Marty Willett’s mantra when it comes to creating an educational environment at Fort Hawkins is pretty simple.
“History and learning should be fun,” he said.
It’s a phrase that Willett -- the fort’s project coordinator -- repeated several times in some variation Sunday during the Fort Hawkins Candlelight Tour.
“I want it to be more educational and more entertaining,” Willett said. “It should be a fun experience.”
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Willett said 2012 will be a significant year for the fort for a variety of reasons.
For one, archeological work that has been conducted by the Lamar Institute since 2005 will continue this year, including a dig that will take place May 3-5 at the fort.
For another, 2012 marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812, during which Fort Hawkins played a significant role as a command center for the U.S. Army and the Georgia militia. Willett said he wants the fort to receive national attention for its role during that war during its anniversary in June.
“We’re dedicating a gold-leaf historic marker (June 18),” Willett said. “We want to be a leader in the national celebration. It will bring more jobs, more education and more pride locally and nationally.”
Fort Hawkins, located just off Emery Highway, was established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1806 to provide frontier security and a trading outpost with local members of the Muscogee Creek Nation near the banks of the Ocmulgee River.
It played a key role as the Army’s southern headquarters during the War of 1812 and, later, the Creek and Seminole Wars.
The fort was named for Col. Benjamin Hawkins, part of George Washington’s staff and an ambassador to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek nations. The trading post at the fort provided the economic foundation for the founding of Macon some 17 years after Fort Hawkins was established.
Willett said that more educational opportunities are still needed, because many misconceptions about the fort still exist. For example, the current blockhouse wasn’t part of the original fort; rather, it was rebuilt as a replica in the 1930s after the original blockhouse toppled over in the 1870s.
Willett added that archaeological evidence now shows that a parallelogram-shaped outer wall surrounded the rectangular shaped fort during its height.
With the fort now open every weekend in 2012, Willett said there are plans to break ground this year on a log cabin that will sit on the grounds of the fort facing Emery Highway. Once it is built, it will serve as a gift shot and a place where the skills of that era -- everything from tatting to tanning -- will be on display to educate the public.
“In our master plan, we want to save and promote our history,” Willett said. “This is a juicy archaeological site. We want to make archaeology and genealogy part of the living history experience.”
Next on the calendar for Fort Hawkins is a celebration of Georgia Day, which will take place Feb. 12. Willett said he plans to plant Cherokee roses and give a talk about Gen. James Oglethorpe, who founded of the Georgia colony in 1733.
For those taking the tour Sunday, it was a chance to take a look at a piece of Middle Georgia history -- some for the first time.
Charles Akins, who took the tour with his wife, Terese, said he has driven by the fort for six decades, but Sunday marked the first time he has actually toured it.
“We would stop by here on the school bus,” Akins said. “It’s not what I imagined. It looks a lot smaller from Emery Highway than it is. I thought the wood was timber; I didn’t know it was concrete. They did a good engineering job with it.”
Mark and Mary McMahon of Macon brought their son Sean, 12, and his friend, Kai, 8, for the tour because they said love history.
“This is our first time at the fort, and I think it’s a neat place,” Mark McMahon said. “It’s a very interesting place.”
Mary McMahon said she has studied her family’s genealogy, tracing her ancestors back to the American Revolution and the Civil War. She said she’s now curious to see if any of her family fought in the War of 1812 or served at the fort.
“I hope the plans (for the fort) get acted on,” she said. “This is a very important thing for Macon.”