Preserving History at Pricketts FortAugust 20, 2020
History is a precarious thing. It is essential to preserve the memory of the past so future generations can truly understand the significance of being here today. Luckily, Marion County is home to some of the best preservations of the past in the state. Whether it is memorials such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at East Marion Park or museums and buildings such as the Hamilton Round Barn, the middle of everywhere has a lot of history. However, one of the best collections of frozen time is at Pricketts Fort State Park. This reconstructed 18th-century pioneer fort showcases what life was like on the frontier. From weaving their clothes to forging tools, Pricketts Fort captures the era to the fullest extent and brings it to life with live interpreters. Sarah Blosser and Judy Wilson are two of the interpreters who work inside the fort inviting visitors to learn about the history and significance of the area.
History of the fort
The original Pricketts Fort was built in 1774 (and reconstructed in 1976) due to the tension between Ohio based Indians and the settlers on the western Virginia frontier. Living in the 18th century was incredibly dangerous, and to combat the times, the Prickett family took the defense of themselves by building forts to protect their homes. The early settlers of the area were self-reliant and survived off the skills they acquired and the tools they had. This is important in the fact that it is not a military fort; the British army did not protect the people in this area and, therefore, they had to defend themselves. Along the way, skills and trades were forged that we still use today, but in the modern world, the need for these arts is quickly dwindling. As a result, the interpreters at Pricketts Fort are tasked with rekindling the spark and preserving the life of the western Virginia frontier.
For Blosser, her days at the fort are spent demonstrating historical activities such as spinning and weaving, along with making things such as corn husk dolls, candles, and soap. As the interpreters work on their craft, visitors are invited to roam the grounds, stop in, and chat with each of the individuals to learn more about the significance of their role in the fort.
Blosser started her journey of pioneer life as a member of AmeriCorps, which is the national service for volunteering in the visitor center of the park. Volunteering part-time, Blosser worked intensely with historical records and archives to maintain an accurate document of the artifacts preserved at the fort. This knowledge helped her excel at reconstructing the history of the fort, so teaching visitors about the significance of the area within the fort seemed like a natural fit for Blosser. “I really really loved it, so I couldn’t help but come back as full staff.”
Wilson, on the other hand, started her journey at the fort in a much different fashion. Formerly a schoolteacher, Wilson has always lived simply and had a niche for working with her hands. “Since I was a child, I’ve always loved history and making textiles, and that is something I carried throughout life.” The 2020 season is Wilson’s 30th year of being an interpreter at the fort.
“Like a lot of people who come here say, especially if they are from the Fairmont area, they have no idea that this even went on. Most people have no idea that there were even forts on the western Virginia frontier and the different activities that we do here, such as spinning or weaving. They are slowly becoming lost arts, so we are trying to preserve the skills that people had at this period in the hopes that one day we can pass these skills on,” Blosser explains while speaking on the importance of preserving history.
“My favorite part of the job is getting to do things that, otherwise, I would never get to do. I would never have learned how to weave or spin,” Blosser said. Another benefit of the job, as she explained, is getting to learn new skills and learn how people back then survived off the land. Before working in the fort, Blosser didn’t know how to build a fire herself, but after living the pioneer lifestyle, it was another valuable asset in her toolbelt. As for Wilson, her favorite part of the job is, no doubt, the people. “The people I work with are fabulous, and the folks that come to visit are wonderfully varied and interesting, and most of them have excellent questions,” Wilson explained. “I’m a retired schoolteacher, so I’ve never stopped teaching, in my opinion.”
Living the life
“People always ask us, would you like to go back and live in this period, and the answer is always a resounding ‘oh absolutely not!’ I love coming in and living this life, but I like my modern luxuries such as health care and dentistry, but when I come here, it feels as if life slows down,” Blosser explains. She went on to elaborate on the freedom of not worrying about checking text messages or emails all day.
When asked this same question of Wilson, her response was quite intriguing. “[My life outside of the fort] is not as different as you might think. I’ve always lived simply. I grew up in upper-middle-class suburbia, but I always felt like I was in the wrong place. As soon as I was on my own, I got a farm to raise as much of my food and fabrics as I could. Yes, I have electricity, yes, I drive a modern vehicle, I have a refrigerator, but I live more simply than most; I don’t do much with these ‘magic boxes’ if you know what I mean.”
Blosser concluded our conversation with a significant note about the past. “History is, especially out here, sometimes difficult to reconstruct the full records. Whenever we do research, we find new pieces of information that help us better understand the past. History is constantly evolving, and we are always finding out new things.” Researchers are continually trying to reconstruct the truth behind the past, and Pricketts Fort State Park is a living record of the early days in American history.
Wilson encourages people who have never visited the fort to stop by and embark on a tour. She explains that guests will meet people who are deeply involved in what they are doing and are passionate about the history of the fort. Not only are interpreters living embodiments of early settlers, but they are also researchers and historians; they never stop learning. “Our goal is to make [each visitor’s] experience pleasant, and perhaps even surprising of the things they will hear explained to them that they may not have been aware of in the past.”
So, whether you’re a history buff or in the market to learn a new skill, the interpreters at Pricketts Fort State Park are ready to greet you and indulge deep into the relics of the past. Guided tours will continue, COVID-19 pending, until the end of October, so stop by and check it out!