Fourth-grade students from each of the Pulaski County elementary schools were treated to a special event this week as the Wilderness Road Regional Museum in Newbern welcomed them to the first “Fall on the Frontier” event.
With activities that featured area volunteers, Pulaski County Public School staff members and administrators, as well as members of the Pulaski County High School drama department, students were able to get a first-hand look at how things were in the earliest years of our hometown.
“We are very pleased to have been a part of the first ever Fall on the Frontier interactive local history experience for all fourth-grade students in Pulaski County,” Dr. Kevin Siers, Superintendent of Pulaski County Public Schools and regular volunteer at the museum said. “The entire week was an overwhelming success and we have received lots of positive feedback from our students and teachers. The folks with the Wilderness Road Regional Museum did a fantastic job of putting this program together and we’re very proud of our PCHS drama students who assisted with some of the reenactments. During the week, over 300 fourth-grade students from all five elementary schools participated in tours of local historic sites, joined in with interactive agricultural projects, experienced life in the militia during the Revolutionary War, learned about the art of blacksmithing, engaged in fiber arts activities, and participated in a mock frontier trial.”
At the start of each day, April Martin welcomed students to what was originally the home of the Hance-Alexander family, which was built sometime between 1806 and 1812 by Newbern’s founder, Henry Hance. The building, which was originally two homes, also served as a tavern, general store, and the first post office in Newbern.
The museum, which is operated by members of the New River Historical Society and located in the main building, features many letters, documents, paintings, photos, business records, furniture, tools, and many other objects relevant to life at that time in Southwest Virginia.
Students interacted with volunteers to learn about not only the history and origins of Pulaski County, but also how those early residents lived their day-to-day lives.
At one station, students were taught how to crush and then press apples to make apple cider after learning about how residents used agriculture in their daily lives. At another station, students listened to a re-enactor talk about his experiences as a militia member before he showed them the gear he carried into battle and how he carried and used that gear. Another station showed students how fiber was created to allow residents to make fabric or lace for clothing and to sell or trade for other goods.
A blacksmith showed students how early residents worked with metal to make tools and other metal items. Students were also able to learn how the early residents harvested and used the different parts of corn for food and other uses.
One of the activities that involved students even more was a mock witch trial, held at the original jail across the street from the museum. PCPS staff members and students from the PCHS drama department portrayed characters involved in the trial, but the fourth-grade students served as the jury. During the trial, students listened as a neighbor and the mother-in-law of the accused witch gave the “facts” of the case involving the disappearance of the accused witches husband.
After all of the evidence was presented, the magistrate allowed the students to ask questions of those involved. While some groups only ask a few questions, most had many questions as they attempted to get to the bottom of the story. After that was over, a vote was taken of the student jury to determine if the accused witch was punished or set free. Results varied each time, based on how in-depth the students looked into the facts of the case.
“The whole experience was fantastic for our community as not many people realize the important role that Pulaski County played in the evolution of our region, state and country,” Dr. Siers stated. “We greatly hope that this is an event that will become an annual occurrence.”
The Wilderness Road Regional Museum, located at 5240 Wilderness Road in Newbern, is normally open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, feel free to call (540) 674-4835 or visit them on Facebook.