by James Coulter
Men dressed in buckskin and furs. Women in aprons and bonnets. Blacksmiths hammer away at red glowing iron fresh hot from the furnace. Bakers cook fresh bread in open clay ovens. Muskets firing. Arrows launched from longbows.
All these things were common occurrences among settlers in the Florida wilderness pre-1840s. They were also sights and sounds recreated for the modern era during the annual Alafia River Rendezvous.
Located behind Homeland Heritage Park between Bartow and Fort Meade, the Alafia River Rendezvous is an annual festival where historic demonstrators bring history to life by dressing in traditional garments and practicing traditional arts, crafts, and skills.
Visitors can peruse the encampment and visit tents where demonstrators live the settler life and practice their crafts, ranging from blacksmithing and basket-weaving to archery and musket firing. Special school days are hosted to educate local school children about history through first-hand experience.
The Alafia River Rendezvous has been hosted for more than 50 years. The event was first held in 1971 in Hudson, Fl. by the Alafia River Long Rifles, and it was later acquired by the Florida Frontiersmen in 1985 after the Alafia River Long Rifles disbanded.
More than 1,000 people from across the country and even the world arrive at this event annually to spend an entire week utilizing their skills to re-enact history, with as many as 1,400 people attending, explained Ron Clark, Florida Frontiersman President.
Clark has been with the event since his organization took it over in 1985. He appreciates being able to mingle with fellow historical re-enactors and demonstrators and share their passion for history.
“This is what we do once a year to introduce people to the hobby and bring out the school kids for the educational program that we host to help preserve the skills and trades of pre-1840s America,” Clark explained.
Normally, as a historic demonstrator, he visits other rendezvous to participate in archery, marksmanship, and other fun and games. However, as a coordinator for the Alafia River Rendezvous, his primary job is to assist the other Florida Frontiersman hosting the event. Overall, he loves being able to participate in the event with his fellow club members and historic re-enactors.
“I love seeing people,” he said. It is like a big reunion. Over and over, these people have been coming for many, many years. [I love] seeing old friends once a year from across the country. Some have been here from England, it is being able to see the people again, reacquainting old friendships, and mourning the loss of the people who are no longer with us.”
Jim Hull is a wood craftsman who makes Shaker boxes, little figurines, and other crafts. He has been performing his craft for 33 years. He keeps returning every year to Alafia River for his good friend, Ron, and the other demonstrators.
“I love camping with them and talking with them,” he said. “It is all about the camaraderie and the campfires and the people. We are all on an equal basis. There is no class or class system. You could be talking to a dirt farmer or a lawyer. We even have a Reedy Creek fire chief here. It is his vacation time. You never know. It is a good group of people interested in history, and you learn [from them].”
Greg Fulbright, President of the Florida Frontiersman, has been attending for 32 years, and the overall camaraderie from fellow reenactors and demonstrators keeps him coming back time and again.
“[It’s] just a great place to come where you have no problems and hardly any place where you can bring 1,500 to 1,700 people and not have a problem,” he said.
Liz and Frank Fulghum oversee the event working registration, the ranch house, and wherever else they are needed. She loves being able to play out life during a different time and being able to disconnect from the modern world.
“The key here is no electronics,” she said. “It is all primitive,and gets [you] to recharge and relax and have an affordable vacation.”
The Day Visitors’ Days for the Alafia River Rendezvous will be Fri., Jan. 20 and Sat., Jan. 21 from 9 AM – 3 PM. The event is located at 1000 Old Fort Meade Rd., Homeland, FL 33847. For more information, visit their website at: http://www.alafiariverrendezvous.org/