Friday, June 30, 2000
Forgotten fort could live again
Site is Ohio's only connection to the Revolution
By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MILFORD - Scott Fisher dreams of rough-hewn logs and quadrangles, of
freedom and keeping it. He envisions hundreds - thousands - of logs
flowing across the northeastern Ohio horizon in a reconstructed Fort
Laurens, the state's only Revolutionary War fort.
For the last five years the idea of rebuilding Fort Laurens has become
"We're talking about Ohio's only connection to the Revolutionary
War,'' he said in his Milford office. "We're talking about soldiers who
spilled their blood for our freedom. When people say the fort is too far
away from here, I talk about our heritage and the men who died.''
Mr. Fisher, a corporate public affairs officer from Stonelick Township
in Clermont County, knows that rebuilding the fort won't be inexpensive.
It would cost about $1.4 million.
Yet for five years he has recruited members for his nonprofit Friends
of Fort Laurens Foundation, which seeks donations to resurrect the nearly
forgotten piece of American history.
This might be the right time. He hopes that Mel Gibson's film The
Patriot will renew public interest in the Revolution, and that Ohio's bicentennial in 2003 will attract more people to the campaign.
In November 1778, George Washington ordered American soldiers to build
Fort Laurens - named for Henry Laurens, president of the Continental
Congress - on the Tuscarawas River, near what is today Bolivar, Ohio, in
Tuscarawas County. One hundred and seventy-two men and women defended
the quadrangular fort with four bastions.
Marching from Detroit, a raiding party of British troops and Indian
allies attacked and killed more than 20 American soldiers, but did not take the fort. Reinforcements eventually saved the situation.
The soldiers who died were buried near the fort's hospital. After the
war, the place faded into history.
"Today, the area is really just a military cemetery and museum, a
state memorial,'' Mr. Fisher said. "Just outside the museum is the Tomb
of the Unknown Patriot of the American Revolution, which pays homage to
at least one defender of the fort. We want to bring the place back to
life, so to speak.''
Mr. Fisher believes a wooden fort would attract more than 40,000
visitors annually, as the reconstructed Fort Boonesborough does near
Richmond, Ky. In addition, he says the project might also encourage other
communities across Ohio to provide financial help to regional historic
"Ohioans haven't fared well in teaching history,'' he said. "We need
to remember the past. The fort would enable present and future Ohioans to
understand, appreciate and support the historical significance of the
outpost and the lives that were lost to secure America's independence.''
While researching the fort, Mr. Fisher was surprised to find that the
General Assembly approved rebuilding the fort in 1915. Gov. Frank B.
Willis even signed a bill into law and legislators appropriated $5,000 to
purchase land. But for some reason, the work never started.
"I know the wheels of government turn slowly,'' Mr. Fisher said,
"but I think this is way too slow. Time after time, the state has
promised to rebuild Fort Laurens and each time it has
failed to act. If the foundation can raise about 50 percent of the
estimated cost, we feel confident that the state will come through with
the rest of the money.''
Usually, the state requires an 80 percent-20 percent split between
public and private funds, Mr. Fisher said, but the foundation hopes to
raise $632,500 in private donations. This summer, the foundation will
seek corporate sponsors.
""By sponsoring particular pieces of the fort, we hope to offer
potential foundations, businesses and individual contributors an
identifiable portion of the fort,'' he said.
The Tuscarawas Touring Club has sponsored the fort's flagpole for
$2,500. Sponsorships range from $100 for stockade logs to $50,000 for the
blockhouse and $125,000 for barracks. ""We'll need about
1,800 logs just to build the stockade,'' he said.
Foundation members also have collected more than 5,000 signatures from
people who want the state to rebuild Fort Laurens.
Ultimately, if Mr. Fisher can't convince persuade the state to comply
with the legislature's 1915 act, the foundation might sue.
"I don't want to get into confrontation with the state,'' he said.
"But we always have that option.''
The re-creation would be built 200 yards south of the fort's original
site, near Interstate 77. "Landscape vegetation and buffer zones allow
us to develop a realistic 18th-century environment around the rebuilt
fort,'' said Craig Brown of HWH Architects Engineering Planners of
Site manager Kathy Fernandez said the foundation has a chance to
succeed, but "it's more up to the legislature.
Reconstructing the fort certainly is a priority for the Ohio Historical
Society, but we have 63 sites around the state. Everyone has different
priorities and it's difficult to please everyone.''
Nevertheless, Mr. Fisher refuses to quit.
"The price of freedom has never been free,'' he said.
The Friends of Fort Laurens Foundation may be reached at P.O. Box 272,
Bolivar, OH 44612, or at 330-874-2728. It publishes a quarterly
newsletter, The Tree of Liberty.
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