METROPOLIS — Chris McGinness wants to put the fort back in Fort Massac State Park.
McGinness, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ site superintendent at the park, hopes to have a new fort in place by next year’s Fort Massac Encampment. The IDNR recently announced a $2.8 million grant to rebuild the fort and a new shower building at Illinois’ oldest state park.
Parts of the previous fort are still standing. The stockades and gates from the previous fort had to be razed a few years ago. The new structure will be the third incarnation of the 1802 fort commissioned by the United States government.
Five forts have stood on the hill overlooking the Ohio River. The first was built by the French in 1757. The second structure, built in 1760, was dubbed Fort Massiac by the French. The outline of that fort remains north and west of the 1802 structure.
“We have a basically a $2.8 million funding through capital development, $770,000 of it is to build a new shower house/fallout shelter in the campground,” McGinness said. “It will be an eight-shower unit, and will serve also as a storm shelter for campers and people in the park. The remaining $2.2 million will be used to rehabilitate the fort. That is in design.
“We’re looking at going out late this year, early next year with bids. Hopefully, soon after that we start seeing building. The projection is hopefully next year some time being done with the projects.”
Fort Massac State Park hosts the annual encampment, which was held last weekend. The encampment, held for the past 45 years, has drawn over 300,000 visitors to the park. This year there were more than 100 vendors and more than 30 military re-enactment units.
With that type of visitation, obviously it would be nice to have an actual fort.
“It’s one of the biggest events IDNR puts on,” McGinness said. “For a history lesson, which is what the encampment is designed to do, if you’re going to teach history, it is certainly more conducive to having that open and have people go in there and actually see, feel, touch and smell the way they lived in that period. Especially for the education days which continue to grow year after year.”
McGinness said the rebuilt fort will be an accurate depiction of the 1802 structure.
“It was researched,” he said. “It is pretty accurate. The only thing that isn’t accurate is the upstairs. They put a full upstairs in, and it’s my understanding that it would have been half of the height of what it is today. That was done so we could have events and things up there, so people could utilize it.”
The project will not only rehab the current structures, but replace the fence and gates surrounding the fort.
The living history component for fort brings is particularly helpful on the education day McGinness alluded to. The day is held during the week prior to the encampment. It draws students from throughout the region.
“This year there were somewhere between 70-90 buses,” McGinness said. “We had between 4-5,000 kids here. Our total attendance for that day was 7,500. What happens is we had 30-some vendors doing demonstrations and explaining to the kids what went on in that period. That’s when it becomes really vital for them to see how those people lived, how they cooked their food, even the way they slept, how they made their bedrolls. That’s tough to do when you have the fort closed down.
“That’s what I tell people all the time. You can read all the books you want, even watch movies, but to actually see it, feel it and smell it is a whole different ballgame.”
The goal is to have the new fort completed by next year’s encampment. The event is held the third weekend of October.