BOLIVAR, Ohio — The site of Ohio’s only Revolutionary War fort will soon be getting a long-awaited addition: The fort itself.
During "Revolution on the Tuscarawas," an annual American Revolution reenactment in Bolivar, the Ohio History Connection and Zoar Community Association announced redevelopment plans for Fort Laurens.
“Ohio really has one Revolutionary War site. It is here,” Darrell Markijohn told News 5 Tuesday. “Continental troops fought a battle here with the British and their Indian allies on this very ground and they shed American blood for that very cause.”
Markijohn, the vice president of the Zoar Community Association and the chairman of the Fort Laurens Rebuild Committee, explained efforts to restore the historical site have been in the works for more than 100 years.
In 1915, the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation to purchase the land in Northern Tuscarawas County with the intention of restoring the property. During the American Centennial in 1976, a museum was added at the site. For the past several decades, the Friends of Fort Laurens Foundation have been educating and fundraising to make the fort a reality.
“A support group formed because of a tremendous love and passion for the history of what took place here, but also a desire to pick up the baton from 1915 and follow through with an actual reconstruction of the fort,” explained Markijohn.
A quarter-century before statehood was granted to Ohio, troops from the Continental Army marched into the wilderness of the Ohio Country to establish a strategic base to attack British-controlled Detroit. In a month, the soldiers built Fort Laurens along what’s now called the Tuscarawas River, using hand tools and trees cleared from the site.
The base, named Fort Laurens for Continental Congress President Henry Laurens, was active from 1778-1779. It hosted a diverse cross-section of early America, including men, women, teamsters and at least one freed former enslaved person. Ancestors of U.S. Presidents Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln and William McKinley were also present at the site during their military careers.
The people within the fort’s walls endured a brutal winter, attacks from British troops and their Native Americans allies and the hardships of life on the American frontier.
“This is a fort, this is a Revolutionary War battle field, this is also hallowed ground,” Markijohn said.
Megan Wood, the incoming executive director of the Ohio History Connection, added, “It is a piece of that larger American story, but it also shows what's happening in the Ohio Country at this time, the intersection of the British, the American, the American Indian. So it tells a lot of those different stories all together.”
Part of the original fort structure was demolished during the building of the Ohio and Erie Canal. The museum was also built over part of the fort’s western wall before archaeological research revealed its location.
For that reason, there has been discussion over whether to partially reconstruct the replica fort on its original footprint or move it into a nearby field with adequate space for a full reconstruction.
The redevelopment is in its early planning stages, but will also include plans for the museum and exhibits, in addition to the fort reconstruction.
The project will be paid for in part with fundraising money and $330,000 from the State Capital Budget.
Archaeological research will begin in 2023. The goal is to complete much of the work by 2026, in time for the American "Semiquincentennial" celebrating the nation’s 250th birthday.
“If all those folks could come together to build a fort by hand, hacking it out of the woods [in 1778], we think our government and private individuals and our committee can come together in the same spirit of cooperation and rebuild the fort again,” Markijohn said.
The current museum and historical site currently attracts about 3,000 visitors per year. Markijohn hopes the addition of the fort and upgrades to the site will help attract more visitors, and in turn, highlight the fort’s historical contribution.
“By making this an attraction, we know we can generate more interest,” he said. “And then it gives us a platform to really share this rich, historical story of what happened here.”
Fundraising efforts are still underway at Fort Laurens. You can find more information about how to contribute to the preservation and restoration efforts by clicking on this link.
The fort is located at 11067 Fort Laurens Road NW, Bolivar.
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