Venards plan unique event
to promote river history

River Spirits Rendezvous'
to feature re-enactments

By Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer 

MILTON, Ky. • Paul Venard walks around the  historic land he calls Preston on the River in Trimble County, pointing out a rock that was once part of a former slave quarters. He walks up to a land bench that once served as shoreline around the Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago. Finally, he scans the areas of his land that during Oct. 13-15 will be the site of historical re-enactments known as the River Spirits Rendezvous.

Paul Venard

Paul Venard poses with a tree stump that will be used for lectures at the upcoming čRiver Spirits Rendezvous.

He and his wife, Pam, have been planning the inaugural event for years in attempt to use their property to promote the arts and history in a most unique way.
"We are trying to create a living history museum and an educational and recreational entity for Trimble County," Venard says, looking out over his 180-acre land with more than a mile of river frontage.
The Venards call the portion of the historic Preston Plantation that they own, Preston on the River.
The plantation in 1902 was divided into 24 farms. Its original acreage ran about 2,300. The name, Preston, came from the ownership of John D. Preston and Mary Wickliffe Preston. 
According to a historical monograph compiled by Louisville-based historian Diane Perrine Coon, Mary Howard Wickliffe in 1852 married her cousin, John Preston. She purchased Norfolk Farms, what the plantation was then called, for $1 from her father, John Howard. 
Mary was an acquaintance of the notorious slave abolitionist, Delia Webster, who operated an underground railroad from her Trimble County farm a few miles away.
Such history deserves more exposure, the Venards decided. So with the help of program director Donna Williams, the Venards are planning a variety of period activities for the Rendezvous weekend. Participants will be able to witness a complete recreation of life as it was lived between the years 1600 to 1840. 
The Coalition of Historical Trekkers and the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA) of Friendship, Ind., will perform these re-enactments. Activities will include popular competitions of the period, such as blackpowder shooting, tomahawk throwing, candle shooting and archery.
"No one will be able to compete unless they are in period clothing and accoutrements," says Williams. This includes having all the weapons and tools of the period from 1600 to the 1840s.
Venard has even carved a ledge into a five-foot high tree stump to serve as a podium so lectures can be re-enacted. At 1 p.m. on Oct. 14, Bob Pilkington will deliver a particular lecture on George Rogers Clark.
There will also be musical entertainment provided by the Rogues' Consort. This musical ensemble consists of hammer dulcimer, violin, citterns, cello, flagolets, tabor pipes and pocket fiddle. Those instruments may not sound familiar today, so musicians Maynard and Sara Johnson and Italian-trained violin maker Michael Thompson will demonstrate how these instruments were built in the 18th century.
In addition, other aspects of period life will be present over the weekend. 
"People will be cooking over wood fires and doing various traditional things, such as making brooms and working with leather," says Venard. "We want to keep the illusion of historical purity."
The authenticity of the land to the period is indeed apparent. Though electricity exists on the site, electrical wiring is well hidden in the ground and woods. Other structures on the site add to this historical authenticity.
Venard identifies a 120-foot tall elm tree that has been named to the Historical Register of Living History. "It has seen everything; if it only could talk," says Venard, referring to the elm, which stands where slaves of Norfolk Farms would congregate.
About 20 feet from this tree sits an old tobacco barn, where there is an old "jolt" wagon & one that would jolt the riders due to lack of springs. The Venards have even stylized trash cans by placing them inside of traditional looking whiskey barrels.
Venard points to another structure that he believes might have once been a sugar shack. Though no historical evidence has been found to prove this hypothesis, the maple trees nearby suggest the possibility.
A series of depressions in nearby rock formations suggest that at one time Indian squaws might have used these large rocks upon which to grind corn. "These depressions are reminiscent of what has been found elsewhere," says Venard.
On Oct. 13, the plantation will serve as a school day where students can come experience the re-enactments. Williams points out that public, parochial and home school can still sign up to come by calling or e-mailing Preston on the River. Public invitation will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.  General admission to the event is free and tax-deductible donations will be accepted. Parking will be $5. 
"Parking will be away from encampments so that people can walk on the site as if they were going back in time," says Williams. She adds that food services will be provided by Country Bo's, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to feeding needy people in Henry, Oldham, Shelby and Trimble counties. Proceeds from the food sales will benefit those that Country Bo's regularly feeds.
"We've been working toward this for years," says Venard. 
During this mid-October weekend, all the hard work and planning will come to life, as history is re-created.

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