Fort Vallonia Days returns after two years


VALLONIA — The leaves have begun to change colors and temperatures are cooling, so it only seems natural that thousands of people would make their way to Main Street in Vallonia over the weekend for the last major outdoor festival of the year — Fort Vallonia Days.

Karlei Metcalf, president of the festival committee, said Sunday morning she had been pleased with everything about this year’s festival, which returned after a one-year absence because of COVID-19.

“It’s going really well,” she said. “We’ve had great weather. The vendors have been very busy, and we’ve had a great turnout this year.”

One highlight for Metcalf was being able to “turn a pen” with one of the craftsmen, a process to make an old-fashioned ink pen that involves hollowing out a wooden cylinder.

Fort Vallonia Day souvenirs, including festival crocks, T-shirts, hats and other items, also could be found and purchased from a store set up inside the historic Joe Jackson Hotel for the first time.

“It’s given people a chance to look around more and spread out, and everybody’s really enjoying it and seeing the renovations to the hotel and the progress we’ve made,” Metcalf said of the hotel, which was built in 1914 and is listed on the Natural Register of Historic Places.

During past festivals — held on the third weekend of October — much of the merchandise was sold from a trailer in front of the hotel, which has been undergoing renovations since 1999.

The Fort Vallonia Days Association with help from the county commissioners was able to acquire $207,000 from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs in 2019 to use toward completion of renovations. The intention has always been to turn the hotel into a community space. While some of first floor is complete, the second floor is not. Additional electrical work, plumbing installation and drainage improvements are still in the works.

One craftsman set up near Fort Vallonia, which was reconstructed during the festival’s early years, was Jimmy Morgan from Salem.

He was showing people old-fashioned tools that would’ve been used in the 1800s. He also operated a saw by using a contraption that cut wood vertically creating tension with ropes with a pedal he stepped on.

He said he is a descendant of William E. Collins, an early settler of Scott County who had Native American heritage from the Northern Cheyenne and Cherokee tribes.

While he said he hasn’t conducted demonstrations at Fort Vallonia Days in the past, it had been a beautiful weekend, and he enjoyed showing people his tools because they help him teach others about the type of approach that would have been used to build things 200 years ago.

“People like me who do this help people understand where we come from,” Morgan said.

When the original Fort Vallonia was built more than 200 years ago, Morgan said people in the area would probably have had similar tools to the ones he has in his collection. He said every settlement would have a blacksmith, a woodworker, a carpenter and a cabinet maker and they would all work with each other to create different things and provide each other with supplies.

Morgan, who called himself an “old-fashioned guy,” said he uses everything until they wear out, and he even has shoes that he has sewn himself that are 30 years old.

He said he built his saw 17 years ago and replaced the ropes on it on Saturday.

A culinary staple of Fort Vallonia Days is the fish sandwiches sold by the Driftwood Township Volunteer Fire Department.

Clint Wolka, a firefighter with the department, said people were happy to be able to get fish sandwiches again at the festival this year.

“We’ve had a lot of compliments,” he said “Everybody’s really liked it. We’re glad to get back.”

A fish sandwich cost $8, and on Sunday morning, Wolka said the fire department had already sold more than 1,000 pounds of fish.

Proceeds from the fish sales go toward purchasing gear for firefighters, including boots, helmets, gloves and personal protective equipment, Wolka said.

One admirer of the fire department’s festival fish was Brownstown resident Greg Davis, who was attending the festival with his sons, Miles and Clifford.

“That was probably the best fish sandwich I’ve had in years,” David said. “That was a really good fish sandwich. I don’t know what they’re doing different, but it’s amazing.”

This year, the fire department had a large tent set up with tables underneath for festivalgoers to eat. Davis said that was a welcome addition.

While he was a fanatic for the fish sandwich, Davis said there was much more he appreciated about Fort Vallonia Days.

“It’s always a really good festival,” he said. “You have the same stuff you’re used to seeing with all of the raffles and being able to help out local organizations, which to me is the highlight of the festival itself.”

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