Theatrical production focuses on Fairfield County history

Mark Howes got all the thanks he needed for creating and organizing the Frontier Spirit 1799 re-enactment years ago when a boy stopped him on the street to tell him how much he loved the program.

“He said, ‘You're Capt. Hunter from that drama. Capt. Hunter, I used to hate history until I started coming out to Frontier Spirit. Now I get A's in it,' ” recalled Howes.

“It really has an impression on the kids,” said Howes, who loves offering families a chance to step back in time and learn about local history. “We're very, very family-friendly. That's our primary audience.”

Held at Alley Park in Lancaster, Frontier Spirit—in its 40th year—provides a glimpse into the lives of the first settlers in the Ohio Territory. Howes and other re-enactors dress in period clothing and talk about what life was like more than 200 years ago in Fairfield County, he said. Many of the characters they portray are based on actual early Ohioans.

Guides lead groups through the park and into the woods, where they encounter multiple scenes—such as an old trapper's camp or a Native American village—where the inhabitants share stories about their day-to-day lives.

Guests also can expect to hear the sounds of the past (think: cannon fire and a blacksmith's hammer) and the smells of food cooking over an open fire, Howes said. Concessions are available, including bean soup cooked in iron kettles.

In addition to the outdoor theatrical scenes, Frontier Spirit also includes a tent village where craftspeople demonstrate skills including blacksmithing, soap-making, spinning and weaving. Under another tent, musicians perform on various period instruments and local dignitaries give speeches, among other skits. Children's games and activities also are part of the entertainment.

Children walk away with an understanding of the fortitude that it took to live as a settler, and that lesson stays with them, Howes said. “It's a really sensory-type of experience,” he said. “Kids are not getting this level of education in school.”