Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)


September 7, 2012

In with the old, out with the new

BOLTS FORK — The intoxicating smell of fresh sourdough bread brought a cluster of curious and hopeful children over to Margaret Burns’ outdoor kitchen Thursday morning.

Burns had just removed the loaf and cut a slice for a visitor; the bread was as close to perfect as possible with its light texture and golden, slightly crispy crust.

What made it remarkable was that, other than using a modern loaf pan, Burns had made the bread using 18th century technology — a wood-fired oven made of bricks covered in clay dug from a hillside near her home in rural Boyd County.

The children were about to learn that, while the bread was light, the baker’s burden was not. When their ancestors ate bread 200 years ago, it was only after many hours of labor.

That included planting, growing, harvesting and threshing their own wheat, sometimes walking scores of miles to a mill for grinding, and trudging home with hundred-pound sacks of flour.

Dressed in colonial-era garb, Burns brought the frontier experience in Northeast Kentucky to life for the children, who were among about 1,500 students to visit Wolfpen Woods, the early American village she and her husband Roland have established on their rural Boyd County farm.

The Burnses — she is a retired schoolteacher and he a retired history and geography professor — open the village for five days a year in September, reserving the first three for school groups.

Enlisting the help of scores of reenactors, many of them current and former educators, they recreate life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

All the log structures in the village are authentic, the oldest dating from 1780. The newest was built in 1814. Roland Burns brought the first one to the farm about 20 years ago to save it from being destroyed and originally intended it to be a hunting cabin.

But as he researched and learned elementary school children were learning all about colonial life in central and western Kentucky, but nothing about the northeastern part of the state, he changed his course.

He researched historic figures from the region, contacted reenactors, and over time developed the elaborate recreation. Some of the reenactors portray generic craftspeople — blacksmiths, candlemakers, gunsmiths and bakers — while others research and take on the personas of real people who made their marks on the region’s history.

Their surnames, such as Fraley, Harmon, Skaggs and Auxier, are still common names in the region and Burns believes that will bring children a personal connection with history. “We’re not just dressing up and entertaining the kids for the day. It’s far more than that,” he said. “A lot of our children didn’t know their own heritage. We want them to take pride in it.”

The Wolfpen Woods visits are invaluable in teaching history, said McKell Elementary principal Tom Kouns. The era is part of the core content fourth- and fifth-graders learn, and when they see real-life demonstrations of early American life, they typically return to school curious to learn more. “When they read their text, they’ll have something to attach it to,” he said.

“It’s like you’re living there,” said Brady Nelson, a McKell fifth grader. Nelson volunteered for a brief stint as apprentice to powder-horn makers Tony and Sarah Boyd.

Sarah Boyd handed him a rasp and showed him how to start smoothing the rough horn, and informed his classmates that if Brady were a real apprentice, he would work 10 hours a day, six days a week, and receive 10 cents per hour.

“I guess kids had to work. They probably didn’t get to play much or go to school,” Brady mused.

At Wolfpen Woods, kids learn life lessons along with history, said beekeeping demonstrator Nancy Adams, who teaches at Ponderosa and Cannonsburg elementaries.

In her presentation, children learned how early Americans nurtured bees, collected honey and wax, and made candles. Candles were so valued that often they were marked and only burned for a limited time each day, she said.

“We all deal with limited resources,” she said. “We romanticize the past but we forget how cold the winter was and how dark the night was,” she said.

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. Reenactors will be there and activities include a historic trail walk with significant figures from Northeast Kentucky’s past.

To get there, from the I-64 Cannonsburg exit¸turn south onto Ky.180 toward Flying J. Pass Flying J on the left and go straight through the traffic light over the hill to Ky. 3 South. Continue on Ky. 3 about nine miles to Ky. 773 (Bolts Fork). Turn right and go almost a mile and turn onto Wolfpen Woods (gravel driveway.) A sign marks the entrance.

Margaret Burns’ fresh bread will be available for sampling.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2652.

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