Christiansburg bicentennial a hit

Three-day celebration highlights residents’ talents, skills

By Craig Shirk - Contributing writer

Frank Woolley, left, and James Milligan demonstrate the work of a blacksmith during the Christiansburg bicentennenial.

Frank Woolley, left, and James Milligan demonstrate the work of a blacksmith during the Christiansburg bicentennenial.

Craig Shirk | Contributing photographer

CHRISTIANSBURG – The village was a hub of activity last weekend, as hundreds gathered to witness its bicentennial.

Event-goers watched reenactments, toured the Masonic Temple and enjoyed concerts. Residents also took advantage of an opportunity to showcase their talents at craft exhibits and auctions.

Saturday’s parade brought firetrucks and the “Dancin’ Band from Falconland ” through Main Street. Christiansburg Fire Chief Bob Hoey organized the procession, which honored two couples as grand marshals: Mary and Kermit Littlejohn and Richard and Lucie Furrow.

Planning committee co-chair Jeanette Gretzinger was awed by an outpouring of support, emphasizing the event was made possible entirely through local fundraisers.

“It’s awesome. We’re so happy and fortunate to have all these citizens wanting to work and volunteer … We’re a lucky village,” Gretzinger said.

One such volunteer was Candy Gilliam, chair of the village’s historical committee. The village’s postal clerk, Gilliam spearheaded the creation of both a bicentennial book and commemorative calendar to raise funds.

Nearly 300 copies of the book, “Reflections of Our Village,” sold by Saturday. The book’s design and printing were outsourced to M.T. Publishing of Indiana. However, much of the content was written by Christiansburg’s own Sharon Hastings. Debbie Ullery, also of Christiansburg, designed the logo.

A village cookbook and quilt show raised proceeds for the bicentennial. More than 200 cookbooks were sold and approximately 92 quilts were submitted for the show.

Proudly displayed at the Christiansburg United Methodist Church, a massive bicentennial quilt was raffled in hopes of netting as much as $700. Four local women stitched the quilt with hand embroidered portrayals of the village’s landmarks.

Diane Littlejohn, one of the four quilters, and Tina Swartz were integral to delivering this year’s quilt show.

“We have a great collection of antique quilts, newer quilts and tide quilts,” Swartz said as she walked among all 92 of them.

Primitive encampment, craft shows

“Here they come!” said Tim Milligan as guests arrived at the park Saturday morning.

The old world collided with the new at his primitive encampment. Each tent featured a reenactor showcasing a skill, trade or hobby unique to the 1800s.

As they arrived, Milligan retreated to his post in time for his first spectators. A feather in his top hat and walking stick in hand, he was in his element. He showed them vintage butter knives, deer-horn buttons, coonskin hats, bonnets, jewelry and flint-and-steel fire starters.

Between shows Saturday, Milligan recalled how much fun he had Friday entertaining Graham Elementary students at the encampment. His wife, Sharon, a maker of period clothing, also took part in demonstrations.

“They were a great group of kids. A testament to their parents,” he said.

A retired vocational teacher of 30 years, Milligan showed fourth- and fifth-grade classes how to safely start a fire with flint and steel. Three busloads of students made the trip, he said.

Under another tent, Scott and Gail Schulz posed as trade merchants. Scott was busy carving the finishing touches of a walking stick. Gail turned her attention to their displays of pottery and other items of potential trade value.

“We’ve been doing this 30 years,” said Scott of his family’s shared interest in woodcarving. “This is just a hobby. Our daughter – she’s 25 now – grew up doing this with us.”

Next door to the Schulzes stood a blacksmith’s shop. There, Frank Woolley and James Milligan demonstrated the life of a smithy. Their instruments glowed a fiery orange as they forged metals into nails, spoons, hangers, and forks.

James, one of Tim’s sons, showed spectators how to flatten a nail head and make a logo using an iron stamp. A retired serviceman of 22 years, James has been a blacksmith the last three. His hobby provides an ideal outlet, he said.

Another showman, Mike Collier, played the role of master broom maker alongside apprentice Fritz Kannik. Wearing long white aprons, the duo worked in a sprawling tent named “Brooms & Such.”

