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Annual Schuyler House event a tradition for many families

Annual Schuyler House event a tradition for many families

Site held its popular 18th Century Day on Sunday
Annual Schuyler House event a tradition for many families
Fred DePaul, of Plymouth, Vt., demonstrates the old-fashioned method of sheep shearing at 18th Century Day.
Photographer: Erica Miller / Gazette Photographer

Dozens of families from both around and beyond the Capital Region descended upon the grounds of the historic Schuyler House to celebrate a longstanding and much-loved tradition: the site's annual 18th Century Day.

The event, held Sunday afternoon at the historic home located on Route 4 in Schuylerville, is a collaborative effort between the Old Saratoga Historical Association and the National Park Service.

The large country home was once the residence of Gen. Philip Schuyler both before and after the Battles of Saratoga during the Revolutionary War.

However, what stands there now is not the original structure: British forces burned both the house and its surrounding outbuildings to the ground during their retreat following Gen. John Burgoyune's surrender to end the pivotal Battles of Saratoga in 1777.

Gen. Schuyler's home was rebuilt soon after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783. That house, which still stands, became the center of his extensive farming and milling operations.

Attendees wandered around the grounds, stopping to watch re-enactors demonstrate various 18th Century-themed activities, crafts and trades. 

Punch and Judy puppet shows were performed throughout the day, with children and parents sitting on bales of hay to watch the dolls' shenanigans.

Wildly popular activities that returned from last year included a sheep shearing demonstration and a candle dipping activity, in which children walked around a circle many times, dipping a string into a bucket of wax over and over until it became a slender candle.

Fred DePaul, the Vermont resident who held both last year's and this year's sheep-sheering demonstrations, travels to New York and other states to give demonstrations.

A sheep-shearer by trade, DePaul consistently engages with his audience during the shearing, soliciting children volunteers to help turn an old-fashioned shearing device that he brings with him.

"Now, when I'm shearing, I have to be careful to not cut off anything that won't grow back," DePaul said to laughs from the audience, while clipping away at one of his sheep's thick wool.

"He's making me nervous just watching him do that," said Ben Shore of Saratoga while he was watching the demonstration with his wife.

Deb Peck Kelleher, one of the longtime organizers of the event, said that in the 40 years it's been held, many of the same participants come to set up shop for the educational day.

Due to its longevity, both planning and set up for the event run smoothly, Peck Kelleher said, with artisans and re-enactors often marking the date for next year's down as soon as the current's year's event ends.

This year was a bit different, Peck Kelleher explained, due to a change in park rules that dictates the historical association can no longer solicit or accept donations during the event, as it has done in the past, nor serve food or beverages on the grounds. Yet, those two changes didn't keep flocks of people from attending.

"It's like clockwork at this point," she said. "I've known people who came here decades ago as kids, and now they bring their children. Really, everybody loves it so much."

Penelope Swears, 6, of Saratoga, and her young brother Shane Swears, 3, were making their own candles on Sunday afternoon.

"I think it'll look like a perfect candle when I'm done," Penelope said as she dipped her candle into the bucket of wax with her brother, then took another lap around the circular path with the other children participating in the activity. The short walk gave the new layer of wax an opportunity to dry before getting dipped once more. 

Ali Hensley, of Troy, was lounging on the grass Sunday with a sketchpad, drawing a picture of the Schuyler House. Decked out in full 18th century garb, Hensley, who does medieval reenacting, said that while she is not involved with the Old Saratoga Historical Association, she never misses a chance to step into another world for a day.

On Sunday, Hensley was sporting a long blue colonial dress with a straw sunhat.

"Honestly, I'll take any excuse I can to wear the clothes," she said.

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