Fort Hawkins rebuilding to start with demolition

jgaines@macon.comOctober 25, 2012 

Soon, a reconstructed Fort Hawkins may again rise above Macon, two centuries after it served as a vital frontier post in the War of 1812.

The Fort Hawkins Commission got word Thursday that city workers will demolish an old gas station on the historic site within the next month. That’s the first step in spending $750,000 in special purpose local option sales tax money allocated last year.

That’s only one-fifth of the $3.5 million which the fort’s master plan calls for, but it should make a dramatic change in the site, according to Marty Willett, Fort Hawkins project coordinator.

Once improvements have been made, the commission will go on a search for more funds from private foundations, he said.

“There’s plenty out there. We’re worthy, and they’ve got the money,” Willett said.

Now that the commission has money to show solid improvements, demonstrating that the project is really under way, that should signal to other donors that their matching funds would not be wasted, he said.

“When you’re broke, it’s hard to beg,” Willett said.

The SPLOST voters approved a year ago included $750,000 for Fort Hawkins. The actual tax revenue will flow in over the SPLOST’s six-year life, but the construction money is available now thanks to a $19.1 million in anticipatory bonds Macon sold last spring.

With that money in hand, last April the Fort Hawkins Commission adopted a plan to spend $300,000 on landscaping, signs, lighting and security; $200,000 on a new visitors’ center and administrative office; $175,000 on preparing the sites and historic exhibits; and $75,000 to rebuild a “major portion” of the fort’s east, west and south walls. The rest of the log palisade and second blockhouse wouldn’t be built until the remainder of the site is investigated by archaeologists.

Macon City Councilman Ed DeFore, a commission member, and Fort Hawkins Commission Chairman Mike Cranford said they have asked Mayor Robert Reichert and interim Chief Administrative Officer Dale Walker if city Public Works crews could demolish the former gas station. Reichert confirmed that the building will be torn down and hauled away within 30 days, DeFore said. Central Services Director Gene Simonds has already disconnected utilities to the site, in preparation for the demolition, DeFore said.

That will be a gratifying moment for commission members, many of whom have worked for 20 years to see the fort rebuilt, he said.

“We are ready to move. This will be great, I believe,” DeFore said.

Fort Hawkins was built in 1806 on the east bank of the Ocmulgee River, at what’s now the corner of Maynard Street and Emery Highway. Macon was founded 17 years later.

An elementary school stood on the site in the 1920s. It’s now gone but some fragments remain, including a concrete reflecting pool. A replica of one of the fort’s corner blockhouses was built in the late 1930s.

The fort’s original plans burned in the British attack on Washington, D.C., in 1814, but archaeological digs have turned up the line of the wooden palisade, a second blockhouse and at least one interior building, along with thousands of artifacts.

Willett said the new visitors’ center on Emery Highway will be a two-story log cabin, linked by a paved trail to the replica blockhouse. In February, he told the commission that Hearthstone Log Homes of Tennessee was willing to build its “Riverside” model at cost. The standard design will be altered to include a meeting room, gift shop, library and two floors of historical exhibits, he said. Hearthstone handled the reconstruction of buildings at Fort King George in Darien, Willett said.

“I just want to tell you, our new visitors’ center may look like a log cabin, but it’s going to be high-tech,” Willett told commission members.

The welcoming entrance and rising palisade walls should help turn Fort Hawkins into a substantial tourist attraction, pulling in traffic from nearby Ocmulgee National Monument, he and DeFore said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.

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