Visitor center opens at Fort Hawkins

Two hundred seven years after Fort Hawkins was built, a new feature there is open for business.

Friday morning local officials dedicated the fort’s visitors center, a log cabin filled with items found on or near the site. About 200 schoolchildren watched the ribbon-cutting, then filed through the building past display cases full of historic artifacts.

“This has been a longtime dream that has finally come true,” said Mike Cranford, chairman of the volunteer Fort Hawkins Commission and a former Macon councilman.

Former Mayor Lee Robinson recounted how interested residents came to him a quarter-century ago with a model of the historic fort, prompting the public effort to rebuild Fort Hawkins. Archaeologists have since determined much of the course of the original palisade wall, and one of the two corner blockhouses was rebuilt in the 1930s.

The special purpose local option sales tax that voters approved in 2011 included $750,000 for the fort. It’s estimated that complete reconstruction and efforts to turn it into a substantial tourist attraction may cost about $3 million.

The visitor center itself was built for $530,000, leaving the rest of the SPLOST money for a few more improvements on the site, Cranford said. Warren Associates Inc. served as contractors, while Peach Wood Products of Byron built the artifact display cabinets. Home Depot gave flowers and shrubs, and volunteers put in thousands of hours in work and planning, Cranford said.

Soon after the construction of the original hilltop fort, “New Town” grew up around its walls, Mayor Robert Reichert said. In 1823, those residents laid out Macon, across the Ocmulgee River.

“But it all began here, at Fort Hawkins,” Reichert said.

The fort and new visitors center will draw tourists to see other improvements underway in Macon-Bibb County, said Jeffery Monroe, chairman of the SPLOST advisory committee.

Ed DeFore, Fort Hawkins Commission member and longest-serving Macon councilman, told the students to remember Friday as a significant moment in local history. He recalled flying kites from the rebuilt blockhouse’s windows when he was a boy.

The new flagpole in front of the visitor center was donated by the Rev. Judy Wall Smith, who said three of her ancestors served in the area as soldiers. The flagpole is dedicated to them, said Wall, vice chairwoman of the Fort Hawkins Commission.

As children waited to see the new building Friday, Fort Hawkins project coordinator Marty Willett went down the line chatting.

“We’re open Saturday, Sunday and Monday, OK?” he said. “Come back and stay longer!”

The site is open noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free.