Hopewell Furnace 2009 or “A Gathering Before the Storm” ranks up there with one of the most enjoyable events I have attended. This event, which is in its second year, takes place in a very beautiful historic national park site (www.nps.gov/hofu/index.htm). This industrial village interprets the iron industry that was so prevalent in this part of southeastern Pennsylvania. Having a pre-war civilian-only event in such a well preserved historic setting is such a treat! The opportunities for domestic, agricultural, and industrial impressions are vast. There are onsite accommodations in period buildings and working hearths on which to cook meals. The event combines first and third person opportunities, so there really is something for everyone.
We arrived at Hopewell on Friday to tour the village and get reoriented. The event went “live” on Saturday morning, so we spent Friday evening chatting as our “present selves” and getting things prepared for the weekend. After a participant meeting to go over details, most of us went out to eat a great local restaurant. My family stayed off-site at a hotel in Morgantown. Although there were onsite accommodations, we felt it was easier to stay at a hotel with our 2˝ -year-old twins. That’s the other great thing about this event…if you want to stay in the village, you can, but if you prefer to stay off-site, there are options for that, too!
Saturday and Sunday the village of Hopewell was brought to life. My contribution was to “portray” a mother of twin toddlers, which I think I did quite well (I have much practice in my everyday life!). My view of the goings-on in the village was limited, as my focus was on my little ones, but I think that is a very authentic experience in itself. One of the tenant houses was occupied by Mark and Faith Hintzen and they generously shared their space with us. The children busied themselves playing with the toys on “display” in the tenant house and with one of their favorite games – opening and shutting the door! Mrs. Hintzen sewed on her period sewing machine and entertained many visitors (spectators) throughout the day. Others participants busied themselves cooking meals for the group, chopping wood, quilting, sewing, and a variety of other activities.
We all took our meals together at the boarding house. Polly and Don Steenhagen (who portrayed the owners of the boarding house) did an amazing job of keeping this whole process organized and providing us with delicious meals. The boarding house was “home base” for several of the participants and became the center of life in the village for the weekend.
Several of the men “worked” in the casting house at the furnace. In order to help with the casting demonstrations, they had to observe a certain number of demonstrations before they were allowed to participate. These demonstrations are run by the National Park staff and because of safety regulations, they have to be selective on what volunteers can do. Once the observations were completed, “our” men could participate in a casting of a stove door and even got to keep their first creations!
Other men worked on whitewashing the spring house using a period recipe for whitewash. Park service volunteers in period dress worked the livestock and ran the blacksmith shop. There was much activity throughout the village.
Our group did a mixture of first person and third person. One of the “internal” agreements at the event is that when in the lower part of the village (near the boarding house), we were to be in first person…over the bridge leading to the furnace was the third person area. This worked out well throughout the weekend. Although much of my time was spent in “no man’s land” on the bridge itself, because my children were very amused by throwing rocks into the stream!
One of the highlights of the event was the arrival of a “stranger” in town. This man truly was a stranger because no one (even in the third person area) confessed to knowing who he was. He was mysterious and a bit “creepy.” He appeared on Saturday afternoon and was present throughout the rest of the event. We surmised that he was slave catcher, although he was very careful about sharing too much information. The fact that he might somehow endanger “Mrs. Fairfax,” a free black woman in the village, caused everyone to rally around to protect her. He played his “part” extremely well and it was not until the end of the event that we found out he was neighbor of Terri Lehmer! She never let on that she knew him and played up the fact that he was “stranger” very well. Well played! It was a great first person experience for us all.
I think my kids, although loud and rambunctious, added some additional “life” to the village. This was their second Hopewell event and they are becoming seasoned veterans. They really enjoyed the freedom of being able to explore the village and I enjoyed (and very much appreciated) all the help that everyone gave to me. They “helped” stack firewood, “helped” their father with the whitewashing, and “helped” feed the sheep apples. They even did well with their first person, except at dinner on Saturday night when they demanded… “I want to go to McDonalds!” Oh well…we worked around it.
I can’t wait for next year! I hope that anyone who is interested in a pre-war, civilian event with great opportunities will join us. I will be helping Terri Lehmer organize next year’s event, so stay tuned for more information. The date is tentatively set for the first weekend in October 2010. Please let me know if you have any questions about the event and/or if you are interested in attending next year.
In the meantime…enjoy the photos from Hopewell 2009: