What was once the site of a sturdy fort, the centerpiece of a small frontier settlement, is now an open field, bordered by a pair of streams, one of which — Mill Creek — powered a grist mill on the Greenbrier County property for many years.
The Archaeological Conservancy and the West Virginia Land Trust are joining forces to purchase and preserve the 25-acre parcel near Alderson that has seen its share of pioneer persistence, life-and-death struggles and industrial progress since Revolutionary War times.
Now in the process of raising money for the acquisition of the land, where once stood Arbuckle’s Fort, the two nonprofits also are partnering with the Greenbrier Historical Society to develop the site as a park.
Elaborating on those plans, GHS’s secretary, Margaret Hambrick, told The Register-Herald. “We hope to create a small pull-off area for vehicles near the gate that leads onto the property off Blaker’s Mill Road.”
She described an intention to build walking trails and interpretive signage that would shed light on the three significant eras represented on the property — pre-history, when Native Americans hunted in the pristine Greenbrier Valley; the fort era, which encompasses the 1760s through the 1780s; and the industrial period, when Blaker’s Mill became the hub around which a small community formed.
“An optimistic guess is that we’re two or three years out from establishing the park as a destination for historic tourism visitors,” Hambrick said.
Building upon its experience in acquiring and repairing the Blue Sulphur Springs Pavilion — all that remains of the formerly grand Blue Sulphur resort — GHS intends to assemble a core group of volunteers who will continue to guide the Arbuckle’s Fort park into the future.
As a way to identify and appeal to those potential volunteers, GHS had intended to stage a program and cleanup at the future park on April 4 — National Park Day.
“We imagined some who came to the event and evidenced interest in the project, we would invite to join the effort,” Hambrick said.
Covid-19 derailed those plans, of course, and again spoiled the tentative backup date in August, leaving that portion of the park’s development in limbo for the moment. But Hambrick has no intention of giving up on her plan to bring more people to Arbuckle’s Fort.
“We would like as much public buy-in and ownership of the park as possible,” she said. “A project like this takes community involvement to be a success.”
Among the effort’s supporters, Hambrick named the Greenbrier County Commission and the Summers County Historic Landmarks Commission, along with the GHS.
Prominent archaeologist Dr. Kim McBride and her husband and fellow archaeologist, Stephen McBride, are also enthusiastic about the preservation potential the project presents for the fort that the two Greenbrier County natives have excavated and studied at some length.
Describing the site as “one of the most pristine archeological sites of a pre-Revolutionary fort,” Kim McBride told Hambrick, “Arbuckle’s Fort will be a tremendous asset to future generations when it is preserved as a park.”
In a press release announcing the launch of a crowd funding campaign to raise money for the purchase of the future parkland, the Land Trust, Archaeological Conservancy and GHS provided a thumbnail sketch of the history of the fort.
Part of a chain of forts established to defend settlers moving into the colonial United States’ western frontier, Arbuckle’s Fort was constructed in 1774, according to the release. What prompted the construction were Native American raids in reaction to increasing European settlement in the region.
The fort was built above the confluence of Muddy Creek and Mill Creek and was first occupied by Capt. Matthew Arbuckle’s militia company, who remained until the fall of 1774 when they left to guide Col. Andrew Lewis to Point Pleasant as part of a campaign during Dunmore’s War.
Arbuckle’s Fort was reoccupied no later than the autumn of 1776 during the American Revolution, when it was strengthened as a defense against the allied British and Native American forces. Though attacked twice, the fort held.
Although no description of the fort has yet been found, according to the release, the McBrides’ excavations have helped reveal the history of the site.
Buried features include a stone chimney base and foundation from a blockhouse, with a nearby large storage pit that may have served as a powder magazine, ash and refuse-filled pits and a slag concentration from blacksmithing. A trench filled with post molds delineates a stockade with north and south bastions and two gates.
“The archaeological integrity of the site; its connection to Native American, African American and settler communities; and its rich historical documentation give the Arbuckle’s Fort site tremendous potential for research and public interpretation,” the authors of the release concluded.
One weather-battered feature that remains in the field is a lone historical marker that commemorates an infamous incident that occurred on the site in 1763, more than a decade before the fort was built there. That incident was dubbed the “Muddy Creek Massacre.”
According to an account of the massacre shared on the West Virginia Archives & History’s website, around 60 Shawnee raiders associated with Chief Cornstalk fell upon the several dozen settler families who had chosen to live beyond the generally accepted border of the frontier. Although historical accounts differ, the author of the piece on the website deduced that the resulting massacre occurred on July 14, 1763, just one day prior to a similar incident involving the same raiding party at the Clendenin settlement on the Big Levels, near Lewisburg.
An unknown number of women and children and at least one man, John Ewing, were taken captive by the Shawnee, while several men at the two settlements were slain, according to the account on the website.
The full account, penned by A.E. Ewing for the West Virginia Review in June 1936, can be found at http://www.wvculture.org/history/settlement/cornstalkraid.html.
Asserting that the greatest obstacle to saving Arbuckle’s Fort is raising the necessary funds to acquire the property containing the site, the Land Trust and Archaeological Conservancy aim to raise $125,000 to purchase the property, which currently has no protections against development or destruction.
The West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund has already committed $25,000 to management of the property, and the other nonprofits involved in the project hope to crowd-fund another $60,000 via outreach to the local community. Thus far, $8,069 has been raised through the crowd-funding effort.
Those who would like to contribute to this conservation effort can do so by visiting https://give.archaeologicalconservancy.org/holdthefort. Each $30 donation provides the donor with a one-year membership to The Archaeological Conservancy.
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