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Dig at Fort Frederick may yield more history

March 30, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

BIG POOL - Fort Frederick State Park is preparing for an archaeological study this summer that may unearth fresh artifacts and give historians more information about the 18th-century stone fort.

"This is a major, major undertaking," said Park Historian David Moore.

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The excavation is the first step toward returning the fort's interior to its original form, according to Park Manager Ralph Young.

"One of my dreams for the fort is to see it completely restored," Young said.

Historic records and previous archaeological surveys indicate Fort Frederick had several interesting features.

Two rectangular buildings known as the enlisted barracks were restored in 1974. Young would like to rebuild the officers' quarters, a building with a foundation slightly buried opposite the entrance.

Cherokee Chief Wahachey made a verbal treaty with Maryland to "take up the hatchet against the French Indians" inside that building, also known as the governor's house, according to Young.

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There was a powder magazine, or storage room, in the fort's northeast bastion, he said. There also may have been a catwalk, or wooden firing platform, along the interior wall.

Similar forts had large embankments, or mounds of earth, that soldiers climbed to look out or to gain a vantage point for firing on advancing enemies.

Young said evidence found at ground level indicates Fort Frederick had no such embankments.

Because the existing fort doesn't have catwalks or mounds, visitors often don't understand how soldiers fired over the wall, Young said. Restoration would help people better understand how the fort operated, he said.

Young said he hopes to complete restoration of the fort by 2006, when a 250th anniversary celebration is planned.

Fort Frederick was built in 1756 to defend Maryland's western frontier during the French and Indian War.

The fort never came under attack but it later served as a prison camp during the Revolutionary War.

After the Revolution, the fort deteriorated and Maryland sold it in 1791. When the state bought it back in 1922, the fort was part of a farm.

In the 1930s President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps excavated within the fort. The workers dug trenches two feet deep, one foot wide and eight feet apart in a crisscross pattern.

"They were primarily looking for structures, not artifacts," said Young.

The crew sifted soil using screens with one-inch holes. They found the foundations for the officers' quarters and the enlisted barracks.

But Young believes there is more to find. The archaeological survey scheduled to begin in late July will use modern tools and technology.

"I'm sure they will find other artifacts," Young said.

The state recently put the 360-day contract out to bid. The winning bidder must first conduct additional historic research, Young said.

The archaeology will focus on the area around the officers' quarters, the walls and bastions.

The fort will remain open as the dig proceeds, providing an opportunity for visitors to learn about archaeology. "It's a great interpretive tool for the public," Young said.

The contract bids will be opened in Baltimore at Maryland's Department of General Services on April 6, said Young, who said he is looking forward to the project.

"It is an exciting time around here," he said.

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