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June 2, 2020

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Swiss Society restoring early 1800s Risser family sleigh

"O'er the fields we go, in a one-horse open sleigh..." you know the words. 

The Swiss Community Historical Society owns such a sleigh and is in the process of restoring it. The project is estimated to cost $7,000. Persons interested in supporting it may contact the society at PO Box 5, Bluffton, OH 45817.

Here's the interesting story about the sleigh, written by Kaye Phillips.
 
Sisters, Sue Risser Mitchell and Jane Risser Bowman formerly of Bluffton, donated a sleigh, called an Albany Cutter Sleigh to the society in 1973.
 
The sleigh belonged to their mother Bernice Marie Thomas Risser. She and her husband, Dave Risser lived on Bentley Road, Bluffton.
 
The Risser family owned and operated Risser's Sandwich Shop on Main Street, Bluffton, in the 1950s. It was formerly called the Horseshoe Grill. Dave Risser had built a special place in the Risser garage to store the sleigh, to keep it from weathering until it could be restored.

Bernice rode to school with her siblings on the sleigh in the Lima area. At times, the snow would be so deep, that they could easily glide over fencerows. With those good memories in mind, Bernice always had a desire to display and refurbish the sleigh.
 
After the death of Dave in 1973, and the declining health of Bernice, the sleigh was donated to the Swiss Community Historical Society of Bluffton and Pandora. The society had displayed the sleigh numerous times, and stored the sleigh at the Schumacher Homestead.
 
Knowing the value and beauty of the sleigh, in the fall of 2015, the Swiss Historical Society decided to renovate the sleigh.
 
Kaye Closson Phillips, board member in charge of inventory, found a document written by Alice Lora, society member, that listed that a Sue Risser Mitchell donated the sleigh. Not knowing where Sue lived, a search began.
 
Leads pointed to Westerville, Ohio, and to indeed the correct Sue Risser Mitchell who along with her sister, Jane Risser Bowman, had donated the sleigh.
 
Sue recalled her mother riding the sleigh to school and how important the sleigh was to her mother. She told of the Risser Sandwich Shop on Main Street, Bluffton, and of the sleigh being stored in their Bentley Road home.

After the phone call, Sue recalled something that she had put in a drawer and forgotten. Sue wrote the next day she remembered having a piece that belonged to the sleigh and “am not sure why I saved it until today.” The note read,
 
"This is a piece that belongs on the old sleigh. My father drove the sleigh when he was courting my mother. "
B. R. (Bernice Thomas Risser)

 
Bernice parents were married Feb. 24, 1887, so the sleigh would be dated before this and most likely belonged to John Evan Thomas' parents. This note helped date the sleigh back two more generations, to Bernice’s grandparents.
 
Bernice Marie Thomas was born March 20, 1896, in Sugar Creek Township, Putnam County. She was the daughter of John Evan Thomas and Lovetta Melissa Weaver.
 
John was born March 23, 1859, in Sugar Creek Township, Allen County, and died June 14, 1946, in Lima. Lovetta was born Oct. 13, 1862, in German Township, Allen County, and died Jan. 8, 1943, in Lima. 

The original owners of the sleigh were, then, grandparents of Bernice and parents of John.
 
That couple was Thomas Evan Thomas (1826-1909) and Jane Evans Thomas (1828-1876). Both John and Jane were immigrants of Wales and lived and died in Sugar Creek Township, Allen County.
 
On Dec. 12, 2015, Sue Risser Mitchell and sons surprised the Swiss Historical Society by attending its Christmas open house delivering the note and the missing sleigh piece.
 
The sleigh was prominently displayed on the porch of the Schumacher Homestead, and the piece saved was obviously the missing eagle finial originally from the front of the sleigh. The note was also saved, to be displayed after renovation.
 
The Risser family wants to keep in touch and see the sleigh when it is restored to its former elegance. Bernice’s wishes are being fulfilled.

How to donate:
Donations to renovate the sleigh can be sent to the Swiss Community Historical Society, Box 5, Bluffton, Ohio 45817.