Fort Jefferson Park – past, present, and future

By David Cox

Darke County Parks

In the early 1800’s Fort Jefferson was laid off for town lots which included the future park area. It was good ground for housing because there were no trees as a result of being cleared for fort purposes. The local boys appropriated the fort area as a playground and named it the “Old War Ground.” This historic ground was about to be permanently obliterated and forgotten when the Greenville Historical Society decided to erect a permanent monument on the fort site.

Joe Patty and Fred Coppock donated lots 48 and 49 on the exact site of the fort. During the summer of 1907, the Greenville Historical Society gathered funds to erect an obelisk made of granite field stone and placed a bronze tablet on it. On Oct. 24, 1907, it was dedicated with an impressive ceremony, with large attendance, and noted speakers. Note: the fort was named Jefferson for then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson on Oct. 23,1791, and General St. Clair marched his army north on Oct. 24th the next day. Maybe, in the future, Oct. 23rd should be named “Ft. Jefferson Day.”

On Jan. 28th, 1927, the Greenville Historical Society purchased additional land to expand the site to over 4 acres of land. In 1929 additional land was purchased with House Bill No. 143 to expand the property for a drive on the East side of the park property. At this time the Greenville Historical Society ceded all their land to the state of Ohio so Ft. Jefferson Park could become a State Memorial Park. The park was now six acres in size.

In 1940, The Ohio State Highway Department developed the site as a roadside park. The park was well received and heavily used into the 1960’s. Eventually, because of cost and less usage, rural Ohio state roadside park areas were abandoned, and the Ohio Historical Society was given management of the park at Ft. Jefferson. Gradually, Ft. Jefferson Park aged. It was used less and the only programs at the site had been locally sponsored memorial services. Ft. Jefferson became the “Forgotten Fort.” No one remembers its importance to the foundation of today’s military structure. Few know of the men and women who served and died at Ft. Jefferson. Fort Jefferson was under siege by the Indians for two years while it was the furthest military post into Indian territory.

In 2018 a grass roots effort of local people, led by Joe Beatty, held meetings and vowed to upgrade and restore the facilities at Fort Jefferson. Beatty had a vision of providing an interpretive center where a library and audio-visual material could be collected and used for research and studies. Several of Beatty’s family served at Fort Jefferson. Several died during the St. Clair campaign. He wanted to revive that legacy for his grandchildren to know and be proud of. The group called themselves Friends of Fort Jefferson, and they organized and obtained 501-C-3 tax free status to receive tax deductible donations.

Fortune smiled on Friends of Fort Jefferson, and has now become a ground swell. They found mutual support with the Darke County Parks. Another similar interest group called Wayne’s Legion Research Group joined their efforts.

Reenactors of the 1st American Regiment want to help restore Ft. Jefferson and are not only helping with research but pledging financial support. Members of Daughters of American Revolution want to help research and place another memorial at the site. The local news organizations are helping us by allowing regular updates. This month over 50 new members joined Friends of Fort Jefferson with $25 memberships, and some donated extra.

An adjacent 17-acres of land came up for sale that had been part of the old fort site. St. Clair’s army had camped on this farm. A hay making party of 12 soldiers was attacked on this site and all killed.

With the funds donated, Friends of Fort Jefferson secured a low interest loan at Greenville National Bank to purchase and secure the area before it was lost forever from being on the open market. The loan is good for three more years. It is hoped that a grant can be found to finish the purchase and add the property to the existing fort ground.

Stay tuned for the future plans.