Festival on Sept. 29 at Forty Fort site will feature Colonial-type crafts, activities and foods.

Last updated: September 21. 2013 12:04AM - 2238 Views
By - rdupuis@timesleader.com

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If you go

What: Denison House Colonial Harvest Festival

When: 1-5 p.m. Sept. 29, rain or shine

Where: 35 Dennison St., Forty Fort

Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for children under 12

Attractions: 18th century-style crafts, food, music, firearms, tools and period music

FORTY FORT — Expect hearty traditional soups to be on the menu at the Nathan Denison House Harvest Festival next weekend, but no hot dogs.

The popular sausages, beloved by generations of Americans since the late 1800s, would have been unknown to Col. Nathan Denison and his family when they built a homestead on the western bank of Abrahams Creek in the late 1700s.

“Cookies and cider will be served,” said Bill Bachman, a member of the volunteer Denison Advocates, who are organizing the event to benefit the historic property and its educational programs.

“But no chocolate chips,” Bachman quickly added, as the morsels didn’t appear until the 20th century.

Such attention to period detail won’t be limited to food, as Bachman and the Advocates assemble a collection of artisans whose work is intended to educate visitors about early American life even as it helps raise money.

Guests will be treated to exhibitions of 18th century crafts ranging from chair caning, wheat weaving and clothes making to writing with quill pens, vintage firearms displays and cross-cut sawing — all accompanied by the strains of Colonial music performed by the Wyoming Valley West string ensemble.

Wealthy family

While most activities will be arranged around the home’s neatly trimmed lawns, visitors also will be able to tour the ground floor of the two-and-a-half story, wood-frame dwelling, which was built about 1790. It originally was home to Denison, his wife Elizabeth, seven children, an elderly member of the family and one servant, Bachman said.

“It’s not a large house by our standards, but in the 18th century, this was a castle,” Bachman said, adding that most Wyoming Valley settlers of the period would be lucky to have a log home, as many still lived in houses cobbled together from mud and what little lumber they could get their hands on.

But Denison and his family weren’t most settlers. He was the scion of a New England family who headed west prior to the Revolutionary War, when the Wyoming Valley was still contested territory between Denison’s native Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

A justice of the peace, Denison served as a militia colonel during the revolution. One piece of furniture in Denison’s restored home plays mute testimony to his role as second in command during the bloody Battle of Wyoming, fought nearby on July 3, 1778.

Bachman somberly laid a hand on the dark wood of a small table in the south room of the home, which served as Denison’s office and a receiving area for guests. “This was in the fort at Forty Fort. Nathan Denison used it to sign the articles of capitulation,” Bachman said of the British victory.

“That was on the Fourth of July 1778, two years to the day after we had declared our independence,” he added with a sigh.

Happier times

The home also harbors memories of happier days, as guests will learn.

It was enlarged many times over the years, and pictures show numerous additions, including a Victorian-era porch, that were stripped away when the home was restored for preservation in the 1970s. Bachman can remember visiting as a young man more than 50 years ago, before the house became a museum.

“It looked like a typical 1950’s house inside,” Bachman said as he stood in the north room, which was used as a family room. But even in the mid-20th century, that room’s central feature, a large stone fireplace, dominated the space, he recalled.

Standing before the cold hearth on a recent morning, Bachman explained how the Denison family would have dined at a large table, pulled close to the fire during bitter Pennsylvania winters. The room also is believed to be the only one in the house with original flooring — on which the colonel and his family once tread.

“The whole thing is kind of a time machine experience for people, and a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday,” Bachman said. “I think everyone who visits will come away having learned something about what life was like in the Wyoming Valley in the 1790s.”

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