Fort Laurens to start year with new signs

Fort Laurens to start  year with new signs

New interpretive signing has been installed outside at Fort Laurens in Bolivar. The signs provide visitors with the history of Ohio’s only Revolutionary War fort. People who don’t wish to visit the museum and those using the nearby Towpath Trail can simply follow the signs and learn fort history.

“The Fort Laurens story boards are a long-overdue project,” said Tammi Shrum, site director for the Zoar Community Association, which manages the Fort Laurens site and museum. “The new visuals and interpretation really add to the site and make it accessible even during hours when the museum isn’t open.”

Anyone who has stopped at the fort recently will agree the existing outdoor boards were becoming nearly impossible to read. But as with any project of this nature, funding is needed to replace the old with the new.

Partial funding for the new signs came from the Ohio & Erie Canalway Strategic Funds Program.

“The Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition can’t be thanked enough for their grant funding of this project,” Shrum said.

George Ebey of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition explained how the funding came about. “We manage a program called the Ohio & Erie Canalway Association Strategic Funds Program,” he said. “Zoar Community Association applied to us for funds, and we provided funds to supplement their budget.”

As to why Fort Laurens was chosen to receive funding, Ebey said, “The Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition has a management plan, which tends to fund projects that enhance what’s known as the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area. In this case the project fit perfectly.”

The Ohio & Erie Canalway was designated one of 55 National Heritage Areas in 1996 with the goal of preserving trails, landscapes, sites, towns and villages along the first 110 miles of the Ohio & Erie Canal.

What visitors can learn

The 11 outdoor signs use text and graphics to walk visitors through the turbulent history of the fort, from the time it was built in 1778 under the direction of Gen. Lachlan McIntosh until it was abandoned just a year later.

According to the Ohio History Connection, the fort was built for three purposes. First, the fort was to be used to stage an attack on a British garrison in Detroit. Second, the Americans hoped to bring an end to attacks on settlers by American Indians living in the area who were loyal to the British. Finally, the fort offered protection to the Christian Delaware tribe, who remained neutral about the war. The Americans had hopes of bringing the Delawares over to their side in the fight for independence.

The story boards help readers experience what life was like for soldiers and pioneers on the frontier. Visitors will read about the horrific conditions soldiers experienced at Fort Laurens during an incredibly cold winter in which they suffered attacks by American Indians and had little to no food or supplies to sustain them.

Flagstones mark the area of the cemetery where 21 soldiers who died at the fort were buried. The graves were excavated in three different times, and the remains of the soldiers were moved to a crypt inside the museum, save for one who could not be identified. He lies in the Tomb of the Unknown Patriot of the American Revolution on the fort grounds.

According to OEC, the remnants of the fort were demolished during the building of the Ohio & Erie Canalway in 1828. None of the original fort remains above ground, although the outline of the fort is visible.

When originally built, Fort Laurens sat right along the Tuscarawas River. According to www.touringohio.com, the river was rerouted in the 1960s to accommodate the construction of Interstate 77. In 1968 the State of Ohio appropriated funds to build a museum to commemorate the role Fort Laurens played in the American Revolution.