Candlestick-making and chair-leg repair aren't exactly high-demand skills in an Ikea age.

Nor does anyone expect kids' quilting groups to spread like a computer virus.

But one York County woman sees a need for children, teens and adults to learn Old World trades and apply history lessons through hands-on activities.

For years, Cheryl Heck has envisioned a place where families could gather to spin wool and decorate Ukrainian eggs. Where students could test their mettle at dying trades like woodturning and wheat weaving.

This spring, Heck partnered with a couple who have as much passion for the past as she does. Together, they're making The Folk Art Center a reality at Franklin Township's Clear Springs Mill.

Art Bert gives 15-year-old Laura Heck pointers on running a wood lathe inside the sawmill at Clear Springs Mill. Laura’s mother, Cheryl Heck, is
Art Bert gives 15-year-old Laura Heck pointers on running a wood lathe inside the sawmill at Clear Springs Mill. Laura's mother, Cheryl Heck, is offering classes in old-time handicrafts through a Folk Art Center she started at the mill. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Bil Bowden)

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The story starts in 1994, when Art and Donna Bert of Washington Township bought a former gristmill and sawmill south of Dillsburg that had fallen into disrepair from decades of neglect.

With help from Historic York Inc. and the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, they replaced rotting siding and slate, laid a new roof and re-glazed more than 400 panes of glass. They salvaged original materials and scoured the state for historically accurate replacement parts.

A couple of years and 60 gallons of paint later, the place was ready for business. In May 1996, Donna opened a folk arts-and-crafts shop in the former gristmill. She set up a studio for her spinning and weaving below Art's wood shop in the former sawmill.

"It was a falling down shell," Art recalls. "Not many people would have been crazy enough to assume they could make usable space out of it."

The Berts had both the craziness and the experience. Art spent years restoring antique furniture. The couple had restored their stone house in Washington Township. They dismantled a log house across the street and moved it next to the mill and rebuilt it as their new home.

After a while, restoration got in their blood.

Clear Springs Mill sits close enough to Route 15 that the hum of traffic is a constant.
Clear Springs Mill sits close enough to Route 15 that the hum of traffic is a constant. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Bil Bowden)

"I think we have more pictures of our projects than we do of our kids," Donna said.

The couple hosted workshops, retreats and concerts. Art specialized in restoration of antique spinning wheels, weaving looms and related equipment. Donna raised sheep and sold wool, fleece and yarn in addition to some organic hand-ground grains and period handicrafts.

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Cheryl Heck bought grain from Donna and used the mill as a backdrop for a home schooling festival in the fall. As Heck's children approached graduation, she started talking seriously about running a folk art center now that she'd have the time.

As a former potter and a novice spinner and weaver, Heck had the background and connections. At Clear Springs Mill, she found the place.

"I think because I have a love for these handicrafts, I want to introduce people to them so they can appreciate them," Heck said. "I find a lot of adults in the community who say how they always wanted to learn these things."

This spring, a locks-to-loom class drew nine families who wanted to learn how to take wool from a sheep and transform it into something warm and woven. In the fall, Heck plans to offer more courses.

Next summer, if all goes according to plan, she'll host day camps where kids can learn about rural life in the early 1800s and make period crafts.

Donna Bert said it makes sense to teach such crafts in this area because of the region's Pennsylvania Dutch heritage: "Really, there's a history element with the creative.

The interior of Clear Springs Mill is decorated with artifacts from the time period when it was a working gristmill. Until recently, Donna Bert operated a
The interior of Clear Springs Mill is decorated with artifacts from the time period when it was a working gristmill. Until recently, Donna Bert operated a figt shop in the building. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Bil Bowden)
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771-2034; jvogelsong@ydr.com.

ABOUT 17019

Population: 18,331

Number of households: 5,994

Average house value: $133,700

Average income per household: $50,321

Number of businesses: 300

Number of employees: 3,253

Source: zip-codes.com

FOR DETAILS

The Berts rent Clear Springs Mill and grounds for groups, events and meetings. For details, call 432-2653 or visit www.clearspringsmill.com.

For more information about classes through The Folk Art Center, call 432-9488.

ABOUT SERIES

"UnZIPping York County" is a monthly series that travels through the county's 57 postal ZIP codes to uncover some of their untold stories.