At first sight, with white canvas tents surrounding the commons of the Glenwood Park 4-H Camp grassy field, and the aroma of wood-smoke watch fires drifting softly through the air, it is easy for a visitor to be transported to an earlier time — perhaps even 150 years ago.
The second annual Mercer County Heritage Festival grew in terms of diversity, presentations, activities and more, as the county Historical Society appears to have hit a good stride.
“It’s good,” Tina Harrell, president of the Mercer County Historical Society said. “It’s a lot bigger and better than it was last year. I’m seeing a lot of smiles on the faces of people visiting the event. I think we have more people here than last year, and people seem to be having a good time.”
Lemoyne Hendrick appeared bigger than life, walking around in his stove-pipe hat, wearing his Lincolnesque beard. This is his third year as an Abraham Lincoln presenter, and he appears to be able to ease into character effortlessly.
“I feel like I’m going to love it more and more,” Hendrick said. “I’ve always loved history, and this gives me a chance to learn even more. I was in Richlands, Va., in June and I’ll be at Cedar Bluff, Va., for their Heritage Festival on Sept. 21. I enjoy it.”
Lincoln wasn’t the only presenter that drew a crowd. Emma Crotty of Athens, Ohio appeared to hold the audience spellbound as she told the story of the African slave and her flight to freedom.
“I made it to freedom thanks to the help of a lot of good people — black people and white people,” Crotty said after recounting her long journey.
General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, as presented by the incomparable Al Stone, shared the story of how he (Lee) arrived at his personal decision to turn down an offer to command the 90,000-strong Union Army of the Potomac and join forces with the Confederacy.
He explained that after many hours of prayer and reflection, he (as Lee) stepped back in time to July 1776, to understand the motivation of the founding fathers of the nation when they sent the Declaration of Independence to “Mother England.” He asked the audience to drift back in time with him as he took that journey.
As if on cue, a distant bag piper performed the Daniel Decatur Emmett tune, “Dixie,” a song that was written by an avowed Union supporter for a minstrel show, and was used as an unofficial anthem by the Confederacy.
“Ian has been practicing Civil War songs of both the North and South for a month,” Dana Niday said. Her son, Ian Macdonald Niday, 15, a sophomore at Bland High School, has worked on his skills as a bagpiper for three years, and enjoys attending events where his talent can play a role.
“We both like dressing up,” Dana Niday said. She was dressed in 19th century clothing while Ian was in a Confederate uniform. “He wants to put on his Union uniform and perform with the Yankees, but he hasn’t been able to do it yet,” Dana Niday said.
“I’m still doing what I’ve always done,” Jim Boardwine dressed as an 18th century Over Mountain man. “I show people how to make salt.” Boardwine learned the art of transforming brine at Saltville, Va., into salt, and is now in great demand to demonstrate the techniques used by the region’s earliest pioneers.
“We have five local people among our presenters here,” Fred Powers said. Powers has traveled throughout the state performing as “Powerhouse,” a character he developed from his time working as a coal miner.
Activities will resume at 10 a.m. this morning with a Civil War church service. Boardwine and Kevin Spicer as Gov. Arthur I. Boreman, first governor of West Virginia will make presentations at 11 a.m., with more presentations to follow. Civil War re-enactors will demonstrate troop movements and cannon fire at 2 p.m., with the festival coming to a close at about 3 p.m.