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Wooly Day Festival is educational fun!

W. Kenneth Medley II • Updated Apr 14, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Farming in 18th century Northeast Tennessee was far different than today, and on Saturday, visitors at Rocky Mount State Historic Site got a chance to experience the old ways firsthand.

Rocky Mount’s Wooly Day is an opportunity for people to take a step back in time and see what it was like for William Cobb and family. Cobb established the settlement in the 1770s, according to Sam Wegner, the director of Rocky Mount. “First-person interpreters,” described as a person in 1791, were on hand in full regalia demonstrating tasks like woodworking, sheep shearing and more.

“Wooly Day is popular because of the lambs,” said Wegner. “This year we added a new component called the Garden Arts Festival. … It is just a chance to step back into time and enjoy (one’s) self. That is the whole idea here.”

Visitors could watch Ben Dewitt, education director for Rocky Mount, hand-shear Cotswold sheep while giving an educational lecture. Dewitt told people that components of the wool are used in everything from clothing to lotions. Rocky Mount currently has six lambs and is waiting for one more.

After the sheep have had their yearly haircut, the wool is then washed. This is a hands-on activity that participants were asked to join. Many of the kids had fun washing the fresh-cut wool.

“It is important that the sheep are sheared at least once a year,” Dewitt said. “A thick coat of wool on a full-grown sheep can weigh up to 10 pounds, so imagine walking around in that all summer. Also, the wool does not shed like a cat or dog.”

Wegner says that the event has been going on more than 20 years. He has been a part of it for the past two. Everything is done without electricity, “because they didn’t have it back then.”

“It is an opportunity for the visitor to do two things,” Wegner said. “One is to look at the new lambs, and that is the most popular. Then it is a chance to go to different stations throughout the site to see what happens from the point when you say, ‘I am going to take wool off the lamb,’ and the process you have to go through to get where you are actually going to weave something. We have the added component, vendors, talking about the different kinds of products and processes that come from the land itself.”

Looking across the grounds, smoke could be seen from the blacksmith’s end of the barn. That’s where an 18th century blacksmith technique demonstration by Kurt Krieger was underway. He was building an open-fire cooking tripod on which he intends to cook an Easter roast.

“The important thing is to get the temperature just right when you are hammering steel,” Krieger explained. “If it is too hot or cold when you bang on it, you can damage the material.”

Krieger showed how settlers of Rocky Mount would have stoked the fire. A hand lever just above the smith’s head, next to the fire, could be pumped. This would cause a bellow the size of a large recliner to rise and fall as air was forced under and up to heat the steel.

Later on, Krieger switched to making small knives to be used later for teaching aids.

Inside the Rocky Mount Center, basket weaving was taking place. All sizes and colors of baskets were being intricately woven out of materials that would have been used more than 200 years ago. The materials being period-proper did not stop one weaver from creating a Lady Vols themed basket.

Maddie, Meredith and Molly, three girls all under the age of 6, said their favorite part were the houses. They were a little shy and were enjoying lunch at one of the picnic tables on the property.

When asked about the lambs … “I liked it,” Molly said, and the other two agreed. “They were soft.”

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