By Bill Robinson
Many central Kentuckians may have flocked to the malls or big-box stores Saturday for their Thanksgiving weekend shopping. However, some dropped in at what could be called the frontier equivalent of a retail mega-center.
It was called Winter Trade Days at Fort Boonesborough, and it continues today (Sunday) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m..
The replica fort is not far from Exit 95 of Interstate 75, which could be called a successor to the Wilderness Trail blazed by Daniel Boone.
Just as they were outside the malls and big boxes, the fort’s parking lot was full. Most cars were from Kentucky and surrounding states, but one was from Maine.
The walk to the entrance was not too distant, but inside the contrast to a simpler time was more pronounced.
There was no jostling to get in the doors or long waits at check out. The clerks were easy going and talkative, happy to tell customers the history of their products and how they were made.
Most of the items – such as knives, leather goods, handwoven throws, handmade fishhooks – were made by domestic artisans, just as they were 235 years ago. But there were a few imports, including cameo necklaces and pendants made in Korea, where the art form originated, said Dave Weller of Troy, Mo. Weller’s Asian ware probably weren’t transported by sailing ships, however.
Along with toy soldiers, metal flasks, cups and pitchers and clay pottery that has remained popular over the centuries, Weller had some exotic items probably not at a mall store, polished buffalo teeth that easily could be mistaken for ivory.
He even had pot-scrubbing brushes made from saw grass.
Weller and other vendors were dressed in period costume.
Other vendors had foxtails and leather pouches lined with rabbit fur.
Children lived on the frontier, too, and there were a variety of toys, including a nine-pin bowling set with wooden clothes pins and a wooden ball as well as tin penny whistles.
Unlike most mall stores but similar to frontier trading, some of the vendors at Fort Boonesborough could be bargained down on their prices.
Ken White of Paint Lick got Larry Grubbs of Berea to come down on the price of an Indian-style knife.
The blades of the Indian knives were authentic, Grubbs said, found in Madison County and attached to new handles. They resembled very large arrowheads.
Brook and Barbara Elliott of Richmond served food samples prepared according to their modifications of 18th century recipes and flavored with herbs they had grown at the fort. The Elliotts, who call their enterprise Historic Foodways, demonstrate at the fort regularly during the main season.
Diners in the 18th century liked strong-tasting foods, Brook explained, much too strong to suit the state of 21st century folk. That’s why the recipes in the books they were selling have been revised.
They had trouble keeping enough small paper cups of their onion soup and red-cabbage-and-sausage stew on the table, especially with a hungry newspaper reporter needing to verify his product review.
A frontier version of hot sauce included 40 cloves, Brook said, but the Elliotts had reduced that to three.
Barbara was selling herb seeds for planting as well as finished product. They included parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, along with mint tarrago. She also had samples of Miss Bowdoin’s buns, a sweet bread samplers could use to mop up the tasty juices of the cabbage-and-sausage stew.
The vendors weren’t the only people in period costume. Some customers were too.
Ann Merriman, who lives near the fort, and two of her granddaughters were dressed in period costume.
“We go lots of places dressed like this,” Merriman said, and sometimes she’s asked if she’s Amish.
She said her oldest granddaughter, now out of school, thought she hated history until visiting Fort Boonesborough.
The 13 stations of Winter Trade Days at Fort Boonesborough will be open today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Christmas at Fort Boonesborough will be staged Dec. 7-8 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Bill Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 624-6690.