Fort New Salem is a reproduction log house settlement of the nineteenth century. The log buildings in the community are from the surrounding area and were dismantled and reassembled at the fort. Years ago the Fort was open daily but a fire destroyed some of the buildings. The New Fort Salem Foundation is currently trying to renovate the buildings which takes time since the project runs on donations.
When the Irish, Scottish and German settlers came to this area they brought with them the folklore and traditions of their home countries. They also brought their ideas, dreams, strong work ethics and fortitude it would take to carve out a life in this new and rugged world that would give them the freedom and independence they sought.
Carol and I enjoyed walking through the fort even though the cold air nipped at our toes and fingers. Snow blanketed the ground and rooftops of the log buildings adding to the Yuletide spirit and created an authentic winter atmosphere. It was easy to imagine the frontier people ducking in and out of fireplace warm buildings carrying paper wrapped parcels or enjoying a hot meal at the tavern.
A large Christmas tree trimmed with real candles stood in the center of the common area. At dusk they lit the candles with other lit candles on the end of long sticks.
We visited the Weaving Room and admired the hand woven Christmas ornaments, chair seats and foot stools. The blacksmith was busy at his shop hammering out useful items that would be used in daily frontier life.
We stopped by the Apothecary shop and picked up some sassafras and herbal tea that came from a local herbalist. We even visited with an Irish servant who told us the story of why candles are placed in a window.
When England changed to Protestantism and the Irish Catholics were persecuted they put candles in their windows to let Catholic priests know that this house was a safe haven.
We encountered the Der Belsnickel who in German folklore would wear rags and go around the town giving children switches if they were bad and candy if they were good.
It got colder as the evening progressed so we found a vender selling hot chocolate and wassail. We each got a cup and went to the old meeting house which was a church. In the old days a church was used for Sunday service as well as town meetings. A warm fire crackled in the fireplace and Carol and I relaxed on the front pew thawing out until the tree lighting.
Carolers sang Christmas songs as the Der Belsnickel led a procession of people to light the tree and thus end the evening. Hopefully the Fort New Salem will be brought back to its original glory before the fire and financial difficulty. It would be a shame to see such a treasure disappear.