Using a stitching post, Collier thrusted a needle and string into a bundle of broom corn. He eagerly explained the process from raw materials to finished product, featuring all varieties of brooms – southern cabin to pot scrubbers.

An industrial arts teacher at London High School, Collier said his hands-on hobby is a perfect fit. He is already accustomed to teaching concepts in robotics, manufacturing and construction. Collier first took notice of broom-making four years ago while attending one of Milligan’s festivals.

“I said, ‘I want to do that!’” he recalled.

The encampment also boasted a skilled clockmaker in Steve Baker, of St. Paris. Baker held demonstrations on repairing vintage clocks and watches.

Rebecca Baker, of Tipp City, also showcased her handmade soy wax candles. The hobby takes her around the country, and she enjoys spending that time with family.

“It’s a lot of fun. This is probably my 15th show this year, and that’s just since March,” she said, adding that soy wax makes her candles last longer.

Erin Milligan, Tim and Sharon’s daughter-in-law, set up a face-painting shop that proved to be a popular attraction.

In addition to the encampment, craft vendors set up shop at the Christiansburg park. A pumpkin sale, art exhibits and book sales were among them. Local author Scott Trostel was on hand promoting his book on the history of the Springfield, Troy, and Piqua railway. He had sold as many as 80 copies by day’s end.

Masonic Temple’s history museum

Inside the Masonic Temple, a large second-floor room was full but serene. Here, the Freemasons hosted a history museum.

Guests peered at photographs, articles, documents, tools, garments and other tokens of the village’s past. The prized item was the nation’s first-ever posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor, bestowed upon Christiansburg’s own Marion Ross in 1862.

Rob Pollock, vice president of the Champaign County Historical Society, and curator Dick Virts beamed as they showcased the medal to passers-by.

“I think it’s fair to say it’s the most prized possession of the museum and the historical society,” Pollock said, adding the medal is normally housed in a safe at the historical society’s home.

Descendants of Ross gifted the medal to the historical society in 1982, and the organization has kept a tight grip on it ever since. Only a picture and description of the medal is displayed at the group’s museum in Urbana.

A point of pride for Christiansburg residents, the story behind this Congressional Medal of Honor is well known to many of the visitors at Saturday’s exhibit.

“They have a lot of respect,” Pollock said. “There were at least eight people here who are related to (Ross).”

According to Virts, Ross is one of nine Congressional Medal of Honor recipients connected in some way to Champaign County. He added that Ross is also one of 500 Champaign County residents who died in the Civil War. Many of them, he continued, died of disease and some were locked away in the infamous Andersonville Prison.

A sergeant major for the Union Army, Ross was hanged in 1862 by the Confederacy for his part in an undercover mission to cut supplies and communication lines to Confederate troops. Famously known as the Great Locomotive Chase, Ross and his confidantes stole a train to carry out their mission. They wrought minor damages but were quickly captured.

According to articles at the museum, Ross’ last thoughts were of his family and of Christiansburg. He told his fellow captives he did not regret dying for his country. He was only 29 years old.

Ross was a Freemason in Christiansburg, where he was known for his musical talents. Pictures of his flute and other possessions were on display. The Freemasons also displayed resolutions from past meetings that honor Ross and grieve his death.

Other articles indicate that Ross, in a testament to his leadership, lifted the spirits of his inmates by playing the flute and even starting a band. They were permitted to spend much of their imprisonment outdoors in chains, and Ross’ musical talents became a hit with the Chattanooga locals.

Ross was also an alumnus of Antioch College, and his status as an educated man gained him promotion to sergeant major upon joining the Second Ohio Infantry. Ross was well respected. His father, Levi, was one of the founding members of Christiansburg’s Masonic Temple in the early 1850s.

Frank Woolley, left, and James Milligan demonstrate the work of a blacksmith during the Christiansburg bicentennenial. Woolley, left, and James Milligan demonstrate the work of a blacksmith during the Christiansburg bicentennenial. Craig Shirk | Contributing photographer
Three-day celebration highlights residents’ talents, skills

By Craig Shirk

Contributing writer

Craig Shirk is a regular contributor to this newspaper.

Craig Shirk is a regular contributor to this newspaper.