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Community plans bicentennial celebration

May 19, 2003|by DON AINES

FORT LOUDON, W.Va. - A British colonial fort had been built nearby almost half a century before and people had inhabited the area for decades, but it was not until 1803 that Fort Loudon officially came into existence, an event that will be marked with a week of bicentennial events in June.

The earliest inhabitants of this area a few miles east of the Tuscarora Mountains predated the British by at least two centuries, according to Anna Rotz, the president of the Fort Loudon Historical Society and chairman of the bicentennial committee. That's based on archaeological digs that uncovered an Indian settlement nearby.

Fort Loudoun, which is spelled differently from the town, was built around 1756 when this area was along the western border of British influence in North America. The fort, which Rotz said was named after the British military commander in the colonies, meant protection for settlers and traders against hostile tribes.

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"They called it Loudon-Town way back," Rotz said. In 1803, Johnston Elliott laid claim to being the town's founder when he laid out about two dozen 50-foot-by-200-foot lots along what is now Main Street and sold them for $20, plus an annual $1 ground rental fee, according to Rotz.

In 1805, Gen. James Chambers, of the family that founded Chambersburg, Pa., began selling lots in the western section of the town, Rotz said. The town flourished on the commerce of several iron forges in the region and on its own production of wagons and gears.

The early prosperity passed, but the town remains a quaint village of a couple hundred families or so with a rich history. That history will be the focus of celebrations from June 22 to 29, with many of the events being held at the Fort Loudon Community Grounds on U.S. 30.

It may be the biggest event in town since its sesquicentennial in 1953. Those still around who attended that celebration may have the chance to see themselves as they were then when they come next month.

"I had a gentleman who called me from Greencastle (Pa.) and he has the television footage of the sesquicentennial," said Amy Cox, a student majoring in historical preservation at Wilson College in Chambersburg. It's only a couple of minutes, but Cox said she hopes to include it in a short video of still images and other footage portraying the town's story.

She also is compiling a "Fort Loudon Family Album" of pictures and narratives that will be for sale at the bicentennial. Not merely a history book, Cox said it also will include "memories of the town from its people. Memories of growing up and special events."

People still are calling and sending items in, Cox said. Anyone with something they wish to add to the album may call her at 717-369-2276.

Linda Best is one of the organizers of the arts and crafts fair on June 28. She said 40 vendors of homemade crafts already are lined up and a blacksmith and other craftsmen will demonstrate their arts that day. Crafters interested in participating may call her at 717-369-2249.

Each day has a theme, from Religious Heritage Day on June 22 to Pioneer Day on June 29.

Founder's Day will be June 25 and will feature the dedication of a veterans memorial in Stenger Hill Cemetery. The memorial will include the U.S., Pennsylvania and Fort Loudon flags, along with a bronze plaque mounted on a stone.

The tiny town has produced its share of famous people, according to Rotz. Thomas Scott was an assistant secretary of war under Lincoln, and James Smith led a siege against the British at Fort Loudoun before the Revolution.

Smith's siege probably is the most famous event in the community's history, having been portrayed in the 1939 John Wayne film "Allegheny Uprising."

There will two be performances of "Fort Loudon, Celebrating Her Past, Honoring Her People," which Rotz wrote. Both are scheduled for outdoors, so Rotz said she might have to do some scene-cutting if it rains.

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