followed. The most recent addition is combined carpentry shop and blacksmith forge.

The miniature “village” has been a passion project for members of the Richland Early American Center for History (REACH), a volunteer-led non-profit. All three structures exist to educate the public on what life was like in Mansfield centuries ago.

Peters called it the culmination of a dream.

“It’s been a labor of love for all of these people,” she said. “We hope that the city of Mansfield, the county of Richland, the state of Ohio, members and citizens will enjoy this for many, many years to come.”

REACH held a dedication ceremony for the cabin and dual blacksmith forge and carpentry shop Thursday afternoon. The cabin project was completed last year, but its dedication had to be rescheduled due to COVID-19.

Tom Pappas, vice president of REACH, said it was a relief to finally hold a proper celebration and thank the numerous community members who donated time, funds and labor to the project.

“We’re glad to be able to showcase both buildings at one time,” he said.

Representative Marilyn John presented a commendation to REACH on behalf of the Ohio Statehouse.

“I so appreciate you honoring our history and keeping it alive for the next generation,” she told Peters, who serves as REACH’s president.

The group also surprised Peters with a framed photo and commendation for her work in preserving local history.

Peters’ involvement in preserving local history began in 2007 as a member of the Mansfield Bicentennial Committee. The group planned a history walk, but pivoted its mission upon the discovery of the blockhouse.

“We found the block house was falling apart and we had to get it moved or it would be lost to history,” she recalled.

When the restoration of the Blockhouse stalled in 2009, Peters raised funds and gathered volunteers to keep the project going.

After the city ran out of money to complete the project, the blockhouse sat unattended for a few years. The Mansfield News Journal ran a letter to the editor asking if the blockhouse would ever be finished.

“I thought ‘Probably not, unless I find some people to do it,’” Peters recalled. “I thought ‘We've got to keep this going.’”

Peters secured a donation from the Richland County Genealogical Society for $1,000 and called a meeting. More than a hundred people showed up.

“This lady came forward and said ‘I’ll raise some funds, I’ll find volunteers and we’ll get that blockhouse done,’” Kevin Wappner of REACH said. “Within a year, the roof was on, the second floor was in, the logs were filled in in between. It took us another year or so and we were ready to open to the public.”

But Peters’ support didn’t stop there. According to Wappner, Peters loaned REACH the funds needed to get the cabin moved.

“When we finished (the blockhouse), we looked around and said ‘The block house needs a friend,’” Peters said. “And so that's when we began thinking about what else we might do.”

Peters spearheaded the Richland Early American Center for History in 2015 for the purpose of preserving and relocating the Mifflin cabin. She has served as the organization’s president ever since, but says she will not run to retain the position next year.

Nevertheless, REACH volunteers say they’re not done with the village. They hope to add a community building that can accommodate between 50 and 60 people. It would be built near the blacksmith shop in a similar board and batten style.

An anonymous donor has pledged to match funds donated to REACH through the completion of this year’s Richland Gives fundraiser.

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie.ellington@richlandsource.com