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Dig a fort to focus on original blueprint

August 20, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Volunteers eager to unearth a piece of history may get a chance at Fort Frederick State Park this fall.

Researchers is September will begin an excavation they hope will unearth 18th-century artifacts and help them understand the stone fort's original construction.

Volunteers are needed to help dig, sift, screen and wash objects discovered.

"We will accept people with any level of experience or none," said Varna Boyd, the project's chief archaeologist.

The state put the project out to bid and awarded the contract to Greenhorne and O'Mara, Inc. of Greenbelt, Md. The firm is already researching archives around the world, according to Park Manager Ralph Young.

The goal is to determine how the fort looked when it was built in 1756. Although historic records give an idea of the fort's features, drawings or sketches of the fort's plan have not been found. Young believes an engineer's drawings may exist.

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The excavation is a step toward restoring the fort to its original form, which Young hopes to finish in time for a 250th anniversary celebration in 2006.

"It's a dream of mine to see this complete," he said.

The study will include the governor's house, the foundation of which is slightly buried opposite the fort's entrance. Boyd said she will also dig for the interior curtain walls and powder magazine, a storage room believed to be in the northeast bastion.

Fort Frederick was erected to defend the Colony of Maryland's western frontier during the French and Indian War. It never came under attack but it served as a supply base for English campaigns and as a refuge for English settlers from French and Indian allies.

The fort, named in honor of Maryland's lord proprietor, Frederick Calvert, Sixth Lord of Baltimore, was erected by Governor Horatio Sharpe with a contingent of provincial soldiers. It became a prisoner's camp for German and British soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Maryland sold the fort in 1791. Union troops occupied it during the Civil War to guard parts of the Potomac and drove back a Confederate attack there on Dec. 25, 1861.

The state bought back the fort in 1922. In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps excavated within it, searching for structures. Young said he wants to finish the job.

"It's a major work but it's something that's needed. Fort Frederick is the premier French and Indian War fort in the country," he said.

"I'm assuming we're going to find a fair amount of artifacts," said Boyd.

The dig is to begin Sept. 21, but volunteers will not be needed until Oct. 5. Workers will set up procedures and a digging grid.

"Context is all important to us," said Boyd. "You have to be able to tell the story."

The location of objects help explain their relationship to each other, she said.

A sealed laboratory will be set up in a park building where artifacts will be cleaned and labeled.

Digging will be done from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays until late fall.

"The only thing we are asking is the volunteers give at least a half a day," Boyd said.

Volunteers are asked to bring food, water, gloves and appropriate clothing.

Trowels are helpful but most equipment will be provided on-site. Volunteers will be asked to sign a waiver. Anyone interested can contact Boyd at 301-982-2854.

The fort will remain open during the excavation. Young said the archaeological study will educate visitors about the fort's history. "We'll use it as an interpretive opportunity," he said.

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