New Kensington re-enactor at home in Hanna’s Town
John Hans Philip Clingenschmidt served in an early Westmoreland County militia unit. Now, his great-great-great-great grandson is doing the same.
Thomas Klingensmith, 64, of New Kensington is an ensign in the Independent Battalion Westmoreland County Pennsylvania, better known as Proctor’s Militia. The re-enactment group is modeled on a unit of the same name that served in Southwestern Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War.
Today’s militia members regularly take part in re-enactments at Historic Hanna’s Town and will be on hand with a living history display Saturday, when the Hempfield site of the county’s first courthouse opens for a new season of tours and activities.
The assortment of period items on display at the Proctor’s Militia campsite will depend on which of the 40-some members can muster for Saturday’s event. Klingensmith noted at past events they’ve conducted a drill, a flintlock weapon safety inspection and a firing demonstration.
Re-enacting is a natural fit for Klingensmith, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Penn State in 1976 and showed an affinity for the area’s frontier legacy at an earlier age.
“I was one of the little kids who thought he was Davy Crockett,” he recalled. “As I got older, I always hunted with a flintlock.”
Since 1993, Klingensmith has been a member of the Allegheny Foothills Historical Society. As a part of that group, he leads tours through an 1820s log house in Plum’s Boyce Park that was occupied by generations of the Carpenter family, to which he is related.
Another family home initiated his connection to the Hanna’s Town site. Originally located in Gilpin Township, Armstrong County, the two-story, German-style log home was built around 1800 by “Legislator” Philip Klingensmith, who served as a Pennsylvania lawmaker and was a cousin of Thomas’s direct ancestor.
The log walls were covered with siding and forgotten until 1982, when a new owner decided to sell the house. Klingensmith’s family bought it and arranged to have it relocated and reassembled at Hanna’s Town in 1986.
“My contribution was forging the (period-accurate) door latches and shutter hinges,” Klingensmith said.
Now retired from a well-drilling business, he said, “We had a forge right there. I became interested in blacksmithing in my spare time. I made little things.”
On a return trip to Hanna’s Town, Klingensmith met Greensburg-area re-enactor Scott Henry and joined him and 11 others in 2007 as they revived the Proctor’s Militia re-enactment group that had been active in the 1970s but had since petered out.
“The more I learned, the more I was interested in it,” Klingensmith said of re-enacting.
It’s taken him many years to assemble the period attire and 60 pounds of equipment he uses to transform himself into an 18th-century militia member. Though the spelling of his family’s surname has shifted through the years, he remains committed to portraying the authentic garb and gear of his forebears’ time.
“Everything has to be documented,” he said. “If you can’t document it, it didn’t happen as far as we’re concerned.”
Klingensmith crafts some of his own re-enactment equipment, including period-inspired redware pottery he’s been making since 2012.
He began with a method he taught himself, digging red clay from the ground, mixing it with sand and firing it in an open hearth.
Since then, he’s refined his technique by completing a community college pottery course and investing in a potter’s wheel. Some of his creations, which feature the rattlesnake flag design of Proctor’s Militia, are available for purchase in the Hanna’s Town gift shop.
Proctor’s Militia also takes part in Hanna’s Town’s annual Frontier Court Days, which replay some of the early judicial proceedings that took place at the town’s tavern, which doubled as the courthouse. This year’s event is set for June 22-23.
“We re-enact some of the cases,” Klingensmith explained. “We have a good time with that. I usually play a drunken reprobate of some kind. Last year, I played a man who had been wounded by the Indians since he was in the militia, and he couldn’t work. He applied for a pension, so he had to come before the judges.”
“We really love working with Proctor’s,” said Lisa Hays, executive director of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, which operates the Hanna’s Town site and is in the process of moving its headquarters and research library there. “They’re really well informed. They provide a lot of good, accurate history here.
“Talking about it is one thing, but seeing it in action is another. It is interesting, appealing and dramatic.”
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .