When I read about the Sassafras Tea Festival and Civil War Living History in Jennings County on April 23-24, I had to research. I had never eaten or even seen the plant of sassafras and had no idea it was grown in the Hoosier state.
It seems sassafras was imported by early settlers from Europe. It was at one time an important ingredient in root beer. Sassafras leaves and flowers have been used in salads and to cure meats. It lends itself to a tasty sassafras root tea and the leaves of sassafras have been used in creole cooking.
Apparently sassafras plants have been plentiful around the town of Vernon in Jennings County for decades. As sassafras would have been a popular culinary ingredient during the Civil War, it made sense for the residents of the town of Vernon in Jennings County to establish a festival around the two.
The first Sassafras Tea Festival & Civil War Living History event was held in Vernon 53 years ago.
Not only is 2016 the 53rd anniversary of the festival but it marks the 151st anniversary of the end of the Civil War.
Events to commemorate that tragic time of American history are plentiful during the festival, including Civil War re-enactments, mock battles, skits, skirmishes, blue/gray ball, first- person interpreters, and Underground Railroad walking tours.
The air during the festival is pungent with the smell of the sassafras, due to the thousands of free cups of sassafras tea and cookies given away. Kids can work off the sugar high by touring the blacksmith shop, watching a quilting demonstration, and touring the county’s history museum called The North American House.
Mock war battles take place both days of the festival at Muscatatuck County Park, one-half mile from Vernon. Admission: $5 per vehicle.
The working blacksmith shop will be open, and re-enactors from both Union and Confederate regiments will be camped on the Courthouse lawn and around Vernon. Sutlers camp on Rat Row with a large variety of period wares. Note: a sutler was a civilian merchant who sold provisions to soldiers from the back of a wagon.
On Saturday evening, April 23, 7:00 pm a Blue/Grey Ball takes place with period music and a dance caller. Again there is no admission fee for this event – amazing!
The festival offers a great deal of wonderful food, including more than 700 homemade pies – cherry, berry, apple, rhubarb, and more.
I think a special part of the festival is the opportunity for visitors whose ancestors fought in the Civil War from Jennings County to register their ancestors during the festival.
Registrations of ancestors who fought in the Civil War are accepted at The North American House. There is $5 fee for the first family member to register, but other family members may join the same registration for only $1 each. Those registering are invited to join the Troops in Review parade which takes place on Saturday during the festival.
Let’s not forget the festival’s namesake. Sassafras plant roots are available for purchase during the festival – not just plucked from the ground, but processed, bundled and readied for tea. I plan to purchase a cup of tea and purchase a bundle of sassafras leaves for $2.50 a bunch (each bunch makes approximately a gallon of tea).
Saturday and Sunday, April 23 & 24, 2016
8am to 10pm Saturday,
8am to 4pm Sunday
For more information about the festival contact the Jennings County Historical Society at 812.346.8989.