Gold Hill Founder’s Day offers a window into history

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 28, 2013

GOLD HILL — Founder’s Day 2013 was the sort of day every small town wishes it could have.
The air was autumn-crisp and the sun was out. There was music in the air and smoke from wood fires mixing with the smell of fresh food.
The parade, the pageant and the musicians drew what several participants said, unofficially, was a larger crowd than has been seen in recent years.
But what makes Founder’s Day unique is the variety that the event offers.
Take Colton Lackey, for example — one of many kids who were “punished” with time in the Gold Hill stocks Saturday.
Of course, no actual punishment takes place, but kids passing by love to stick their heads and hands into the wooden frame.
Colton’s offense? “He ate his sister’s chicken,” said Kathy Lackey, as 6-year-old Colton mugged for passers-by in the stocks.
Aside from good food, Kathy Lackey said that her family was there for the history, and to support an important day in the life of their town.
She and her husband were married in March 2012 in Gold Hill Park, where Founder’s Day events take place annually.
This was the kids’ first real visit to Founder’s Day, she said.
Around the park, visitors enjoyed the typical trappings of autumn festivals – treats and sweets, vendors selling everything from candles to cigars to cosmetics.
What attracts many to Founder’s Day, they said, is the history.
Once again, local Civil War re-enactment groups held an encampment at the park, and performed a historical skirmish in the afternoon.
Kevin Britton, of reenactment group 63rd North Carolina Troops, said the company has taken part in the event for several years.
It’s more than just dress-up for the volunteers, who portray Confederate soldiers like those who might have fought in and around Rowan County during what Britton jokingly called “the War of Northern Aggression.”
Britton said being at events like Founder’s Day combines a history lesson with entertainment.
“We really want to get people interested,” Britton said — to get them reading about not just the Civil War, but about their own family history.
For instance, in studying his genealogy, Britton said he learned that none of his ancestors owned slaves, but said that they had employed free African Americans.
Aside from being motivated to study family history, visitors to Founder’s Day could witness demonstrations of pottery, flintknapping and spinning.
Inside at the crafting demos, Barbara Johnson and husband Rick were turning wool into yarn using a small spinning wheel.
Called a “traveler’s wheel” because of its small size, the spinning wheel is of recent make, but reflects the kind of work women once did.
“It being Founder’s Day, it’s the thought of focusing on heritage-type crafts,” Barbara Johnson said as she spun.
Johnson said it was important to keep alive the traditions that her grandmothers and great-grandmothers had practiced, for a future generation.
It’s not always as easy as it looks today, husband Rick Johnson said.
Describing a “walking wheel,” the larger spinning wheels used before foot-treadles were invented, Rick said, “That’s how those colonial women stayed so thin. You had to walk 15 miles to knit a sock.”
Outside, Adrian Grass sat behind a tent with his wares — handcrafted knives with stone blades, and handles of antler, bone or bamboo.
Grass said he took up flintknapping — crafting stone into blades or arrowheads – as a hobby.
He’s got display cases full of points he’s made not to sell, but to show.
“It’s country,” Grass said of Gold Hill Founder’s Day. “… When I started flintknapping, I didn’t know anyone else who done it.”
Today, thanks in part to events like Founder’s Day, Grass said he’s able to learn a lot more about the craft, and share his knowledge with others.
At the General Store, Glenn “Hoppy” Hopkins kept watch over a steady stream of customers who bought snacks and supplies, or who just came in to look around.
He said the crowds that come to Founder’s Day include not only residents, but plenty of “old timers” and others who are eager not only to have fun, but to see history firsthand.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.