Friends of Ft. Jefferson honored with award





GREENVILLE — Each year, the Darke County Historical Society recognizes an outstanding citizen or organization for their distinguished contributions or actions of unusual excellence with the Heritage Award. The award is presented during the annual meeting of the historical society at Garst Museum. The 2023 Heritage Award was presented on March 21 to the Friends of Fort Jefferson (FOFJ). The awarded was accepted by Dr. David Cox on behalf of the FOFJ.

The FOFJ works to connect people to Darke County’s past. The organization has a long history but was recently revitalized. The Friends group maintains the motto, “Remember Fort Jefferson”.

Dr. Cox, local historian, shared where FOFJ has come from to where they are today and what their plans are for the future.

Cox said, in 2016, Ian McAtee insisted there had to be military artifacts left in the ground around Fort Jefferson. With the owner’s permission, he convinced a group of metal detectorists to check the areas around Fort Jefferson on private property. They turned up a lot of musket balls, some buttons, buckles and even iron cannon shot. He persuaded one landowner to do a shave procedure in his farm field which allowed them to metal detect a little deeper. A lot of fort material turned up and McAtee wrote an article about it in American Digger Magazine.

Four years later, the Darke County Parks took a serious interest in reviving Fort Jefferson both historically and materially. Over the years Fort Jefferson had become a “forgotten fort”.

The memorial and park had become an issue for local landowners because of the lack of care and facilities were rundown and little work had been done on the outhouses since they were established.

Joe Beatty, a past resident of Darke County, had several ancestors that were associated with Fort Jefferson and the 1790’s military. Some were with Arthur St. Clair’s army and even helped build Ft. Jefferson. He reported that three Beatty’s lost their lives in that campaign and one survived. He was proud of that patriotic fact and wanted Fort Jefferson fixed up and remembered. He wanted his grandchildren to know the stories of that time. Beatty called for a meeting in 2020 to see if there was interest and if he could convince anyone to help him fix up the fort grounds and gain patriotic respect for the men and women that died there.

The group bought into the idea and called themselves Friends of Fort Jefferson. They formed a 501©3 tax exempt organization. Donations immediately came in. Dave Heckaman spearheaded research and became the group’s historian. Bill Light made accurate Fort Jefferson models of the fort from the only two pictures known to exist. He used journals and diaries to get the details right. The 1950 book on Fort Jefferson was corrected and republished.

Anthony Wayne’s Research Group, an Ohio Archaeology organization with years of experience, volunteered with more metal detecting. They also volunteered to cut trees and pull the roots to clean up the fencerow adjacent to Ft. Jefferson Memorial Park.

FOFJ currently has an agreement to purchase 17-acres of adjacent farmland to the park. The park is currently owned by the Ohio History Connection (OHC) and Darke County Parks (DCP) and legislators have been in talks with OHC to turn the park over to DCP. Once FOFJ finishes paying off the debt on their 17-acres, that land would also be turned over to DCP. The goal is to establish an interpretive center with an audiovisual room and northwest territory library. They would also like to have yearly military services to remember those who served. Cox and the FOFJ believe the fort can be common ground to recognize both sides of the conflict. He believes there are a lot of misconceptions about the Ohio Indian Wars. The FOFJ hopes to tell the full story accurately.

FOFJ continues to search for artifacts. In the fall, the fence row was searched and cleared and several artifacts were found. The group also believes that Arthur St. Clair’s army camped on a portion of the 17-acre property. Heckaman found a drawing that indicates where the camp was. A follow-up dig on that location is planned in the near future to confirm that campsite.

Several others have been instrumental in preserving Fort Jefferson, include Joe Delaplane who serves as treasurer and Janet Rhoades who is the secretary for the FOFJ. There are also many volunteers. Fort GreeneVille DAR has also assisted in helping research the soldiers that are buried nearby.

Fort Jefferson Memorial Park is currently maintained by DCP and many of the past issues with care of the park have been remedied, including removal of the old outhouses.

FOFJ joins other previous recipients of the Heritage Award. This is the second Heritage Award for which Dr. Cox was directly involved. He was also listed as one of the recipients in 2012 for his work on the Crossroads of Destiny exhibit. Additional recipients that year included Mara Cox, Fred Brumbaugh and the late Tony DeRegnaucourt.

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