Pioneer heritage activities displayed on island

PARKERSBURG – Smelling the burnt wood from a cooking fire and hearing the “tink” of metal on metal as a blacksmith worked brought history to life Saturday on Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park for Beckley resident Denae Moore.

“We’ve read about stuff like this (in social studies), but to be up close and personal … it’s amazing,” she said.

Moore came to the island Saturday with her parents as part of a Father’s Day gift for dad, Levi, who said he’s been wanting to visit the island since he was a little boy. They got a bonus as Saturday was the first installment of Pioneer Heritage Days, in which volunteers demonstrated crafts from a bygone era.

“This is great,” Levi Moore said as he watched Walker resident Earl Hunt and his son Jacob craft a courting candle with blacksmith equipment, while Hunt’s wife and daughters taught children how to make candles. “I love period pieces and actors, especially for the kids, so they can get a better sense of the things they were doing.”

Pioneer Heritage Days is an attempt to draw more people to the island by offering additional activities, said Pam Salisbury, activities coordinator for Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.

“It’s a pilot program hoping, with the long-term goal, that we would have more artisans or craftspeople on the island on a regular basis,” she said.

Demonstrations will continue today, and another Pioneer Heritage Days event is planned for Aug. 2-3.

The Hunts will be back then.

“People like this help preserve the history and how things were done,” said park Superintendent Matt Baker. “A lot of that gets lost in the modern age.”

For the Hunt family, it’s a labor of love.

“(We’re) trying to show what the heritage used to be, the way they would have lived back then,” Earl Hunt said. “Back then, it wasn’t run to Wal-mart to get your candles. If you wanted them this week, you better make them now.”

Hunt’s daughter Cheyenne guided kids through the process of dipping a wick in wax, then cooling it in water before placing it in the wax again, slowly building up a candle. Along the way, she threw in historical tidbits for the youngsters.

After learning Ashville, Ohio, resident Kaitlyn Stupski was 11, she told her what kids her age might have been doing in the pioneer era.

“You could start to be a blacksmith apprentice if you were a boy,” Cheyenne Hunt said. “And you would have to be an apprentice for seven years before you could even … pick up a tool and bend your own metal.”

Jacob Hunt was filling the apprentice role for his father, while Earl Hunt’s wife, Mary Ellen, helped with candles and their other daughter, Emma, assisted family friend Catherine Sams in preparing 19th century food over a fire. Many of them wore period-accurate clothing.

“I just like seeing what my ancestors went through, just for a day, then going back, taking a hot shower and sleeping on my nice mattress,” Cheyenne Hunt said.

But on Saturday night, the family and Sams camped on the island. They’ll resume demonstrations from noon to 2:30 p.m. today.

The pioneer activities got positive reviews from children and adults alike on Saturday.

“I love it, love history,” said Tom Bain, a former Wirt County resident now living in Delaware. “I’m always interested in the traditional living and old skills.”

His grandchildren, Ciana, 7, and Kevion Parks-McLean, 3, enjoyed making candles.

“It was like really actually cool because they said they didn’t have electricity back then,” Ciana said.

Earl Hunt and Salisbury said they would like to see even more participants in August. They’re looking for artisans like potters, soapmakers, leather-workers, coppersmiths, coopers and folk musicians or instrument makers.

Interested parties can contact the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History at 304-420-4800.