When the fort at Fort Boonesborough State Park near Richmond reopens Feb. 16, visitors will see big changes in how it looks and how they are engaged in learning about pioneer life.
Fire struck the fort on Feb. 21, 2002, destroying one of the fort’s four corner buildings – called a blockhouse – and two adjacent buildings. The area housed the fort’s gift shop. All that was left standing of the wooden structures was the foundation and a stone fireplace.
Out of misfortune came an opportunity to redesign and redecorate to modern standards, noted Parks Commissioner George Ward.
The department has invested $475,000 to reconstruct the three buildings. The gift shop now boasts bright lighting, shiny plank floors, a new heating and ventilation system, and a modern check out area for purchases. The floor space was expanded with the removal of a stairway.
Not all the construction materials were modern, however. The park’s blacksmith fashioned 350 nails that were used to assemble the wooden doors that grace the walls of the three buildings.
That attention to bringing historical authenticity to the fort will be carried over in other ways, says Park Manager Phil Gray.
Fort employees will dress in period clothing. In some instances, historic interpreters will use animal skins, and fabrics to produce more clothing, using techniques of the time, from employing a loom to dyeing with leaves, barks, and other material found in nature.
Commissioner Ward added that employees at other historic sites also will wear clothing appropriate to the period being interpreted.
The park will be a more interactive experience, Gray said. For example, the park’s director of historic interpretation, Bill Farmer, is planning a variety of activities and events to pull visitors into pioneer life.
Children visiting the fort won’t just hear someone describe the games that pioneer kids played, they might be invited to try their hand at spinning a hoop in the fort’s common area.
During a demonstration of blacksmithing, an interpreter might not just explain how a mallet is used, he might hand the mallet to a guest and show him or her how to use it.
Special events will include a weekend devoted to Native American life. Another will mark the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
“We’re committed to being the best 18th century site in the region,” Gray said.
The fort’s operating schedule from Feb. 16 through March 31 is Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission will be $2 for adults, $1 for children. Starting April 1, the fort will be open daily from 9 to 5:30, with admission set at $6 and $4. The price includes admission to the Kentucky River Museum, also at the park.