Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fort Macon

Whenever we go away for the weekend, we always seem to seek out a historical/educational place to take the boys. I think of it kind of like we're taking them on a history field trip. Of course, living in North Carolina means that we visit a lot of Civil War era places!

Our last stop before heading home from the beach was at Fort Macon, near Atlantic Beach.   And now for your history lesson of the day... Fort Macon was built to replace Fort Hampton - which was intended to protect Beaufort Sound (the pirate Blackbeard's old stomping ground) from the British during the American Revolution.  As Nature would have it, Fort Hampton was plummeted into the ocean after a particularly ferocious hurricane and years of beach erosion, and Fort Macon was built to replace it.  In a more sturdy location.

Fort Macon was commissioned after the War of 1812 showed our nation's leaders that our coast needed to be fortified.  It was completed in 1834 and lived a pretty boring life until two days after the start of the Civil War, when it was seized by militia forces from Beaufort.  The Confederate Army held onto the fort until the middle of 1862, when the Union forces lead by General Burnside attacked the Fort.  The Union Army held the Fort for the remainder of the Civil War.

The US Army had troops at Fort Macon until 1877 - 11 of those years, the Fort served as a military prison.  In 1903, the Army abandoned the Fort and it sat vacant and falling apart until 1924, when it was sold to the state of North Carolina for $1. During the New Deal, the Civil Conservation Corp restored the Fort and built recreation facilities.  

For its last hurray, Fort Macon was rented by the US Army during World War II, to protect the coast from attacks from the east.  Coast Artillery troops occupied the Fort until 1946, at which time it was returned to North Carolina. 

The Fort is beautifully restored.  It was not built in the era of safety, however, and we were met at the entrance with a sign that read:

"This fort was not built for safety.  There are ledges and sharp edges and long ways to fall.  Stay away from the edge.  Do not run.  Be aware of your surroundings."

To me this sign read:

"Why the heck did you come here with three kids... one of whom runs everywhere, loves danger, doesn't listen when you say stop, and will probably fall and break every bone in his body?"

So I grabbed Matthew's hand through his multiple protests, Will was in his backpack (oh yeah, the Fort wasn't built in the era of the Americans with Disabilities Act either... definitely not meant for people in wheelchairs!), and thankfully Luke was obedient enough to stay close.  And we entered, bravely, slightly panicked, and aware of our surroundings.

The boys all really enjoyed themselves.  We had a cool day, with slightly overcast skies - so Will enjoyed being in the backpack and walking around with Nate. 

The Fort is surrounded by a moat, so you have to run walk across a wooden bridge to get into it.  You also have to walk through a heavily gatehouse, which was pretty cool for Luke and Matt.

Once inside, we could see all the beauty of the Fort. The grassy courtyard, the restored cannons, the whitewashed brick walls, steep stairs with ornate handrails leading to the parapet, the proud American flag. We all were very impressed and explored the grounds and the beautifully restored vaulted casements (rooms) that made up the living quarters for the troops. The rooms now house different museum exhibits chronicling the history of the Fort.

Once we were done inside, we ventured back across the wooden drawbridge and took the steepest steps EVER down into the outer ward surrounding the inner fort. These rooms hadn't been restored as intricately, and were pretty damp... but still very interesting to see.

My family always did historical-type trips when I was growing up - Gettysburg, Antietam, Monticello, Appomattox Courthouse, Mount Vernon, Leesburg, Valley Forge, and every National Park on the east coast. It was the norm as long as I can remember and it was fun, and I learned to appreciate a lot about our nation's history because of it. My hope (perhaps not realistic, but still my hope) is that with us starting Luke, Will and Matt on a similar path at a young age, they will know that just because its something educational, doesn't mean it can't be fun too!   As long as you walk.  And don't fall off steep ledges.

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