Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 5, 2013

Crab Orchard Museum hosts July 4th celebration

TAZEWELL, Va. — Independence Day has always been a major holiday for the people of Tazewell County, Va., and this year was no exception. The Historic Crab Orchard Museum and Pioneer Park provided the vehicle for visitors to travel back in time to late-1700s western Virginia by honoring a tradition that has been going on “for years and years,” according to Joan Yates, education director at the museum.

“I know there was a big celebration here on Independence Day of 1927,” Yates said as she assisted young visitors in the art of making trade bead necklaces. “They moved the old fort (Fort Witten) here in 1926 and had a huge celebration here in ‘27 on July 4th. There were 27,000 people here for the celebration. They arrived on trains, in cars and by other means of transportation. They pulled the hearse we have in the barn now. It was a big event.”

Historic Crab Orchard Museum came into existence in 1982, but Charlotte Whitted, museum director said that the tradition of celebrating Independence Day extends back from before the museum opened. “The people of the Pisgah area have always enjoyed celebrating Independence Day,” she said.

Yates coordinated the activities, but on Thursday, she was happy to assist young guests on their necklace-making projects. “It takes an army to pull this off,” she said as a few musket-toting volunteers dressed in homespun britches and shirts wearing tri-cornered hats walked past. “We have 30-40 volunteers including living historians, crafts demonstrators and musicians.

“There’s a lot of talent in this area and a lot of giving folks who are willing to share their time to help others get a better understanding of what life was like back then,” Yates said. “This is a good community event to celebrate history.”

Deborah Justus of Lebanon, Va., her son, Chris Howard and her daughter, Havana Justus visited the Pioneer Park for the fist time. “It’s really cool,” Justus said.

“It’s fun, but it’s a little hot today,” Chris Howard said.

Havana Justus said that she had visited the museum with a school group, but this was her first time visiting the Pioneer Park while all the re-enactors were demonstrating the various crafts. She agreed with her mother’s assessment that it was “cool.”

Ron Bennett was demonstrating the old methods of shaping metal in a black smithing operation, but he said it is much easier with a gas furnace. “This coal has a lot of impurities and it’s causing a lot of clinkers to form,” he said.

Bennett said that the visitors appeared to enjoy his demonstration. “It’s good to learn the old ways of doing things,” he said. “You never can tell what’s going to happen.”

Ebb Jewell led the Bluegrass Kinsmen on stage while his brother, Shelby Jewell, led the applause from the audience. “He’s doing a great job!” Shelby Jewell said.

Jim Wood, a living historian with a passion for regional history, received the dubious honor of portraying Captain Maxwell, the leader of a 1782 colonial rescue party that went on a rescue mission after the Ingles family was abducted from their Burke’s Garden home by a Native American raiding party. The honor was dubious because Captain Maxwell was killed during the rescue.

“Jim does a good job of dying,” Phill Blevins, also a living historian in addition to a musician with the Tower String Band said..

“I think it’s really good that we’re doing a reenactment of an event from Tazewell County history,” Wood said.

– Contact Bill Archer at

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