Fort Henry Days Takes Visitors Back to Wild Days

Even as locals have been busy commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Oglebay Park will turn back the clock even further this Labor Day weekend for the annual Fort Henry Days celebration.

The event, which takes visitors back to a time when the area that eventually would become Wheeling was on the precipice of the untamed western frontier, will run Sept. 3-4 at Oglebay Park’s Site 1, which is located behind Schenk Lake and the Good Zoo. While organizer Joe Roxby said the climactic, 3 p.m. daily battle reenactment is usually the event’s biggest draw, there’s plenty else available to give festival-goers a glimpse of everyday life in the American colonies.

Roxby said the theme for 2011 will be “The Year of the Bloody Sevens” – a nickname for the year 1777, when Native Americans from the Mingo, Shawnee and Wyandot tribes attacked settlements up and down the Ohio River, including Fort Henry.

According to Roxby, festival organizers try to rotate themes in an attempt to “keep the event somewhat fresh.”

“Everybody doesn’t want to see Betty Zane making the gunpowder run every year,” he said, referring to perhaps the quintessential image of Fort Henry – when the legendary heroine dodged enemy gunfire to carry a tablecloth full of gunpowder to the besieged fort during the Revolutionary War’s final battle in 1782.

Roxby said Fort Henry Days will feature a host of living history presentations, including Native American lore, candlemaking, riflemaking and blacksmithing, just to name a few.

In addition, a new edition of “The Heroic Age” – a book Roxby co-authored with William Hintzen in 2000 – will be featured at the event. The updated version includes five new chapters, focusing on such aspects of Wheeling’s early history as Patrick Gass, the Gibson-Linn expedition and Revolutionary War hero-turned-outlaw Sam Mason.

Mason’s story holds special interest for Roxby, who has served as an Ohio County magistrate since 2008. Mason was one of the county’s earliest magistrates before turning into “one of the most feared and bloodthirsty brownwater pirates” of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, according to Roxby.

Roxby expects a good crowd once again for the event, one of Oglebay’s most popular each year behind perhaps only OglebayFest and the Winter Festival of Lights.

“We had as big a crowd as we ever had last year. Our attendance was down a little bit in 2009, but we came roaring back in 2010,” he said.

Roxby noted as always, parking is free, and there’s no charge for admission, affording visitors more money to spend on food, souvenirs and enjoying Oglebay’s wide range of activities.

“You’re not broke before you get in,” he said. “You can come up there and have a good time and not spend a lot of money.”