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Fort King--From Prime Real Estate to Park

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Creativity and inspirations that I have usually come in spurts. You my notice that I will have a whole bunch to say all in a short time, and then not say much for a few weeks. I have been quiet for the most part this past month, and now I have 20 different things to use as topics for this blog. The Okeechobee battlefield got me thinking about several different things, and sparked back up this inspiration. (Read more about Okeechobee below.)

I was just thinking of what we went through with saving Fort King. I hope you don’t mind my indulgence for a few minutes.

We always knew Fort King was there on top of the hill in Ocala. My partner is mischief and fellow reenactor, Earl DeBary, lives right across the street from the location of the fort cemetery, and about two houses down from the historical marker. Earl remembers as a kid, playing on the foundations of the former fort buildings. When an oak tree was blown over, there was an exposed a cache of old bottles. (Maybe this was from Hurricane Donna in 1960?)

There were attempts at purchasing the property from the elderly owner, but she seemed to refuse all offers, or the deal always fell through. This was one of the most significant Seminole War sites that was not protected or part of any park, and it seemed like a dream that anything would ever change. So it was a big surprise one Saturday morning in June when I drove by and saw a humongous real estate sign. “Historic Property!” “Excellent location for building!” (I think that this was 1998 or 1999.)

I fired off a barrage of emails to people like Dr. John Mahon, Dr. Brent Wiesman, Frank Laumer & several others. People in the Seminole Wars Historic Foundation that knew the importance of the property, but were unaware that it was for sale. I like to think that I got the ball rolling by contacting the people who could get the job done to preserve the site. I have never had money to buy property like this, but knew where to go. I will never get credit for being the catalyst that started the process to save the property, but the result is what I wanted, and I am satisfied with that.

There were public meetings held by the county and state to determine if they should purchase the property. I remember attending one meeting. The property was eventually purchased, and then there was the process to make it a national park. By this time I moved to Alabama and could not be involved any further than writing letters.

Before the property was purchased, an archaeology survey had to be done to certify that it was indeed where the fort stood. There were a few conflicting theories, including one that said it was about three miles away. Gary Ellis of the Gulf Archaeology Resource Institute (I think that it what it was called.) did an excellent job of locating the fort site, and determining where all the burnt-out remains of the buildings were. The final report was very large, and quite spectacular. In a very short time it was clear that the two Fort Kings were located on the hill. Because the fort had burned the first time it was abandoned, the ground was littered with artifacts. A constant signal would ring out on the medal detector wherever it was placed, where the walls had burned and nails had deposited on the ground. The head was so intense from the heart-of-pine that the nails had melted into slag. Where the powder magazine once existed, the ground was the blackest charcoal you could ever find.

As the archaeology dig was going on (I seem to recall September,) Earl and I walked over one day to see what they were finding. It looked great, and we had a good time talking to the students and excavators. Earl pulled what I considered one of the best practical jokes of all time, by dropping a paleo-point as big as a basketball next to one of the dig supervisors in the trench, and watching him almost have a seizure at the sight of it when Earl said, “Look what I just found!”

While we were at the dig, Dr. John Mahon walked up. I don’t know where he parked, but he seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. He was definitely not looking very well, and I think this was the last time that I saw him alive. He passed away about 4 years later. He sat down on a tree stump, and we had a great conversation with him. I don’t remember what we talked about, but it was great that he witnessed such an event like this while he was still alive. To see this property saved was probably the crowning jewel in his lifetime of Seminole War research.

I think the purchase of this real estate was 22.5 acres. There is a city park adjoining it, so together it will total a pretty large area. It was quite something to see this property saved in the year or so that it took. This is prime real estate in the middle of a growing city, in one of the prettiest residential areas of Ocala. It was not an easy fight, because there was some out-of-state developer that was fighting fiercely for the property to build high-priced condos there.

Well the planning and developing as a park has stagnated because of a few mistakes that occurred in the facility planning phase, that made them start all over again from square one. I know the story, but don’t really care to go into it here. The important thing is that the property has been preserved. You are not going to have a Fort King condo or a Fort King golf course where the fort once stood. Eventually there will be a park. And the only national park that is strictly Seminole War and no other time period. It has been saved, and that is good enough for now. We don’t win every battle for every historic site, but this one I consider a significant win.
Current Location:
the Hammock
Current Mood:
awake awake
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