HOUSE IN HORSESHOE: Re-enactors relive Revolutionary skirmish at historic site
A sense of relief and the scent of black powder were both in the air Saturday as re-enactors, state officials and sight-seers mingled at the House in the Horseshoe.
The state historic site, located off of Carbonton Road just over the Moore County line, was holding the annual rendition of the skirmish that took place there 232 years ago between British loyalists and a band of colonial separatists holed up inside the home of Philip Alston, a farmer and militia leader. But just a few months ago, many people were preparing for the harsh reality that this year's event, and others in the future, might never happen.
The budget Gov. Pat McCrory proposed this spring would have shut down the House in the Horseshoe as well as the state's 26 other official historic sites. But the funds were there in the end, allowing the site's three full-time staff to stay employed and continue giving tours and participating in the reenactment, which continues today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the battle at 2 p.m.
"It's like we're back from the dead," said N.C. Historic Sites Director Keith Hardison, who was touring Saturday's activities with a host of other officials from Raleigh. In addition to its state funding, he said, The House in the Horseshoe gets up to 3,000 unpaid hours a year from volunteers.
One of those volunteers is Lee County Commissioner Kirk Smith, a re-enactor with the loyalist 71st Highland Regiment. He was on hand with some of his fellows Saturday demonstrating different types of muskets, battle tactics, the traditional set-up of colonial-era British encampments and more.
His group was smaller than in years past — which he said was probably because many live out of state, saw the early budget proposals to shut it down, and just assumed it was done for — but he told Susan Kluttz, secretary of the state's Department of Cultural Resources, that he was glad anyone had the chance to be there at all. Smith said that as a former college history professor, he believes this reenactment and other events like it are important.
"We're thrilled," Kluttz said. "We're really excited (the sites) weren't closed."
Another person excited to be back was John Thornton, a Charlotte resident who said he travels up and down the East Coast with the Royal North Carolina Regiment to Revolutionary events. He has been reenacting since 1979, when he was a teenager, and said he loves all the different experiences that come with it.
"I do a lot of everything," Thornton said. "I'm a captain in (the regiment), I'm a gunner in our artillery, and I'm an event planner when I need to be."
He's glad the historic sites weren't shut down, he said, since reenacting continues to be popular among men and women — like his wife and niece, for instance.
"There are about 50 of us in our unit, from 70 (years old) to 6 weeks," Thornton said. "Ten of us are under 18."
And Thornton, who visits 10 to 12 sites a year with his regiment, said that while the House in the Horseshoe isn't as big a site or famous a battle as other places like King's Mountain or Camden, it does have several things going for it that others don't.
"The advantage of this is is it's virtually pristine," he said. "I absolutely love that I'm not surrounded by electric lights — that I can see the stars at night just like they did back then, not to mention the original building.
"Also, being so far from an (interstate) exit, the folks that come here want to be here," Thornton continued. "They're more engaged, and more engaging, They probably already know a little about the history. It makes for a better visitor."
Many say it also makes for a better reenactment since the site has the rare distinction of an original, intact centerpiece — the house. The walls on both stories are pock-marked with holes where the musket balls came flying through, making it easy to imagine the 25 or so armed revolutionaries inside hoping to dodge bullets and flying shards of glass as they tried but ultimately failed to fend off the loyalists, bartering a surrender in exchange for their lives.
"All the cliches that you see in Western movies, they happened here," said Roy Timbs, the site's historic interpretor and a longtime reenactor himself, who was giving tours Saturday before going to don his own garb and gear up for yet another battle.