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Living in the past

From muskets to alpacas, something for everyone at the Windham County History Fair

NEWFANE—Depending on which way you entered the Windham County History Fair on the Newfane Common this past Saturday, you might have been greeted by a really old cop car, burger-flipping ladies, a pair of wooly alpacas, or a man shooting a long-barreled gun into the trees.

According to nearly every vendor and organizer who was asked, this year’s fair was a hit.

“This is the funnest, best event,” said Vikki Butynski of WildWood Acres Alpacas, as she introduced an attendee to Santana and Remi, the two alpacas penned in next to her table of alpaca fleece products.

Butynski told The Commons both alpacas are male. If one were female, she said, the demonstration would have been quite different, necessitating a bit of explanation from parents to their children.

Next to Butynski and the alpacas stood a vintage, chrome-accented car named “Monty,” painted forest green with a big, horizontal, yellow-orange stripe across each side — colors familiar to most who live in Vermont.

Terry Martin, shaded by a voluminous maple tree, showed off Monty, the shiny, 1947 Ford four-door sedan. In the 1970s, public information officers restored Monty to resemble what the first Vermont State Police (VSP) cruisers looked like.

Martin, who has worked with the VSP, the Windham County Sheriff’s Department, the Brattleboro Police Department, and the U.S. Marshal’s Office, greeted curious attendees, answered questions about Monty and its many features, and handed out thick packets of printed pages telling the story of Monty, how and why the VSP was created, and notable events in the VSP’s 68-year history.

Near Martin and Monty were vendors selling old postcards and maps showing what Windham County and the surrounding areas looked like long before most of us were born.

A few booths away, the hosts of the event, the Historical Society of Windham County, had a display focusing on the West River Railroad, complete with a reproduction of a railroad crossing sign, and a large glass vitrine holding a replica of the old Newfane station and its surroundings.

The Historical Society has taken on the project of purchasing and restoring the depot and eventually making it the West River Railroad Museum.

Proceeds from the history fair will go toward renovations at the depot, and maintaining the county’s history museum, located in a large brick Center Hall Colonial just south of the Common on Route 30.

Members of the society stood around the railroad display, chatting with visitors, answering questions, and posing for photographers.

Barb Barber, one of the Directors of the Historical Society, called the fifth biannual fair “one of our best ones."

Barber recounted just a few of the day’s activities to a late-arriving visitor.

“There were lots of people taking tours of the jailhouse, the courthouse, the Sheriff’s Department, the train depot we’re working on, the Old Newfane Cemetery,” she said.

“It was like a tsunami of people” entering the Common every time a tour ended, Barber added.

Just to the left of the Historical Society’s booth stood the popular food tent, operated by the Newbrook Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary. With still a half-hour of the event to go, Historical Society member Pat Smith pointed out to The Commons the lack of food, save four brownies and five cans of soda.

“They got rid of everything,” Smith said.

Debbie Pierson, President of the Ladies Auxiliary, said they sold 80 burgers, 20 pounds of Essem hot dogs, and many veggie burgers, egg salad, and tuna sandwiches.

“And a lot of cookies!” added Sigrid Blazej, treasurer of the group.

Meanwhile, a visitor was admiring Richard “Wood” Taylor’s hand-carved and painted wooden sculptures of animals and people when a loud “boom” was heard from across the Common, followed by a cloud of gray smoke and a sulfurous aroma.

Bob Brinck had just pulled the trigger on his reproduction 1750s-era flintlock musket.

Did he hit anything?

“It’s just gunpowder,” Brinck said, noting the lack of ammunition in the musket.

Brinck was decked out in mid-century — 18th century, that is — hunting garb, including buckskin chaps and plain, homespun tunic and pants.

In front of his lean-to hunting camp set up on the Common, Brinck laid out the products of his labor. He is a flintknapper.

“I make stone tools,” he explained, pointing out the arrowheads and spearheads he crafted by hand. He also makes the flints that allow his musket to ignite the gunpowder within.

For the duration of the fair, Brinck gave hourly demonstrations of flintknapping and musketry. Brinck found the flintlock musket at Pete Plunkett’s shop in Charlestown, N.H. He said that, at first, Plunkett refused to sell him the firearm.

“‘You need to choose a persona,’ he told me,” said Brinck.

Rather than invent a fictitious character from the 1750s, Brinck researched notable locals from his Hinsdale birthplace. He found Aaron Cooper, who was born in 1733 in what was then Northfield, but is now Hinsdale.

“He was a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War,” Brinck said, adding, “he died in 1805 and is buried in the Hooker Cemetery in Hinsdale.”

When Brinck appears at historical fairs and events, he becomes Cooper.

As Brinck poured more gunpowder into his musket, a voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing the beginning of the “Super Duper Raffle” drawing.

Throughout the day, participants placed their tickets in big jars corresponding to their desired prizes. Some of the prizes up for grabs were a ladies’ golf bag, a wooden cheese board, and a large basket of Vermont-made edibles.

Barber and Dick Marek, Vice President of the Historical Society, chose the winning tickets and held up the items for all to see and covet.

As the winners claimed their goodies, Marek, noting the increase in numbers of prizes and participants this year, told The Commons, “I think it’s the most successful raffle we’ve had.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #320 (Wednesday, August 26, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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