AMHERST — When the Amherst County Museum and Historical Society takes a step back in time some 250 years ago for Colonial Day, it’s to the intermittent soundtrack of a blacksmith’s hammer clanking or a fife and drum playing a jaunty little tune.
This is the fourth year history enthusiasts have set up camps outside the museum, sharing some replica artifacts and plenty of knowledge. A number of the 18th century-garbed craftspeople traveled from hours away to set up a table and talk about their trade, like colonial silversmith and jeweler Chris Strum, who works at the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area.
She brought her own tools to demonstrate and explain her craft to those who wandered by.
“What we do is a very niche job,” she said, adding only three entities in the U.S. can be commissioned for historical jewelry or other silversmith items using historical methods.
Octavia Starbuck, the museum director, said Amherst County doesn’t have a lot of historically significant moments in the Civil War. Colonial Day, on the other hand, brings trades like flax dressing to the forefront — a trade common to the area in the 1700s. In fact, Starbuck said there’s a plot of flax in the museum’s backyard.
“What’s so interesting is that everybody’s interested in it,” she said.
Besides flax, which is spun into linen for a variety of purposes, Starbuck said colonial-era Amherst was a hub for sheep and cattle. She said she’d like to introduce milling, another prevalent process in Amherst County, to attendees in a hands-on way next year.
Starbuck said the event had a good showing of attendance this year, although it might be competing with the Amherst County Fair next weekend.
“We’re just trying to make people aware of their past,” she said. “A lot of it isn’t taught in schools anymore.”
Sara Pope said her children loved attending the event in 2018 and “they have talked about this all year.” One table, stocked with children’s toys, had plenty to keep them busy.
As locals, she said she appreciates that it brings hands-on fun and education to them in a small and relaxed setting.
“It’s more approachable for them ‘cause they can do stuff like this,” she said as her 6-year-old son Caleb made a toy wooden lizard climb ropes to a tree branch.
Another hands-on part of the event enjoyed by kids and adults alike was a little shocking.
Interpreting Benjamin Franklin in full garb, Mike Kochan laid out a host of microscopes, static electricity devices and of course, the kite-and-key setup at his table, so that attendees could generate and feel the electricity in mini-demonstrations. Kochan said he tries to present Franklin to audiences within a larger spectrum of scientific theory and discovery that spans more than a thousand years.
“It’s fun to bring [a scientific discovery] back to where it starts and then bring it up to almost today,” he said, pointing out Franklin read 40 years’ worth of research into electricity before his involvement.
Kochan, who’s been interpreting Franklin for six years, said he met Starbuck’s husband years ago at another historical event and was able to make it to Amherst this year. There’s a wealth of colonial-era historical sites where he lives near Philadelphia and in surrounding states, but he’s been a part of events further away to bring Franklin’s legacy to more people.
“If you have one great conversation with someone, or one kid that his eyes gleam … it’s worth it, just for that one thing,” he said.