WINSLOW — Fort Halifax Park will come alive on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. as a number of re-enactors descend on the park to celebrate the town’s rich history.

The annual Fort Halifax Days hopes to draw more families to the celebration, which will feature live music, a cannon firing, a flag raising and a number of new activities for children.

“There’s a lot of history in Winslow that’s being untapped,” said Karen Rancourt-Thomas, a member of the committee that plans the day-long event.

Rancourt-Thomas and Virginia Sturies are both Waterville residents but travel across the bridge to help with the event. Rancourt-Thomas, a former Waterville city councilor, organized the Franco-American Festival in the past, and Sturies said she helps because she loves the small park by the river in Winslow.

From about 5,000 years ago until 1692, Native Americans lived at the site of the park, which is where the Kennebec and Sebasticook rivers meet.

At the start of the French and Indian War in 1754, English settlers built the fort to protect the upper Kennebec River valley from potential attacks. After the war ended, the fort fell into disrepair leaving only the blockhouse, which was nearly lost in the Great Flood of 1987. The logs were recovered, though, and the fort was rebuilt in 1988.

The organizers hope to continue growing the free historical event by adding more kid-friendly activities and re-enactment companies, who will come dressed as Native Americans and French and British soldiers and settlers from the 1700s.

Amanda McCaslin, director of Parks and Recreation for the town, has joined the committee this year to get more children involved.

While children in the 1700s in the United States didn’t have many games or toys, McCaslin said, they did have a number of chores that may now be foreign to modern Winslow children. With help from the Winslow schools’ Parent-Teacher Organization, McCaslin has organized a number of stations for children to try knitting, sewing, laundering and other chores. Children will also be able to enroll in the army, and the James Howard Company — the reenactment company for Old Fort Western — is bringing a 1-pound cannon to fire off.

“We want to keep it historical and informational, but we also want to attract families,” McCaslin said.

McCaslin has been giving tours at Fort Halifax Park to local students, and they’ve been interested and surprised at the history in their backyards, she said.

“They notice things I don’t even notice,” she said, and some of the parents who came as chaperones were also unaware of the park and what it means to the town.

McCaslin hopes that learning more about the history of the town and the challenges people lived with will leave the younger residents feeling more invested.

“The children today have very little awareness of history,” Sturies said. “I mean, where can you go in Maine and have the oldest blockhouse in the country?”

Elery Keene, a committee member and chairman of the town’s Planning Board, is bringing his to-scale model of the original fort complex, which was a fortress with a square blockhouse, an additional blockhouse and four barracks on the inside. The fort took seven weeks to build and was one of the largest of the time.

Keene said it’s important for people to know that the “fort was here first, then people cut down the trees,” then they started to farm and formed a community.

The American flag at the park will also be taken down and replaced with a British flag, Rancourt-Thomas said, so Winslow residents can be on British territory for a short period.

McCaslin has also organized a pie-baking contest. Those who want to participate can contact the Town Office and then bring their pies in at 2 p.m. A number of people from the community will judge the pies at 3:15 p.m., including Winslow police Chief Shawn O’Leary.

The committee said it’s hard to tell how many people come each year as it’s a free event that doesn’t require tickets, but the number seems to be increasing each time.

Organizers hope that the word of Winslow’s history spreads and the event continues to grow and get bigger each year.

“I’d like to see the whole state invited,” Rancourt-Thomas said.

Fort Halifax Days originally started as a way to raise donations for park improvements. In 2014, the town won a $95,000 grant for the project and has completed much of the work so far.

This past fall renovations were completed that included an upgraded parking lot, walkways from the parking lot to the picnic huts that are wheelchair-accessible and a memorial stone and pavers at the front of the park, Town Manager Michael Heavener said.

The area around the pavers has to be seeded, he said, and markers that will outline the original frame of the fort have to be installed.

The total construction cost has been about $188,000, mostly paid by a grant and local in-kind work. Actual local expenses was about $21,000, Heavener said. The project has raised nearly $10,000 in donations from businesses and residents, who have their names displayed on pavers or the memorial stone.

“This is such a better place already than it was in the 1970s when I moved here,” Keene said. “It was a junkyard.”

But people volunteered, they donated land and they came forward to help in a number of ways, he said, to create the park that it is today.

Those who would like more information about Fort Halifax Days or the park can call Michael Heavener at 872-2776.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.