The Fair at New Boston
By Benjamin Smith
When thinking about the American Revolution, the words “Miami Valley” may not automatically spring to mind – yet our region has surprising connections to the War for Independence. The Gem City’s namesake, Jonathan Dayton, served in the conflict; Dayton’s Wayne Avenue and St. Clair Street are named after Revolutionary generals “Mad” Anthony Wayne and Arthur St. Clair, respectively; and on Aug. 8, 1780, the largest Revolutionary battle west of the Allegheny Mountains was fought near present-day Springfield, when General George Rogers Clark and an army of about 1,000 Kentucky soldiers attacked and defeated British-allied Shawnee Indians in the village of Peckuwe.
A marker later erected by the Clark County Historical Society summarizes the importance of Peckuwe: “The battle was a significant one in the struggle of the pioneer for the West and in the struggle of the American colonies for ascendancy over the British during the American Revolution. The permanent settlement of the area of Ohio began within a decade and a half after General Clark’s victory.” In 1809, the town of New Boston was founded close to where Peckuwe had stood, only to be eventually abandoned after Springfield was selected Clark County’s seat and, in 1924, George Rogers Clark Park was established on the battle site. In 1982, the George Rogers Clark Heritage Association started the park’s annual Fair at New Boston over Labor Day weekend to teach the public about 18th-century life. Of course, the Fair has also introduced many people to the Miami Valley’s own often-overlooked American Indian, Revolutionary and frontier history. This year’s event – held on Sept. 1-2 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m – marks the Fair’s 30th anniversary.
“We’re pulling out all the stops,” said Pam Cottrel, Marketing Director for the George Rogers Clark Heritage Association. “We have extended the Fair’s time period to 1812 to observe the bicentennial of the War of 1812 … a time when the British were on our doorsteps again.”
Besides the Fair’s usual activities and attractions – which include food vendors, merchants, performers, historical impersonations, wagon rides, battle reenactments, a stockade and a “Woodlands Indian Village” – the 2012 event will feature the presentation of an 18th-century play titled “The Old Maid,” performed by The New Boston Players, a group of amateur actors and volunteers from the Springfield area.
“I think attendees will enjoy the play because it’s a farce – a type of play that we don’t see much today,” said Mary Pacinda, who performs the role of Miss Harlow in this comedy of errors. “It’s representative of a type of entertainment people enjoyed in the late 1700s. It makes great use of ‘the aside,’ in which actors speak directly to the audience.”
Other new additions to the 2012 Fair are regularly scheduled duel reenactments. “Dueling was such a problem back then,” explains Cottrel.
Although some historians bemoan a general lack of interest in our nation’s past, the Fair at New Boston has proven to be a very popular attraction, sometimes drawing more than 20,000 visitors to the park over the weekend.
“Some people come specifically for the [period-specific] food, such as turkey legs, buffalo, cream puffs, and ginger cakes,” says Cottrel. “Others spend the day sitting in the shade and listening to historical presentations, or roam from entertainer to entertainer. The Fair’s artisans have a serious following of people who want to see how things were made back then, and a growing number of visitors head straight to the Woodlands Indian Village and stay there all day. Yet the Fair’s biggest draw are probably the military tacticals or battle reenactments—complete with cannons—that happen late each afternoon.”
The schedule of demonstrations and performances for this year’s Fair (both days) is as follows:
10:30 a.m.: Opening Ceremony; Native Cooking
11 a.m.: Dr. Balthasar, Quack Doctor; 18th-Century Dancing
11:15 a.m.: Clockwork Clowns; Faire Wynds
11:30 a.m.: Mr. Bailey, Magician; Eva Lail, Shawnee Captive; Jack Salt & the Captain’s Daughter; Dueling Swords
11:45 a.m.: Signora Bella, Slack Rope Walker
Noon: The New Boston Players present “The Old Maid”
12:15 p.m.: George Rogers Clark (Saturday); Simon Kenton (Sunday)
12:45 p.m.: Clockwork Clowns; Mad Anne Bailey
1 p.m.: Phillis Wheatley, A Voice of Her Own; Faire Wynds; Native Dance and Drum
1:15 p.m.: The International Theatre Troupe, “Mummer Show”
1:30 p.m.: Canebreak Revivals; Signora Bella, Slack Rope Walker
1:45 p.m.: Letters from Lydia Bacon
2 p.m.: Dr. Balthasar, Quack Doctor
2:15 p.m.: Clockwork Clowns; Eva Lail, Shawnee Captive
2:30 p.m.: Jack Salt & the Captain’s Daughter
2:45 p.m.: Mr. Bailey, Magician; 18th-Century Dancing
3:15 p.m.: Daniel Boone; Dueling Swords
3:30 p.m.: The International Theatre Troupe, “Mummer Show”; Clockwork Clowns; Faire Wynds
4 p.m.: Quill Work Demo; Military Tacticals
4:15 p.m.: Dr. Balthasar, Quack Doctor; Signora Bella, Slack Rope Walker
4:30 pm.: Faire Wynds
5 p.m.: Mr. Bailey, Magician; Bow Shoot; A Pistol Duel
5:45 p.m.: Closing Ceremonies
The Fair at New Boston will take place Saturday, Sept. 1 and Sunday, Sept. 2 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Tickets $8 for adults, $5 for active military personnel with I.D., $3 for children ages 6-12. Children 5 and under are free. Cash only. No pets allowed. For more information and directions to George Rogers Clark Park, visit www.fairatnewboston.org or call 937-882-9216.
Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Smith at BenjaminSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com