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Colonial Faire re-creates rural Pa. life before the Civil War

September 22, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

WELSH RUN, Pa. -- Before the Civil War burned Chambersburg, Pa., or bloodied Antietam Creek, the green fields along the Conococheague Creek in Welsh Run bore witness to struggles almost forgotten in the quarrels of brothers.

"To the settlers, this place was paradise," historian Calvin Bricker Jr. said of the men and women who settled in the valley. "They were a people with nothing who came to make a life; a hard life, but a life. For many that life was brutally taken in the French and Indian War."

For the fourth year, the Conococheague Institute on the northwestern side of Franklin County, Pa., pieced that way of life back together Saturday and Sunday to share a local history often eclipsed by the Civil War.

Walter Powell, executive director of the institute, said the Colonial Faire and Muster is a snapshot of life lived in the 18th century.

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"It is the essence of a small portion of colonial life," he said.

The institute re-created that life with a colonial market and re-enactment to show how goods were bartered and sold, as well as the heightened preparations of a people living on the eve of war.

While families were generally self-sufficient, the market allowed craftsmen to trade wares, farmers to sell crops and women to purchase finished garments, Powell said.

The markets brought people together, he said, so it was not uncommon for local militia to use the occasion to bone up on its skills.

"The militia would gather and practice before enjoying a few drinks," Powell said. "The market was a chance for the people who lived in this tumultuous time to unload, take their hair down and relax."

People often forget the struggles in America before the Civil War, Bricker said.

To keep that history alive, re-enactors and living historians spent the weekend knitting, firing muskets, stringing beads and more for the faire.

All it took was a question to hear the oral history of a trade.

"We are making a wampum belt," said Deborah "Turtle" Swartz, clan mother of the Southeast Woodland Indian Loyalist Confederacy. "The belt goes back to our creation stories and in the 18th century were regarded as sacred."

Gay Buchanan, past president of the institute's board of directors, helped to create the event in 2005 and after four years could not be happier with how the community has embraced the faire.

Despite competition with other area events, more than 500 people came to enjoy the weekend at the institute and tour its new visitor center.

"This weekend is always a labor of love," she said.

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