FestiFall celebration coming to Albert Gallatin's homestead

It features hands-on activities of the era, music, historical performances and food

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Thomas Jefferson is visiting southwestern Pennsylvania for the FestiFall at Friendship Hill next weekend.

This President Jefferson is Thomas Pitz, a well-known historical re-enactor. Mr. Pitz, acting and dressing as the third president, will attend the festival, which pays homage to Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), a congressman and the longest-serving secretary of the Treasury. Gallatin lived at Friendship Hill, now the Friendship Hill National Historic Site.

The fair has been held for the past 30 years to bring Gallatin's role in history and his life in the early 19th century to the community, said Beth Reseter, treasurer of the Friendship Hill Association.

"Many people don't realize how important he was to this area and to our country's history," Mrs. Reseter said.

A native of Point Marion and graduate of Albert Gallatin High School, Mrs. Reseter said the FestiFall serves as a fundraiser for the association, helping the National Park Service preserve the Gallatin homestead.

Gallatin, an immigrant from Switzerland, served with both Jefferson and President James Madison. Along with Jefferson, Mr. Gallatin was instrumental in the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the financing of the National Road, Mrs. Reseter said.

"He was really an amazing man and so many people know so little about him," she said.

"He had settled in this area because he said it reminded him of Switzerland. He even renamed it 'New Geneva,' a name it still has today," she said.

Although Gallatin said he wanted to live the rest of his life in New Geneva, after his first wife died, he married a woman from New York City who hated life in the small town, and the two relocated to New York.

Friendship Hill is important to the country's history not for what happened there, but because it was Gallatin's homestead, said Chip Nelson, chief ranger for the National Park Service -- Western Pennsylvania Parks. We use this site as a vehicle to tell his story. He was a major contributor in history of that time, but all of his contributions were behind the scenes," he said.

The FestiFall brings to life the era with hands-on activities, such as butter churning, candle dipping and making applesauce.

There also will be music and historical performances, including the return of the character the Rat Catcher, a favorite of visitors, Mrs. Reseter said.

"He is a scraggly looking guy who interacts with people and tells them about history, but in a fun way. He even has pet rats in a cage that he carries around," she said.

The Rat Catcher is retired teacher Bill Smith. Each day of the festival, there is a "wedding" of the Rat Catcher to Miss Barbara, a character played by Barbara Pasqua, a local librarian who is a trained opera singer. The couple is "married" by backwoods minister Bill Durst, who is a Methodist minister.

"The crowd really loves the wedding ... and Miss Barbara sings great," Mrs. Reseter said.

Admission to the festival is free; the association sells food or visitors may bring their own.

Visitors also are invited to picnic on the park grounds and hike trails along the Monongahela River.

The FestiFall will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 21-22 at Friendship Hill National Historic Site, 223 New Geneva Road, north of Point Marion, Fayette County.

region - neigh_south

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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