COVINGTON — History came alive over Labor Day weekend at the Fort Rowdy Gathering and encampment in Covington City Park. In the encampment portion of the Gathering, there was a small trading village depicted from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Many vendors, visitors, and children were dressed in period costumes while they worked or explored the camp area filled with tents and tipis.
Upon entering the encampment, the Mountain Man Blacksmith Company and their authentic blacksmith demonstration was one of the first sites for visitors. Dustin Baker has been running Mountain Man Blacksmith Company for approximately five years and takes his blacksmithing to many festivals.
“I love doing it,” Baker said on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s kind of a lost art,” Luke Bowman of Covington said. Bowman was helping Baker during Fort Rowdy, and he showed how numerous metal objects could be repurposed through blacksmithing.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of metal it is, you can heat it up,” Bowman said. One item they had was a striker, the metal piece that is used with flint to start a fire, which had been made from old garage door springs. Another item had a series of wall hooks made from old railroad spikes.
Further down the line, Rhonda Burgess of Pleasant Hill was working the medic booth, providing first aid on the encampment side of Fort Rowdy.
“My mom was one of the founders,” Burgess said. “Her name was Kay Meed … she was affiliated with the Fort Rowdy museum, and they decided that they wanted to celebrate the 200th year anniversary of Covington, and that’s how this got started.”
Burgess explained that General Anthony Wayne had a supply camp in that area back in the late 1700s. Anthony Wayne, nicknamed “Mad Anthony,” was a United States Army officer, serving between 1775–1783 and 1792–1796. He was also a member of the United States House of Representatives in 1791-1792.
Burgess has been involved with Fort Rowdy for many years since its beginning in 1993.
“I like history, and I like living history, because when you come out and you can live the way they did … it’s fun,” Burgess said. “It’s lots and lots of work, it’s back-breaking, it’s tiring, but it’s fun. It’s absolutely fun.”
Burgess added, “You learn something new every day when you come out here. You get to meet all kinds of wonderful people.”
Through participating in Fort Rowdy, Burgess said that she has gotten to know people from all over the United States.
Events on the encampment side included archery, canoe racing, atlatl (spear-throwing), a skillet and rolling pin toss, a lizard pull, and a cook-off. Participants on a lizard pull stand a certain distance apart on two blocks of wood and play tug of war until someone falls off the block of wood, Burgess explained.
A little ways down from Burgess’ medic tent was the Sunbury Merchant tent, being run by Allen and Verna Benslay of Glennville, Ga. This was their second year participating in Fort Rowdy.
“We do 30 events all year long,” Allen Benslay said. “We’re retired, and I don’t feel like sitting at home doing nothing.”
Benslay explained that the majority of their items are purchased from wholesalers and then resold in their vendor tent, but all of the items are accurate for that time period.
“I try to educate people,” Benslay said, explaining that he first got interested in living history events when they lived in Europe 14 years ago. Benslay also had a demonstration about rope-making during Fort Rowdy at his vendor tent.
On the festival side, there was live music along with vendor booths, including ones for Young Living Essential Oils and Avon. There was also food provided by Covington Christian Church, Covington Cheerleaders, and Susie’s Big Dipper.
“Attendance is down a little bit, but it’s still going well,” Annette Miller, chairman of the Fort Rowdy Gathering, said on Saturday afternoon. Later, Miller added, “Sunday is usually a heavy day for us.” Miller also stated that the encampment side saw an increase in campers on their side of the gathering.
“Everybody comes down for the food,” Miller said when asked what the most popular part of the gathering was. Miller said the chicken and noodles as well as the dumplings were probably the two favorites of this year’s gathering, but cabbage rolls were also featured at the event as well.
Miller has been involved with Fort Rowdy for approximately 20 years, and the sense of community is what keeps her coming back.
“Even though we no longer live in Covington, I still make sure I’m involved with Fort Rowdy,” Miller said.
Miller said that the board behind the Fort Rowdy Gathering would like to see more people volunteer to help with the event. Miller said that the majority of the work behind the event falls on the shoulders of nine people.
Those interested in finding out more information about volunteering or about the Fort Rowdy Gathering should visit the website at www.fortrowdy.org.
Reach Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall