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Fort Meigs face-lift unearths possible burial area

The possibility of a long-lost cemetery, a critter hiding in an attic, and a wasp nest the size of a trash can are just a few of the discoveries made during the renovations of Fort Meigs in Perrysburg.

Yesterday, as gray clouds churned overhead, crews continued work on cedar roofs of several blockhouses at the replica of the 1813 fort and supply depot overlooking the Maumee River.

The 65-acre site is getting a partial face-lift and a new visitor center before Memorial Day weekend in 2002 and in plenty of time for the state's bicentennial celebrations in 2003.

Amid the activity, Roy Wiegand glanced upward and frowned. “We haven't had a solid good five days yet,” Mr. Wiegand, superintendent of Ohio Building Restoration, Inc., the contractor rebuilding parts of the fort, said of the weather.

The nearly one-mile-long wood timber fence was uprooted several weeks ago, and its weathered-white 12-inch-wide by 10-foot-long pickets still lay haphazardly along the fort's perimeter. The exposed fence line - marked by bright yellow caution tape - awaits the installation of hand-hewn pickets being shipped from Kentucky.

Crews are putting cedar roofing on the seven blockhouses and replacing termite-chomped walls with new timbers while they wait for the new pickets to be chemically treated.

Nearby, ankle-high stakes mark the site of the visitor center designed to inform the public about the fort's vital role in the War of 1812. A groundbreaking is planned in July - the exact date is not known - for the $2.4 million, 14,200-square-foot visitors center to the west of the fort.

The visitor center will combine military architecture from around the state blended to fit the aesthetics of the nearby fort.

For example, a Quonset hut-style entrance leads into a blockhouse-shaped lobby. The exterior cement walls will feature wood-relief surfaces.

So far Mother Nature hasn't cooperated with the construction season, but the restoration phase of the work, at least, will be completed this fall, Mr. Wiegand said.

Other headaches have popped up along the way, although most have been resolved.

An animal-control officer caught a pesky raccoon lodged in an attic of Blockhouse No. 5, while an exterminator removed an enormous wasp nest from Blockhouse No. 6, Mr. Wiegand said.

Because of the construction, at least two summertime events - Drums Along the Maumee, originally set for July 28 and 29, and Siege 1759, which was to have been August 18 and 19 - have been canceled this year because of the construction, said Adam Sakel, education specialist at the fort.

However, the annual Muster on the Maumee, slated for June 16 and 17, and the joint Fourth of July community celebration and fireworks display will go on as scheduled.

Because of the construction and renovations, admission to the fort site is free this summer.

Archeological surveys of the fort grounds - aided by electromagnetic survey equipment and infrared scans taken by airplane - have helped to ensure that the location of the new visitor center does not interfere with the site's archeological history, said Bradley Lepper, staff archeologist with the Ohio Historical Society.

As a final step, crews in the next few weeks will strip the site of its topsoil and conduct one more test before construction begins, he said.

Ironically, a survey by Historic Archaeological Research, a West Lafayette, Ind., firm, detected an “anomaly” - what looks like a blurry gray splotch on an aerial map - about a football field's length away from the site where the visitor center will be constructed.

The anomaly appears to have the same shape and characteristics of graves in the Pennsylvania Cemetery, which is marked by a large monument near the fort's River Road entrance, said Rich Green, owner of the Indiana firm.

Although additional testing might identify the mysterious splotch, only excavating the site could confirm the existence of a grave, Mr. Green said.

Another anomaly at Fort Meigs turned out to be someone's personal dump site - full of “Coke bottles and face cream jars,” said visitor center architect Lee Rumora.

But Mr. Sekel said historians don't normally dig up graves.

“I'm curious about [the possible cemetery]. I want to know what they're wearing, what they're buried with. Maybe they're in coffins, maybe not,” he said.

“But to disturb those men out of idle curiosity doesn't seem appropriate.”

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