Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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This Sunday: Craftsmen to tame The Wilderness

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The Westmoreland Longhunters will be among the living historians demonstrating their skills at Ellwood on Sunday, Sept. 30. (FRIENDS OF WILDERNESS BATTLEFIELD)


At historic site within national park, artisans, frontiersmen will re-create life on civilization’s edge

There aren’t many places in the Fredericksburg area where the landscape and a deep quiet let your mind’s eye travel back in time.

But Ellwood Manor, on the boundary between Orange and Spotsylvania counties, is one such place.

On Sunday, giving visitors that vivid feeling for the past is what “Taming the Wilderness,” an 18th-century living history event, is all about.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., everyone’s welcome to see how nearly two-dozen traditional artisans and frontier re-enactors bring to life this circa-1790 plantation home on the edge of what was then Piedmont civilization.

For the sixth year, Friends of Wilderness Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park will host demonstrations of how people built and kept a home in such a hostile environment.

Watch and question craftsmen at work, or roll up your sleeves and try some of their skills firsthand.

Ross Sullivan demonstrates the blacksmithing trade at Ellwood, an 18th-century plantation home off State Route 20, on the Orange-Spotsylvania line. (DALE BROWN)

“Open-hearth cooking, basket weaving, preparing hides for domestic use, spinning and weaving, all contributed to home life at Ellwood,” event co-chair Dale Brown said.

“But before those activities could be undertaken, the house had to be built through the efforts of the timber framer, the brick and stone mason, and the blacksmith. Wooden furniture and decorative trim made the interior comfortable and attractive. All of these trades and crafts will be represented here.”

The Westmoreland Longhunters will talk about the frontiersmen who spent months roaming forests and mountains to get food for the household larder.

Ellwood Manor, built circa 1790, functions as a seasonal visitor center for the Wilderness battlefield, part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Restored by a volunteer group, it features period rooms and furnishings and state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits. (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

Tavern wenches will discuss Colonial social life and etiquette. At 1 and 3 p.m., professor Gary Stanton of the University of Mary Washington will offer talks on period architecture.

House tours, including Ellwood’s recently restored second floor, will be available all day. The event is free, though FoWB accepts donations. Water, soft drinks and snacks will be available. Proceeds benefit the Ellwood Restoration Project.

Ellwood is on State Route 20, one-third mile west of Route 3. Look for the brown National Park Service sign. Get details at

—from staff reports