CHRISTIANSBURG – Organizers of the Christiansburg Bicentennial are delivering a full slate of events Oct. 6-8.
A focal point will be Tim Milligan’s artistic creation, a primitive 1800s encampment. A collection of white canvas tents, the camp will be nestled along Honey Creek throughout the weekend.
Jeanette Gretzinger, co-chair of the planning committee, said she is “very excited to see the primitive encampment with demonstrators, spinner, broom maker, period clothing, blacksmith, soap maker, pig carving, etc.”
Gretzinger noted the camp is just one of many events and historical themes planned for the celebration. Opening night will kick off with “a bonfire, live music and free hot dogs,” she said.
“The camp will be run just like they were up to the 1820s,” Milligan explained. “There’ll be some fire pit for cooking breakfast and supper. There’s what we use – called a bracer – a tin box … and we cook on that. But there will be other open fires with grates, an old time cast iron. We cook biscuits and gravy. We might have something cooking on a spit.”
Milligan and his wife, Sharon, have been making period clothing and merchandise since about 1979. Their shop, Stitcher’s Cabin, is located on state Route 55 just east of Christiansburg. In addition to his craftsmanship, Milligan taught masonry for more than 30 years at the Montgomery County Joint Vocational School. He remembers those days fondly.
“We went out and built houses all over the county,” Milligan said of his classes. “We built houses, driveways, chimneys, fireplaces that are still standing today.”
Milligan still views himself as an educator. He and Sharon travel all over the United States every year to take part in anywhere from 14 to 18 “historical rendezvous,” or historical demonstrations. Milligan is also a member of the village’s Masonic Temple, where historical artifacts will be on display Saturday, Oct. 7.
“We (Stitcher’s Cabin) make clothing from 1700 all the way up to 1890,” he said. “We make seven different hats: the tricorns, the long hunters, Rangers … all different types. I do leather work, leather dresses, Native American leather dresses, vests during the cowboy era, long hunters coats – we make them both in leather and fabric 100 percent cotton.”
The Christiansburg event will be a special one because it’s home to the Milligans. They will make camp the day before the bicentennial is slated to open.
Clothing, jewelry, skills of early America
“We’re going to have a blacksmith there set up with demonstrations all day Saturday and Sunday,” Milligan added. “Next to him there’ll be a broom-maker that has a very large set-up just across from him. And he’ll make brooms and sell brooms like they did in the early 1800s. We have a gentleman from St. Paris that will be set up. His hobby is watch and clock repair, and we’ve discussed that he could do demonstrations on some of the old watches and clocks in the 1800s.”
The Milligans will also be setting up shop at the celebration, selling their merchandise and giving demonstrations throughout the weekend. Tim’s craft is leatherworking, while Sharon makes her clothing with various types of fabrics.
“We’ll have period hats up to about 1840, jewelry and sterling silver that was customary to be on a person. There’ll be some firearms of the period, most generally flintlocks. But there will be some percussion type firearms, both smooth-bore and rifled barrels of the time. The smooth-bores date clear back to the 1600s.”
Pending approval from the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, Milligan said he will demonstrate with a variety of vintage guns.
“We will not be firing live ammunition,” he assured. “They’re all black powder guns and they shoot a patch ball … Our intentions are to demonstrate what is a called a dry fire. The only thing we’ll load it with is a small charge of black powder and a wad … So you’ll get the flintlock smoke coming from the ammunition.”
Antiques and crafts will be another hallmark of the occasion. Even the antique dealers will be dressed in period clothing from the 1700s up to the 1860s, according to Milligan.
“I’ve stuck basically with people within a 30-mile radius that had good, solid backgrounds and knowledge in what we’re trying to do.”
Craig Shirk is a regular contributor to this newspaper.