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Curator is collecting private fort information

October 25, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Hager House curator John Nelson is leading a project to collect and organize information on all houses in the nation used as private forts during the French and Indian War.

The Mid-Atlantic Private Frontier Forts Archives will be unique because there is no nationwide archive of the forts, Nelson said. The project could bring attention - and potentially tourist dollars - to Hagerstown.

Nelson has collected information on the location of all private forts. He is exempting government-built forts since there is already a great deal of information available about those, he said.

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He has identified about 300 private forts in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, New York and New Jersey, he said. He has not found any information about private forts in Delaware.

Now that Nelson has identified the location of the forts, he is writing to historical societies requesting information about them. Although he said in some cases the information will be "scant," he is seeking to learn who the owners of the property are, how much security the forts had and other details.

Nelson, a Hagerstown city employee since 1987, said he decided he wanted to do the work - and care for the information that will be collected and kept at the Hager House - for several reasons.

Among them is that the Hager House is in a central location between the forts, he said.

In addition, the anniversaries of war events will be coming in the next few years. He predicted an increase in public interest and in the number of books, television shows and movies about what he called the real "first world war."

The French and Indian War was a conflict between Great Britain and France from 1754 to 1763, although war was not formally declared until 1756, he said.

He also said it is important to have a single location where the information about the forts is stored. That would make it possible to learn common factors, such as what kind of security precautions were taken.

He hopes that by mid-2004 the group can put together a map showing the location of all the private forts, he said.

In some cases, none of the original fort structure remains. In others, such as the Hager House, the structure is intact, he said.

At some point he would like to provide a guide book with details about each fort, he said.

The project might never end, he said. As people from outside the area visit the Hager House and the archives, he hopes they will provide new information about the war, which he calls "the most understudied part of American history."

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