Where did the Sutlers Row Charm Go?

by Mike Kendra on August 31, 2009

Sutlers RowI remember a time, when I was a kid, and I’d have to beg my parents to go for a walk up to sutlers row. There was such an interesting collection of buildings and shacks, many with dirt floors, and tents all jammed into this muddy and messy little hillside.

You could browse every booth or tent and there was always something to look at, always a bargain to be found. I can remember nights when everyone would gather on sutlers row just for the fun of talking with friends and bargaining with the dealers. I can remember candle-lit tents and coleman lantern lit streets, skirmishers would be wandering around until midnight on Friday and Saturday Nights, it was a different time.

Usually a fife and drum band would color the night with cool Civil War style music. I can remember when the band would march up and down the roads at the fort. Our campsite used to be at the end of Artillery Row (before the campsite reconfiguration) and the band used to march and play tunes all the way to our site at around 11pm or even later.

Then the powers that be decided that the old shacks needed to be replaced, and rightly so. The buildings that we frequent today are bigger and safer, and every building now has cement floors and electric lights. The rows have been covered with plenty of gravel to keep the mud down, and there aren’t any tents in the main sutler area.

But now it seems that Sutlers Row is in decline. Many sutlers close their shops at 7 or 8pm, and at 10pm the place is quiet and nearly empty. Where did the Sutlers Row of my childhood go?

Some say that it’s the age of the membership, that many would rather relax at their campsite or are in there beds after 8pm. Others think that the expansion of breechloader, smoothbore, mortar and other events since the 80′s has eaten into and exhausted the free time everyone used to enjoy. Maybe that’s part of the problem…

My problem is that as an adult today I’m just not interested in going over there. I wonder if it’s the internet actually. My dad used to go to sutlers and BS with friends and vendors, and talk and listen about the latest trends in the sport. Now with the internet I can do that anytime I want to, just fire up a web browser to read about a new firearm or technique, or I can fire off an email to a fellow skirmisher.

There is one other thing. Sutlers Row is just plain boring today. The place has no character, it doesn’t feel warm or welcoming, and I’m just not sure how to fix that.

If you gave me a magic wand I’d make some small changes to the place. I’d love to see park benches in and around sutlers, that might improve the social atmosphere. It would be awesome to get rid of some of the electric lights and replace them with gas lanterns.

I’d love to see some scheduled events happen at night on Friday or Saturday, maybe a raffle drawing where the winner is drawn at 11pm at sutlers, and you have to be there to win…

I’d love to hear the ideas other people have too. Please share your thoughts in the comment area provided below.

Sure, the old-time sutlers row wasn’t the cleanest or the safest place at the Fort, but man it had charm, and that’s missing today.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike Murray October 19, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Please be sure to visit Bill Osbore of Lodgewood MFG. He’s still an old time sutler as S&S and several others are… But you’re right – where has the music and late night revelry gone?… after a 15 year sabbatical from skirmishing (I’m now back), it’s a changed place – It was still a rush to attend the 120th (even as a host team) but, not like the charm and magic I used to feel when I first started skirmishing in 1984 – when the fife and drum corps marched around the entire campsite until late in the night – the music played and teams gathered around camp fires, played guitars and reminisced about how the good old days were until late in the evening – I was so excited, I couldn’t hardly sleep… Maybe we’re too old? Well maybe, but not me, I still have a couple of good days in me at age 68!

With respect to all,
Mike Murray
Norfolk Light infantry

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