August 2007 Issue
Historical accuracy is all-important at the Fair at New Boston.
Just ask any kid who's had to sit through the American history class taught, inevitably, by the assistant football coach: History can be dull.
Or not - if it's history the way they present it in Clark County once a year, during the Fair at New Boston.
The Fair is a lively weekend full of living history, re-enactment and hands-on experience designed to take visitors back to the days when Ohio was still wild, rough and dangerous terrain. It pays homage to a time long before anyone could have imagined the cars and interstate highways bringing some 15,000 people every Labor Day weekend to George Rogers Clark Park west of Springfield, where they can meet the 600 to 700 costumed history-lovers who put on an event unlike anything else in the state.
"In Ohio, there's no other event at the scale we're at," says Pam Cottrel, one of the Fair's organizers. "It's like time-traveling 200 years back to the colonial era, complete with the era's entertainment, food, music and activities."
That means getting the chance to see and do everything from watching blacksmiths, wheelwrights, rope-makers, tombstone carvers and a host of other craftspeople create the way our forebears did, in an authentic setting, to experiencing a re-creation of the 18th-century combat that helped Ohio transform itself from harsh frontier into a modern, civilized state.
Oh, yes - and you can eat the way those pioneers did, too. "When you come in," Cottrel says, "it's just like a real village - mongers will come up to you and try to sell you things. There are three taverns, a coffeehouse, a whole food row where the food is all prepared over open fires in the old way. It's all juried food - buffalo meat, pork chops, sausage, corn on the cob, beans, soups - a lot of people come for the food, just to eat and drink."
But that would mean missing a lot- including the costumes on the Fair's participants who, like the food, must pass muster of a jury that makes certain that everybody is meeting strict standards of accuracy and authenticity that are meant to teach, edify and entertain. "You have to leave your wristwatch at home," Cottrel says, "and the women have to watch their nails."
There is a reason, of course, why all this happens in this particular spot. The area immediately west of Springfield is rich with early-frontier history and colonial derring-do, as white American settlers, Native Americans and British soldiers bumped into one another with often-violent results.
George Rogers Clark Park, in fact, lies at the site of the Battle of Peckuwe - pronounced "Pickaway," or close to it - which is considered the largest Revolutionary War battle west of the Allegheny Mountains.
In June of 1780, the Indians and white colonial settlers were crowding each other rather uncomfortably in the frontier region of the Ohio country that stretched from modern-day Cincinnati up through the city now called Xenia and toward Springfield, the site of the Native American village of Peckuwe. In return for Indian incursions against white settlements in northern Kentucky, the legendary Revolutionary War fighter Colonel George Rogers Clark planned to strike back at the Indian village.
He assembled about 1,000 militiamen under himself and two other colonels, and marched them against some 1,200 united Mingo, Shawnee, Wyandot and Delaware warriors. The Indians, led by Chief Black Hoof, were allied with the British - and were defeated after a nearly daylong battle on August 8 on the present-day site of George Rogers Clark Park.
Clark's Kentucky militiamen burned hundreds of acres of the Indians' corn and leveled dozens of their buildings. Clark reported 14 dead and 13 wounded, and more than three times as many of his enemy killed. While casualties were not staggering, the victory, also referred to over the years as the Battle of Piqua, reduced the British influence in the Ohio valley for the rest of the war.
At George Rogers Clark Park, local folks have told stories of strange, scary noises and apparitions that may hark back to that bloody day. But during the Fair at New Boston, you'll get to see it re-created in full, living color.
A re-reenactment of the battle, held both afternoons of the Fair, includes redcoats, Indian warriors and musket-toting militiamen in full frontier regalia. There will even be shots fired from a cannon - which actually capped off the battle in 1780. "We've got a shiny solid-brass British six-pounder," Cottrel says of the artillery piece. "You can pay $20 to have it shot." It all happens in an area between the main fairground and a reconstructed Indian village.
"The whole town actually springs up and returns each year like Brigadoon," she says of New Boston.
This is the 25th anniversary of the Fair, which is organized and managed by the George Rogers Clark Heritage Association, an all-volunteer group that was formed to save the parkland from development decades ago. Watch for an actor portraying Clark himself, who this year will be joined by Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton and other frontier luminaries who spent time criss-crossing the forests of Ohio in their day.
If you miss them, there will be plenty of other things to enjoy - Shakespearean plays, an old-fashioned medicine show, oxen carts to ride and 18th-century dances. "We even have chickens running loose," Cottrel says.
The fair, she notes, is "one of the best-kept secrets in the area."
The 25th annual Fair at New Boston, Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1–2, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., George Rogers Clark Park, just west of Springfield. The park is on St. Rte. 369 just off St. Rte. 4. Admission is $8, children 6–11 $3, children under 6 free. For more information, call 937/882-9216 or visit grcha.org/fair.