After 16 years, thousands of dollars in small donations, and lots of small talk, Fort Dobbs has been reconstructed from the ground up.
The Statesville Record & Landmark was given special access to the reconstructed fort before its planned reopening on Sept. 21. The nearly $3 million restoration project began in 2003 after the reincorporated, non-profit Friends of Fort Dobbs worked with former site manager Beth Hill on a fundraising campaign.
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“Our non-profit group, the Friends of Fort Dobbs, has been working with the state of North Carolina to raise funds and rebuild the structure,” said Scott Douglas, site manager II. “The Friends funded the first half the project.”
It was not until the early 2000s that a great deal was known about Fort Dobbs.
“It has been a long process,” Douglas said. “The site was first preserved more than a 100 years ago by the Daughters of the American Revolution. After the archaeological digs of the ‘60s and ‘70s, we learned a lot more about the fort. It was not, though, until about 20 years ago that we knew a lot about the Fort Dobbs.”
Fort Dobbs is North Carolina’s only permanent frontier fort. It played an important role in defending farmers and other settlers in Western North Carolina during the Seven Years’ War.
Over the course of the conflict, Fort Dobbs was attacked once on the night of Feb. 27, 1760. Fort Dobbs was understaffed during the attack.
“The original plans called for Fort Dobbs to be staffed with 50 provincial soldiers,” Douglas said. “However, because of the winter months and budget problems, the fort was understaffed when it was attacked.”
After the war concluded in 1763, Fort Dobbs was abandoned due to budget cuts and the structure no longer being needed. It would not be until 1968 that the exact location of the original fort would be discovered by Dr. Stanley South and his archaeological team.
The site would then be transformed into a North Carolina State Historic Site. Before the fort’s reconstruction, Fort Dobbs State Historic Site hosted frequent living history programs, occasional battle reenactments and several school programs. However, there was no physical structure onsite, and a large hole marked where the original fort stood.
Reconstruction of Fort Dobbs began in August 2016 after the state authorized several grants for the project, including a $188,000 grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund in 2017. These grants helped fund the project’s remaining costs.
The reconstructed fort is approximately 8,000 square feet and has three levels. However, only two of the levels will be available to the public because of building code requirements and accessibility features.
“The fort had a third story,” Douglas said. “Because this is a modern building for public use, there are certain code issues that come into play. One of those is that having wooden stairs, we cannot use the third floor. We are only rated in a fire to get people down from the second floor.”
Other features of the fort include two working fireplaces on each level, living quarters, authentic doors, bunks, tables and a cellar. There are also 300 loopholes cut out of the structure’s walls that depict those used for firing up to 100 muskets on each level.
The fort contains larger cutouts that are used for housing swivel guns, which are small cannon that can fire half-pound balls.
“The upper story of each of the two corner flankers could mount swivel cannons, which were half-pound cannons that aided in the fort’s protection,” Douglas said.
Even the nails and white oak logs used during construction have been carefully planned. The white oak trees must have been in perfect health and tailored to the right dimensions.
“A couple of the logs came from the site itself,” Douglas said. “The majority came from Iredell, Rowan and Alexander Counties. We wanted a specific type of oak, White Oak, and it had to be the right size and in great health.”
Most of the wood was donated for the fort’s construction, which significantly lowered costs.
“Probably 80 percent of the timber in this building was given to us for free, which saved close to three-quarters of a million dollars,” Douglas said.
With the fort being made entirely out of wood, it begs the question as to how easy it would have been to burn down the structure. While fire could have damaged the fort, the probability of successfully doing so during an attack would have been extremely low.
“Flaming arrows were not very common in this period,” Douglas said. “Even if the (attackers) had flaming arrows, they would have had to come very close to the fort, which was surrounded by ditches and protective structures. The chance of being shot before firing an arrow would be high, and the fort’s wood is rather thick. There is also a well contained within Fort Dobbs, so soldiers could have used water to put out fires that stared.”
Fort Dobbs’ grand reopening on Sept. 21 is part of a larger living history weekend. There will be a reopening ceremony at 10 a.m. with special guest speakers such as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Events will last through Sept. 22. Admission is free.
In the future, Fort Dobbs State Historic Site plans on providing guided tours of the fort. While admission to the historical site is free, guided tours will have a small fee, and they will not be immediately available after the fort’s grand opening.