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August 31, 2014
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Fort Delaware: a new day dawns

Christina Watts, left, and Iris Gillingham stand in the medicinal and culinary gardens in which the settlers employed a form of complimentary planting using “the three sisters,” corn, beans and squash.


NARROWSBURG, NY — “Everything I wear requires two forms of documentation to the time period I represent,” historic interpreter Mark Walter told students gathered around the assemblage of artifacts on display at Fort Delaware Museum in Narrowsburg during Student Days recently.

Mark, a member of the New York branch of the American Longrifle Association, portrays a farmer and hunter from 1763 as a volunteer at Fort Delaware, a living museum of colonial history located within the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, a unit of the National Park Service.

Fort Delaware focuses on the Cushetunk settlement of 1755 to 1785, where the first pioneers of the Upper Delaware River Valley lived. Although the original site of the settlement was located nearby in Pennsylvania’s Milanville, today’s replica sits along Route 97 and features a living museum where special events are scheduled throughout the summer to recreate what life was like for those early settlers.

Cooking demonstrations utilize 18th-century recipes, while encampments offer mock battles, military and musketry demos and period costumes. Three cabins, each dedicated to a particular colonist, are appointed with period-appropriate artifacts depicting the lives and activities of inhabitants. They frame a yard where a hand-drawn well, an outdoor oven and livestock can be viewed.

Under the leadership of its new director, Debra Conway, historical accuracy, professionalism, authentication and documentation are taking priority. For example, Mark and his wife, Nancy Walter, who portrays a teacher, have spent countless hours researching and developing their clothing and the artifacts they use to bring to life the types of activities experienced by the settlers.

“We try to educate the children for the time period, wearing the kinds of clothes that were worn then, using the kinds of tools they had,” said Mark. “By about 25, you were basically toothless, given the poor hygiene. You carried a stitching kit for accidents because you might have to do it yourself. There was no Novocaine; you had to bite on a stick.”

Besides getting to “dress up, play with toys, talk with kids and have fun,” Nancy’s favorite part is seeing children realize that life was different then. “Not better, not worse, but different, and that technology doesn’t necessarily make it better today. They’re enthralled with how the low-tech toys work, such as corncobs recycled into darts.”

For those who have grown up with modern conveniences like running water, electricity and grocery stores, Fort Delaware offers a glimpse into a long-past way of life. But the fort’s future is evolving, too, with an effort underway to form a new Friends of Fort Delaware group to raise awareness and funds to offset the increased costs associated with upgrading costumes and authenticating artifacts.

“It’s expensive to do it right,” Conway said, “but we hope to engage the community’s imagination in the possibilities.” Conway also hopes to increase the opportunity for serious research at Fort Delaware with a series of seminars and conferences.

For further information, call 845/252-6660 or email fortdelaware@hotmail.com. Fort Delaware is open on weekends through Labor Day. Visit co.sullivan.ny.us/?TabId=3192.


Upcoming events at Fort Delaware
(Friday, Saturday and Monday Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday Hours: 12 Noon to 5:00 pm)
• July 2-4, Independence Day Weekend, Colonial cooking demonstrations, reading of the Declaration of Independence by Revolutionary War re-enactor Gary Cochrane. The reading will be preceded by a special flag-raising event which begins at noon and features a flag donated by Congressman Maurice Hinchey that was flown over the United States Capitol in Washington, DC in honor of Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History.
• July 9 and 10, Children’s Weekend, Lenape games, Colonial music, animals, sheep-shearing and spinning demonstrations and more.
• July 23 and 24, Revolutionary War Encampment, multiple re-enactor groups interact with the public.