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History of Sauder Village

Cabins Village Green

A New Idea

During the 1960s, Erie Sauder began to develop an idea to create a small museum at the Sauder Woodworking factory to help children learn about how woodworking was done before the advancement of automated machinery. He was concerned that children would not appreciate the hard work of the past. As he began to collect items, he soon realized that a small museum was not going to work. He wanted to establish a museum where students, young and old, could learn about how this area of Northwest Ohio was settled. He wanted future generations to appreciate the difficult conditions early European settlers faced when they came to the area. The land, covered by a swamp forest, needed trees cut down and the land to be drained before the settlers could make a living here.

A Village is Born

This dream would need a location suitable to the creation of a museum where history could “come alive. Erie found a location just north of Archbold along State Route 2 when the Grime farm came up for sale. Although the farm had 80 acres, Erie did not think he needed all of the property so he purchased 9.7 acres including the farmhouse and outbuildings for the Sauder Farm and Craft Village in January 1971.

Erie’s idea was to collect some historic structures to add to the existing farmhouse and barn and have people in these structures who could show guests how to use the tools like his grandpa had and also engage in conversations about history. He said, “You can put all of this history in books, and it will never talk like the tangible history will.”

Construction of the Village started in the spring of 1971. As he started collecting buildings and artifacts, people in the surrounding communities came and offered him more. He also started going to auctions to acquire historic items that would help tell the stories of early settlement and early agriculture. The Village quickly grew larger than Erie’s original plan.

The Village Opens

The Sauder Farm and Craft Village opened June 14, 1976, with a total of 42 employees working that first summer. Over the first few years Erie’s daughter-in-law, Carolyn Sauder, found herself involved in establishing a management structure, creating retail gift areas, and planning and implementing special events to help bring guests to the Historic Village. Following in Erie’s footsteps, Carolyn often did whatever was needed to accomplish any task at hand. Ultimately, she served as Executive Director of the entire complex.

From a small group of historic buildings and a restaurant and bakery that opened in 1976, the Village continued to grow in both acreage and structures. The complex added facilities such as a new Welcome Center (1985), a new General Store (1986), Founder’s Hall event and banquet facility (1987), a Campground (1991), and the Sauder Heritage Inn (1994). Today, Sauder Village has 110 structures on its 239 acres. Over the years, the size, look and even the name of the Village has changed, but its purpose and vision have remained the same.

Enhancing the Vision

In 2000, Carolyn and Maynard’s daughter, Debbie Sauder David, returned to Archbold following a successful 20-year career in the health care field. She became the third generation of her family to serve as Executive Director of Sauder Village. Debbie was entrusted with continuing her Grandfather’s vision and developing a plan for the Village’s future. The Sauder Village Master Plan rolled out in 2003 and coincided with the opening of the Natives and Newcomers addition.

The new area extended the historic timeline of the Village to include the history of this region at the time of Ohio’s statehood, when Native Americans and fur traders were the primary residents in Northwest Ohio. This bicentennial exhibit was the first to be funded partially with money from the State of Ohio through an Ohio Bicentennial grant. It also received awards from the Ohio Museum Association, Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums and the American Association for State and Local History.

Since that time, Debbie has overseen the additions of Little Pioneers Homestead (2004), the Erie Express train (2006), Pioneer Settlement (2009) and the Grime Homestead Renovation (2015)  and the addition of the 1920s Main Street (2020) in the Historic Village. She spearheaded the expansion of the Sauder Heritage Inn (2006) which added 64 guest rooms, an indoor pool, hot tub and large gathering area with a man-made Great Oak tree. Debbie has also overseen the Campground Expansion project featuring additional campsites and a splash pad water feature for guests to enjoy.