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Published: Thursday, 3/22/2001

Crews muster to fix Fort Meigs

BY REBEKAH SCOTT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It's only the beginning. The Ohio Historical Society plans to spend about $6.7 million there over the next two years, building a visitors' center outside the gates for about $2.3 million, installing $2.2 million in new exhibits, and upgrading existing buildings in time for the state bicentennial celebration in 2003.

Work began this week on a $958,000 restoration project at the recreated 1813 fortress.

Tons of 21st century construction equipment will put a crimp in upcoming events planned at the fort.

Chuck Richards operates a crane while Jeff Topp of Ohio Building Restoration removes rotting pickets at Fort Meigs State Memorial Park. Chuck Richards operates a crane while Jeff Topp of Ohio Building Restoration removes rotting pickets at Fort Meigs State Memorial Park.
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Site Manager Larry Nelson said the annual French and Indian War-era Siege of 1759 re-enactment and the “Drums Along the Maumee” musical gathering are canceled this year, but June's big draw, “Muster on the Maumee,” will go on as planned.

The people who participate in those events say they'll make the sacrifice for a better fort. “It's great the work is being done, but it's a little frustrating for us too,” said Tamia Land, secretary of the Old Northwest Military History Association.

The 60-member volunteer group puts on special events and provides costumed interpreters at Fort Meigs.

“I am at a loss to know how we're going to work things out,” Mr. Nelson said. “We usually get up to 6,000 people here over that [muster] weekend.

“We'll see if the site can accommodate all that.”

Meantime, restoration workers face a long list of jobs.

“We're putting new roofs on the blockhouses and replacing rotten timbers inside them,” said Maggie Sanese, information officer for the Ohio Historical Society. “We're renovating the artillery batteries, and replacing the stockade.”

The project will use about 3,100 individual southern yellow pine tree trunks, trimmed by hand with 19th century-type tools, Lee Rumora, project architect, said.

“We try to be historically correct in every possible way,” he said, “but we are using preservatives on the wood. That's not very 19th century, but we have to consider cost-effectiveness too.”

The reconstruction should be finished by late fall, he said. Work on the new visitors' center may begin as soon as July, and finish by summer, 2002.

Installing the exhibits may take the project into 2003, when the state will celebrate its 200th birthday.

“The new visitors' center is primarily exhibit and classroom space, where school groups can come, see interactive and multimedia exhibits, and have someplace to have on-site lessons,” Ms. Sanese said. “We're wiring it for teleconferencing, so classes can have an interpreter from here in Columbus do presentations for them.”

Exhibits in the blockhouses and the visitors' center will focus on Ohio's pivotal role in the War of 1812, she said.

American troops built the original 10-acre Fort Meigs on a bluff overlooking the Maumee River in the winter of 1813.

British soldiers besieged the fort unsuccessfully in May and July of that year, but they left town after the Battle of Lake Erie spelled the end of Ohio's role in the War of 1812. The big fort was dismantled, and the last American soldiers abandoned the site within five years.

“The original Fort Meigs was only active for about six months,” Mrs. Land said. “The fort we have today was built on the footprint of the original.”

The Ohio Historical Society started to recreate the old fort in 1968, and work continued in spurts until 1976 when the United States celebrated its bicentennial.

“Some of that wood's been up there for 30 years,” Mr. Rumora said. “There's a lot of rot in the seven blockhouses, and most of the stockade has gone bad. We sounded and surveyed all the pickets in the stockade and found far more bad than good.”



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