Market Fair 'best 18th-century re-enactor mall in the United States'

April 26, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN |
  • Sophie Roethlisberger, 4, gets a ride Thursday from her dad, Eric Roethlisberger, at Market Fair in Fort Frederick State Park. Roethlisberger portrays a 1750s land speculator traveling with his family. They are from Blacksburg, Va.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Visiting Fort Frederick State Park this weekend will be like taking a walk back in time.

“Everything is all old-looking here,” said Williamsport resident Jerry Keplinger, 58. “It’s quiet and relaxing.”

Keplinger was among those who turned out Thursday for the first day of the 18th Century Market Fair. The 18th annual fair, which runs through Sunday, includes sutlers selling 18th-century materials, campers re-creating the period from 1730 to 1790, period music and more.

Throughout the day, visitors walked through the area, where they saw people dressed in the period costumes of soldiers, Native Americans, servants, traders and children.

“The fair is a lot of fun, and they keep everything to the period,” said camper Fred Hartman, 64, of Keyser W.Va.  “We come here to shop, camp and enjoy the good times later.”

Campers and sutlers — the name for those who once followed soldiers to sell them food and other items — arrived early and were staying at the site in tents. Although customers have to leave at the end of each day’s events, the re-enactors remain, eating, taking part in entertainment, and, for some, still doing business.

“This is the best 18th-century re-enactor mall in the United States,” said camper Pam Williams of Annapolis. “People can get together and have a good time, and spend lots of money.”

Some of the sutlers use the event as an opportunity to make a profit for their business.

“I don’t come for the fun, this is a job,” said Mike Lea of Columbus, Ohio. “There have been many, many times that I’ve had to work by lantern light.”

Lea, 56, who has been making and repairing guns from the period at the fair for around 15 years, is also a gunsmith at similar events across the nation. For him, it is a full-time job, but Lea said he enjoys certain aspects of this event.

“I get to see a lot of really nice stuff here,” he said. “A lot more historical events actually took place here, so you never know what you’re going to run across.”

Some of Lea’s work included making two guns used in one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. The sign outside his tent reads: “Gun Doctor.”

Jean Knight of Walterboro, S.C., 63, is a seamstress who sells clothing and accouterments at the fair. Knight, who also works full-time at events like the market fair across the country, said she has lots of fun at this event.

“Everyone you meet here becomes part of your family,” she said. “It’s one of the most popular events and has the best vendors anywhere in the United States.”

There are about 150 vendors at the fair, which is similar to such events held in the past, according to Rob Ambrose, seasonal park ranger and historical interpreter at Fort Frederick State Park.

“Once a year, people would come together to sell their wares to folks in the area, so this is kind of a representation of that,” Ambrose said. “You can purchase just about anything you could’ve imagined from the period.”

But Ambrose said that the market fair does not look exactly like one from that time.

“You’re not going to have a lot of these villages of tents everywhere,” he said. “The buildings outside of the fort that would have been here would have probably been smaller and more crude looking.”

Other workers at the park are also taking part in the fair, including Williamsport resident Matthew Wedd.

“It’s nice to see everyone interested in history,” Wedd said. “Everyone’s living the time as much as possible.”

Wedd, 24, who hailed from Stonehenge, England, was dressed in a red coat, but said he did not represent a British soldier.

“When the French and Indian war broke out, the locals rushed out to get red jackets because the red jacket was popular,” he said. “When the English officers brought their regiments over with their nice piping and their nice jackets, they asked the locals to change their color.”

The event is hosted by Friends of Fort Frederick. Thousands of people come every year to experience it, according to Ambrose.

“This is the first time I’ve been here, and I’m very interested in historical representations,” said Brianna Candelaria of Shepherdstown, W.Va. “I’m looking for basic wood stuff, such as stools, chairs, and boxes.”

If you go...

What: 18th Annual Fort Frederick Market Fair
When: Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Fort Frederick State Park, 11100 Fort Frederick Road, Big Pool
Cost: $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and under.

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