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Experiencing Frontier Life at Parker Pioneer Homestead Festival


October 7, 2008

Kimberly J. Williams, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

“Pioneers lay the roads for those who follow to walk on.” Unknown

Our pioneer forefathers braved the unknown to start anew with their families. Many left everything they knew behind and traveled hundreds of miles to create farms from forested land or settle in small towns in hopes of establishing a new and rewarding life for themselves and their children.

Every October, Parker Pioneer Homestead near Harrisburg celebrates life of the pioneers with its Homestead Festival. The event gives visitors opportunities to see first-hand how men, women and children lived nearly 150 years ago. This year’s festival will be held Oct. 11-12 and Oct. 18-19.

Parker Pioneer Homestead features nearly 20 reconstructed buildings that would have been found in a frontier town, including a general store, a grist mill, a sorghum mill, a broom shop, a smokehouse, a church, and a post office. As visitors make their way down the dirt paths akin to those traveled by pioneer wagons, they quickly realize that life for the average person in the 1880s was difficult and demanding. Guests can watch artisans demonstrate a variety of pioneer skills, such as broom-making, blacksmithing and quilting. Visitors can stop by the gristmill and see corn ground into corn meal or drop in the blacksmith shop and look on as the blacksmith uses fire to shape metal into horseshoes and decorative items. Live music is also a part of the festival and musicians and singers share songs and ditties of the pioneer period.

While touring the frontier village, guests will most likely notice a strange aroma permeating the air. It’s the scent of cooking sorghum, a staple of pioneer life. Visitors can watch the mule or horse pull the sorghum mill along, squeezing the nectar from cane. The cane juice is then cooked in a large copper pot – and sorghum is created. Sorghum was a staple in the pioneer kitchen and was widely used as a sweetening agent instead of cane sugar, which was not readily available.

There’s another aroma that catches guests’ attention as they stroll through the settlement – the smell of fresh popcorn. But this isn’t any ordinary popcorn. It’s kettle corn, also known as sugar corn, and it was a pioneer favorite of all ages. Festival goers can watch as ladies in period costume pop up a batch in a huge cast-iron tub and then add the sugar that makes the popcorn go from ordinary to extraordinary. After sampling the tasty treat, visitors can purchase bags to take along on their trip home.

Parker Pioneer Homestead’s General Store sells a variety of items handmade on the premises, such as lye soap, brooms, candles and metalwork from the blacksmith shop. The store also carries pioneer favorites like sarsaparilla and Homestead’s famous sorghum molasses.

Gates open at 10 a.m. on Saturdays of the festival and at noon on Sundays during festival. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for seniors and children under 12. For detailed information about Parker Pioneer Homestead or the annual Homestead Festival, visit the Web site at www.ParkerHomestead.com or phone 870-578-2699 or 870-578-9251.

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

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ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS & TOURISM
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