New Lebanon celebrates bicentennial

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NEW LEBANON - In the heart of Cooper County, a small village is celebrating its 200th anniversary.

Established in 1819, New Lebanon is right off of Highway A. Its "city center" consists of only three buildings — blink and you may miss it.

Jeanette Rothgeb Heaton, president of the New Lebanon Preservation Society, said "about eight or nine people" still live there. Heaton, who recently turned 80, said her family first settled in New Lebanon in the early 1850s.

Heaton, along with the Cooper County Historical Society, is organizing the bicentennial celebrations this weekend. The event goes from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

"I'm very happy that I lived to celebrate 200 years for New Lebanon," Heaton said. "We sure hope people come out and join us."

According to the event's Facebook page, festivities include "local artwork, historic demonstrations, speakers, children's activities, music and a food stand." There will also be programs and exhibits at the village's 1860 church, 1889 one-room schoolhouse and general store.

Heaton's great uncle, Abram Rothgeb, opened the general store in 1895 and ran it until his death in 1959. Abe's Country Store sat empty for 25 years until Heaton, who spent a lot of her childhood in her great uncle's shop, started restoring it in 1984.

"I'd hitch my horse out at the hitching rail and come in, buy some penny candy," she said. "There was always such interesting people here, loafing and the women shopping and the men setting around the stove. I just came back here as often as I could because it meant so much to me."

The general store had its grand re-opening in 1986. It's now a museum, filled with original pieces from the store's heyday, including old products and a 1920s gas pump.

"The world's changing," Heaton said. "But over the years, I've had a lot of people that enjoyed coming here."

Since then, Heaton put it upon herself to preserve New Lebanon's history — her family's history — by getting the village and its three major buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

"I spent so much time here when I was a little girl growing up. There [were] so many [Rothgebs] that lived in this area," she said. "I just wanted to honor my family."