TURBOTVILLE — From Fort Freeland to Fort Niagara, a Turbotville-area history buff enjoyed every step of the 277-mile hike he recently took from Pennsylvania to Youngstown, New York.
Randy Watts estimates he walked an average of 19.5 miles per day as he trekked for two weeks along a path similar to the one 24 prisoners would have followed 239 years ago.
His hike started Saturday morning, July 28, from the location where Fort Freeland stood, on the grounds of the Warrior Run high school/middle school complex.
On that date in 1779, Watts said 24 prisoners from the Battle of Fort Freeland were forced to begin their walk to Fort Niagara. He was not sure how long it took them to reach the destination.
“I have tried to have a deep appreciation of the freedoms that I have experienced in life that have resulted because others had made a sacrifice,” Watts said.
He noted that 27 individuals died in their military service during the Battle of Fort Freeland.
“Meditation was much a part of the hiking experience,” Watts said. “I would walk, think and write valued thoughts, to which I filled three small notepads.
“I used opportunities to meet people and involve them in positive conversation.”
On his journey, Watts was stopped on two separate occasions by police officers who were concerned about what he was doing.
“They couldn’t believe it,” he joked. “They said ‘you’re nuts.’ Afterwards, I realized (they stopped me due to) some concerns with homelessness.”
Watts said there is a problem with homelessness in Bath, N.Y. While there, he visited a homeless shelter that he came across.
“It was positive working with the homeless,” he said. “I sat and talked with them. Two of them were veterans.”
Both served in Iraq. One, named Raymond, showed Watts scars on his chest that resulted from injuries he sustained while serving.
While speaking with Raymond, Watts started singing a song called “Through It All.”
“He broke down and was crying,” Watts recalled. “During the song, he pulled out a cross necklace.”
Raymond gave the necklace to Watts, and he has continued to wear it since that day.
He also interacted with other homeless individuals in the community.
“In the town square, there was a bunch of (homeless people),” he said. “I mixed in with them. One showed me a safe place to camp, by the river.”
Watts carried a tent and supplies with him. Through most of his journey, he camped at safe locations he found off the roadway.
In the Corning, N.Y., area, Watts stayed at the Patterson Inn.
According to Watts, the historic inn’s first innkeeper — Benjamin Patterson — was from Northumberland.
In Elmira, N.Y., Watts marveled at historic markers he saw that commemorated a Confederate prison camp. According to Watts, over 12,000 prisoners were kept there.
“There is a nice Civil War museum there that I didn’t have time to get to,” he said.
Naturally, Watts’ arrival at Fort Niagara was among the highlights of his trek.
While there, he saw the room that’s believed to have been the location where prisoners from Fort Freeland slept while in captivity.
Members of Watts’ family traveled to the area to tour Fort Niagara with him, and to visit Niagara Falls.
“The trip was everything I planned and hoped for,” he said. “Along the way, I questioned individuals, if they knew the early heritage of their community, what has sustained their community over the years and what kind of present positive community spirit and unity existed.
“I also stressed the need of personal hope and a joyfully positive lifestyle,” he added.
Watts will share details about his journey during a program scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, at Historic Warrior Run Church, located at the intersection of Susquehanna Trail and Eighth Street Drive.
The presentation will serve as a bit of a warmup to the Warrior Run-Fort Freeland Heritage Society’s annual Heritage Days, to be held Oct. 6-7 at the church and Hower-Slote House.