Saturday October 13, 2012

COLRAIN, Mass. -- Would you like to penetrate the fog and mists of time in this American history- laden locale? Care to meet well-known local figures such as Mt. Holyoke College’s founder? Want to hear a scholar give you the "scoop" on Shays’ Rebellion?

Or perhaps you’d like to bring out the whole family for a fun-packed day of activities and interactive demonstrations, terrific music, and tasty food from some of the finest vendors in Franklin County?

Then the place for you today is this many-hilled town of 1,671 folks where, back in 1812, the first flag to be raised over a public schoolhouse proudly waved. It’s the First Hilltown History Conference and Fair, which starts at 8:30 a.m. this morning and ends at 4 p.m. on the grounds of the Colrain Central School on Jacksonville Rd. smack dab in the center of town. The fair portion of the program is open to the public and is free of charge.

Sue Samoriski, Executive Director of the Mary Lyon Foundation who’s serving as organizer of the festivities, is excited about the inaugural event. "We really have something for every person who attends," said Samoriski, the former Director of Instructional Media of the Mohawk Trail Regional School district for more than three decades. "We’re planning on a wonderful day of intellectually stimulating workshops in the school and themed attractions on the grounds, for people of all ages, backgrounds, and interests.


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And don’t forget the music. The band Whistlestop, known as a "nice, old-fashioned group," will play during the morning. The West County Jazz Trio steps up to the microphones from 12 noon until 2 p.m. when it’s time for the JMPT Quartet to take center stage until it’s closing time. The quartet is a favorite at Hope and Olive Restaurant in Greenfield and features accordionist Jane Lund, guitarist Mike Ingram, violinist Pam Bartlett and bassist Tom Ulrich.

Children will have a blast in their very own tent where they’ll have hands-on activities including an interactive archaeology dig under the direction of Aaron Miller. He’s an award- winning archaeologist who’s completing his Ph. D. at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Miller, from Colrain, is bringing actual artifacts and leading a discussion with kids on the old historical articles’ significance.

In addition, children can step up and greet a panoply of people, some from real-life and others from the past such as Mary Lyon of Buckland, who established Mt. Holyoke back in the early 1830s, along with one of her students; an itinerant blacksmith called "Iron Johnny," equipped with hammer and anvil in his own booth; a bark basket maker; a Stockbridge Native American scout; a local farmer of the 1812 era; and a Native American woman, working inside her authentic wigwam.

A number of other fascinating folks will be on hand, demonstrating their crafts. Children will be able to do silhouettes and other oldfangled, bygone things with "Paper Capers." Or they can practice their penmanship or even give their brains a playful workout with mental math.

Under the Big Top Tent, vendors like the Historic Deerfield Museum, World Eye Book Shop, Patina Metal Designs, and Catamount Auction will offer their wares. Included in the offerings are souvenirs, old maps, vintage auction items, books and paper items collected by hobbyists.

Joining the above under the big tent will be experts in many rich and diverse fields and representatives from historical societies. There will be tool, genealogical, and textile experts to answer folks’ questions along with members of the historical societies of Rowe, Buckland, Heath, Leyden, and Colrain.

A special Lunch with Lydia (also known as Judy Williams of Plainfield) offers a fascinating opportunity. Here fair attendees can "get the scoop" on the enduring friendship between a lady from the mid-1800s and the sister of a famous local gent. The historical Lydia lived in the famous Williams House in that era.  She’ll be at the fair, ensconced in a rocking chair, reminiscing about the past, people and places in Plainfield.

A unique part of the fair will be a segment entitled "Ask the Experts." People will be embedded in the outdoor festivities throughout the day, including ladies spinning, a demonstration of Eastern Woodlawn bark baskets, Deb Lively making bowls and spoons out of wood, and a map expert selling copies of old maps. The latter will also purchase old maps from fairgoers and can evaluate any timeworn piece of cartography brought to the festivities.

The conference portion of the daylong event requires a nominal fee, according to coordinator Samoriski. Held indoors at the school, the educational part of the day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with "breaks" scheduled to afford attendees plenty of time to tour the Fair.

The conference kickoff is a keynote speech delivered by Leonard Richards, Professor Emeritus of UMass/Amherst. Richards, known as a spellbinding speaker, will deliver his topic entitled "Rebellious Hilltown and the War of 1812." Dr. Richards is an authority on Shays’ Rebellion, the armed uprising that took place at the Northampton courthouse in the 1780s, led by a former Captain in the Continental Army who had fought for American independence.

A series of 18 workshops follow Prof. Richards’ presentation. All of the seminars center on significant aspects of local history in western Massachusetts and are held six at a time, enabling attendees to register for as many as three workshops. Conference registration is $35 for seniors over 65 years of age, while the normal $45 fee is waived for staffs from Rowe, Hawleymont, and Mohawk Trail Regional School districts. All those who sign up will get a paperback chock full of historical tidbits regarding the state of Massachusetts plus a certificate of attendance.

Seminar topics include "Robert Strong Woodward: the Life and Work of a New England Painter," "Father Silas Lamson," (the ahead-of-his-times, eccentric legend), "Finding Your Ancestors in West County and Beyond," "Revisiting Native American History in the Deerfield River Valley," "Franklin County and the California Gold Rush," "The Families of Catamount Hill," "Shelburne Falls and Colrain Street Railway: Then and Now," plus "The Creation of the Quabbin Reservoir: The Death of Swift River Valley."

The first workshop begins at 10:30 and concludes at 11:30 a.m., while the second gets underway at 1 p.m. and runs until 2 and the third seminar starts at 2:30 and concludes at 3:30 p.m.

Coordinator Samoriski is gratified by the outstanding assistance lent to the fair and conference by the community. "We’re very pleased by the degree of support, including Donations and considerations, from local businesses and organizations such as the Colrain Fire Department, the Colrain Central School, our musicians, the Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, and Redeker Tent Rentals of Erving, along with many other generous businesses."

The conference is under the sponsorship of the Mary Lyons Foundation, Colrain Historical Society, Catamount Hill Association, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, and the Museum of Our Industrial Heritage of Greenfield. It is funded partly by Mass. Humanities and the Leyden, Rowe, and Charlemont/Hawley Local Cultural Councils of the Mass. Cultural Council, an agency of the state of Massachusetts.