Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 6, 2013

Wolfpen Woods keys on 18th-century ways

Mike James
The Independent

BOLTS FORK — The blue gown and lacy white cap she wears, and the fussy paper filigree decorations she is making mark Debora Ahmed as a wealthy woman.

Sadie Morris’ bare feet, soiled apron and crumpled mob cap brand her just as definitively as an indentured kitchen drudge.

All around them in the recreated 18th century village of Wolfpen Woods, other re-enactors are just as convincingly clad as merchants, musicians, cooks, soldiers, hunters and craftsmen. Together, they create a full spectrum of the socioeconomic life of an eastern Kentucky village of the period, what Roland Burns calls “18th century reality.”

Burns is the founder of the Wolfpen Woods Pioneer Village, an annual gathering of reenactors that brings a cluster of authentic 200-year-old cabins on his Boyd County farm to life like an American Brigadoon.

And each year the first three days of the reenactment is reserved for school groups, because Burns, a retired Morehead State University professor, founded the event primarily as an educational vehicle.

“This whole thing is about teaching and learning for all of us,” Burns said Thursday, gesturing toward other volunteers and the clusters of schoolchildren around them.

Burns figures on 26 elementary school groups from Boyd, Greenup, Lawrence and Johnson counties, along with some home-school groups, during the three days.

What Ahmed wanted the children to know started with proper 18th century deportment, which includes, she said sharply, not speaking unless spoken to.

She then provided them a brief outline of class differences of the time, when well-to-do women like the one she portrays would spend their time in leisure pursuits like making lace while laborers and indentured servants would perform the back-breaking work necessary in a pre-technological age.

That is where Morris came in. A junior at Boyd County High School in real life, she took children into the hot, smoky, sweaty life of the servant class, showing them how to wash clothes with lye soap in boiling water over an open fire.

Burns expects all his re-enactors to present accurate portrayals, since the children will likely review much of what they see back in class. So even for such a quotidian activity as laundry, Morris underwent painstaking research into equipment, supplies and techniques. She also researched hygiene habits of the time, which were more relaxed than in the present day. “I once knew a woman,” she said, speaking in character, “who didn’t bathe for 28 years.”

The day-long immersion in colonial life provide children a sense of what it took to carve a new country out of wilderness. For instance, said volunteer Anita Smith, children don’t realize the chain of events necessary for them to eat a slice of bread, sowing wheat, harvesting and threshing it, grinding it into flour and then making the bread.

Smith assists Margaret Burns, Roland Burns’ wife, in making bread, and for that they use an outdoor stone oven heated by a wood fire.

The sensory effect is striking: visitors smell the bread baking and the tang of the woodsmoke as costumed re-enactors tend the fire, while the chime of a hammered dulcimer echoes from the adjacent cabin.

Wolfpen Woods will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 per person. Children younger than 5 are free.

This year, Wolfpen Woods will be a stop on the Heritage Harvest Tour, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 28. There will be re-enactors and cabins will be open for touring. The tour, sponsored by the Boyd and Lawrence county extension offices, is a self-guided automobile jaunt to 13 farms, churches and other sites in the two counties.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.