Reconstruction continued on the Occaneechi replica village Saturday.

The 13 volunteers cleared the area within the palisade wall and were put to work stripping thin cedar poles of their branches to be used for the initial framework of the new huts.

The cedar itself was sourced from county land by Peter Sandbeck, the Cultural Resources Coordinator for Orange County. Locally collecting the materials not only brings a sense of authenticity but also allows the $20,000 budget, set aside by the River Park in 2015 to fund the rebuild, stretch farther.

So far the money has been used to purchase 400 poles for the palisade from Cates Sawmill and contract building experts to help install the wall – using roughly $13,000 of the budget. 

The next purchase will be sheets of poplar bark that will be used to cover the cedar structure and form the walls of the huts, according to Sandbeck.

The instructions for reconstructing the huts comes from John “Blackfeather” Jeffries, who has led the charge on the now two-year project. The reconstruction of the replica village began in December 2016 and is being completed in stages.

Jeffries’ chronicled the creation of the original replica village from 1997 to 1999 in three journals titled, “Making a Village.” 

Jefferies felt that compiling the journals was important because it is proof of the Occaneechi presence in Hillsborough and the 17th century village that used to exist a quarter mile from the replica site.

Included in the journals is a map of the historical village depicted by the archaeologists who excavated the site in the 80s, as well as photos documenting every aspect of the build that serve as Jeffries’ blueprints for the village reconstruction.

While the 17th century village was large and had up to 12 huts inside the walls, the replica village is on a smaller scale and will feature around four huts, or “as many as they can fit,” according to Jeffries’ first cousin, Beverly Payne.

Previously, the village had been used to demonstrate a “living village”– the title of Jeffries fourth journal. The site was active and featured reenactments of the Occaneechi lifestyle and traditional living – including days where Payne cooked in an oven made of rocks.

While the plan is for the village to once again come alive, construction for the village is still in the early stages and will rely largely on volunteer work and natural resources to be completed.

Krista Reddington, a first time volunteer on the village project and avid runner who frequents RiverWalk, was put to work snipping off the pesky cedar branches with pruning shears.

“I just wanted to volunteer to help out something in our town,” Reddington said. “That when I run past the village I can say, ‘Hey, I helped build that.’”

Reddington, along with Sandbeck and Jefferies, also constructed the hut’s ceiling structure by wrestling the poles into a circular or oval shape and tying them together with strips of leather to be used for the hut’s ventilation.

Historically the hole in the center of the ceiling served to ventilate the smoke from each hut’s fire-pit.

The tips of the standing cedar poles, once set in the ground, are bent around the circle and tied with leather to form a dome shape.

The leather strips were provided Payne and were scraps from her traditional regalia. 

Other leather strips used were ones Jefferies had saved from the first replica village after being torn down in 2003. 

The site was disassembled after falling into disarray because only Jeffries and a few other people helped with site maintenance. Eventually the huts were so decayed, the village was taken apart, leaving only a few palisade poles.

While Jefferies rooted through the bag of old leather, Payne spotted a few strips colored a burnt orange that reminded her, and could have very well been from, her late husband’s regalia. 

Payne walked over to the river on the left of the palisade and pointed out where her wedding ceremony was held in 1999. A memory she will always cherish, made even more special by the presence of the village that her family and community had helped to construct. 

To the Occaneechi band of the Saponi Nation, this site serves as a clear reminder of their presence in Hillsborough history. 

Sarah DeGenerro, the executive director for the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, feels showcasing the town’s native history is a necessity.

“For so long Hillsborough history has been shown from the colonial white guy,” DeGenerro said. The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough is currently working to demonstrate the town’s history from all points of view, from American Indian, to African American and of historic women.

After the construction is complete, the Alliance plans to collaborate with the tribe and create educational programs for the public and schools. 

DeGenerro also hopes to add the replica village and a more indepth history of the Occaneechi to the walking tours offered by the Alliance.

Before the first village was dismantled, the site was special to many visitors in the county, including Bill Harris, a volunteer, who said he was glad the village was being reconstructed and had frequently visited the River Park on dates with his wife where the historical site had been iconic.

The volunteer day also brought out individuals who wanted to experience something unique.

Veronica Burros, who had attended the first construction day for the wall, also came out to build the huts. Burros enjoyed the hard work and said it was a one of a kind experience.

“You’ll never have another chance to do this in your lifetime,” said Burros.

Before the work day ended, the initial structures were placed to settle into their ground positions before attempting to bend them. Construction will continue on the village at the next volunteer day. An official date has not yet been set.