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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Story of Historic Fort Steuben - new book

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 06, 2010

It is always exciting to read a new book; and it is even more exciting for a librarian to read a new book to which you have connections.

 

Such is the case with John Holmes’ new book, “The Story of Historic Fort Steuben.”

 

My copy arrived a week before the official release, so I had to read it quietly in a dark corner so that no one would accidentally see it.

 

I had known about his project to write a new book about Historic Fort Steuben, and we had discussed his work, but the end product is more fascinating than I ever imagined

 

The new book is not a new edition of his 2000 book, “The Story of Fort Steuben,” it is instead a completely new book with a different format, drawing upon new information from the decade that has passed since the earlier book.

 

Dr. Holmes and I are both Interpreters at Historic Fort Steuben, and have worked various field trips and festivals together, sharing historical information while sitting on a bench.

 

I had my story “down pat” for visitors to the Fort, and now I have to revise and enhance the story based on all of the additional found in his new book.


The book begins with history before Fort Steuben, from the Native Americans to the Squatters who  tried to settle the west side of the Ohio River.

 

Captain Hamtramck and his soldiers arrived on site on October 11, 1786 and began construction of the original Fort Steuben, which took 33 days.

 

The reconstruction, as Holmes noted, took more than 20 years and required heavy equipment and building permits.

 

“Daily Life at Fort Steuben” follows the construction chapter, and will hold interest to the reader, as that topic is the basis for many questions today at the Fort.

 

I am sure that Hamtramck did not consider his selection of a flood-free site for the Fort in 1786, as a positive for reconstruction in 1986; but it was.

 

Because of his selection, Fort Steuben could be reconstructed today and stands as one of the few completely reconstructed forts of that era.


Fort Harmar at Marietta is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year, but the site is now out in the Ohio River with no reconstruction of even one blockhouse.

 

Holmes walks the reader through the complete Fort reconstruction as it exists today, including the new guard house, just completed.

 

I don’t have my speech assembled for a guard house tour, which gives a visitor a whole new perspective of the Fort and Ohio River, so I may have the book behind my back on the tour.

 

The new information is the section on the reconstruction of Fort Steuben, which will become part of its history as well.

 

This past winter and its snowfall assisted Holmes in providing period-accurate photos of the snow-covered Fort, making realistic the story of the Fort in 1786-87.

 

I enjoyed the biographies of the people who served Fort Steuben that are contained in the book.

 

The stories of the people are fascinating, and their legacy to today from village and township names to the marks they made on the land.

 

I thank Dr. Holmes for mentioning me in his book, page 9 if you want to check.

 

Several times I have given Baron von Steuben a ride home from a Fort event, causing turned heads as he and I were seen in a car.

 

He in his uniform and white-haired wig, I in my green vest and white shirt sitting at a traffic light as a neighboring driver tries to ignore our existence.

 

I agree with John’s analysis of the original Fort Steuben, as a “temporary stop on the way to measuring America.”  Today’s Fort Steuben has outlasted the original by 35 times, and is showing “the future as well as the past.”