Favorite Forts: Fort Atkinson

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Exterior stockade wall at Fort Atkinson. (c) 2015 J.S.Reinitz

Exterior stockade wall at Fort Atkinson. (c) 2015 J.S.Reinitz

In the nine years that were its heyday, Fort Atkinson was tasked with keeping the peace for the Ho-Chunk tribe, which had been relocated from Wisconsin to a 40-mile wide plat in northeast Iowa. The neutral ground was originally planned as a buffer between other First Nation tribes, so when the Ho-Chunk (also known as the Winnebago) arrived sometime around 1840, the fort was in charge of protecting the tribe from rivals and keeping its members from backtracking to the cheese state.

The fort had 24 buildings inside a wooden stockade and 14 other structures outside its walls. When the army moved out in 1946 to fight the Mexican-American War, a volunteer miltia replaced them. The volunteers helped move the Ho-Chunk on to Minnesota, and the fort was closed in 1849.

Over the years, the buildings fell into disrepair as settlers began using the bricks and wood to construct their homes and shops in the town of the same name that sprang up. The state of Iowa got what was left of the fort in 1921, and reconstruction started in the late 1950s.

Today the fort is a state preserve with a rebuilt stockade wall and a mixture of rebuilt barracks, partial ruins and assorted foundations. Every year, it hosts a pioneer and buckskinner living history rendezvous.

Minnesota fort

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The United States flag flies over Historic Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, Minn. At left is the fort's Round Tower. (c) J.S. Reinitz 2014

The United States flag flies over Historic Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, Minn. At left is the fort’s Round Tower. (c) J.S. Reinitz 2014

Perched on a bluff over the intersection of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, Fort Snelling is an outpost that long outlived its original purpose.

In the 1820s, long before Minnesota was a state, the fur trade was the cornerstone of commerce in the new world. The fort was built to protect the industry.

Not more than a few decades later, the fur bubble had burst, and Fort Snelling took up other roles. It oversaw the uprooting and relocation of Native American tribes in the area and acted as an induction station for the U.S. Army during every major conflict through World War II.

It was decommissioned in 1946 and designated a historic landmark in 1960.

Today, the fort’s historic buildings have been restored as a museum that’s manned by a small army of reenactment soldiers. They even have a cannon.

Favorite Places: Huntington Beach, S.C.

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I’ve never really been one for big beaches. Sure, the sun and fresh air are nice. The salty spray from the ocean is refreshing, and it’s always cool to find what washes up on shore. But, for the most part, my beach experience has involved being crammed in an overpopulated, sweltering sandbox sandwiched between a full parking lot and brackish ocean water.

So Huntington Beach, located near Murrells Inlet, S.C., between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, is on my list of favorite places because it’s a low-key beach that offers a chance to explore and enjoy nature.

Here’s what makes the place cool:

— A castle. Well, not a real castle, but a replica of a Spanish fort commissioned by a rich guy. The place is called Atalaya (which means watchtower), and it was built in the 1930s as a winter home for Archer Huntington and his sculptor wife, Anna (her stuff is on display on the other side of the highway). Guided tours and audio tours available, or you can just meander through at your own pace.

— Sandpiper Trail. It’s not a long hike but it’s a great one-mile walk (two miles to reach the end and back) through the scrub and dunes.

— A salt marsh and a freshwater lagoon. Populated with ibises (ibisi?), fiddler crabs and alligators. Kayaking is available. Did I mention gators?

— Camping, near the ocean.

— Spanish moss, hanging from trees.

— And yes, there is a beach.


Fort Jefferson video (reprint)

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(Note: First posted 7.26.12)

Above: A recent installment of Waterways features preservation efforts at Fort Jefferson.

For vacation one summer, when we lived in the south, we took a trip down through Florida, checking out the freshwater snorkeling spots inland, beaches on the Atlantic side and a few old forts.
We swung through old Saint Augustine on a whim and stumbled across the magnificent Castillo de San Marcos.
Perhaps my favorite was Fort Matanzas , a tiny outpost on a small barrier island that guarded Saint Augustine’s back door. The fort is a 30-foot-tall tower containing a gun deck, soldiers’ and officers’ quarters topped by an observation deck. Under the gun deck is a reservoir that collected fresh rain water.
Today, visitors take a short boat ride to the island and tour the fort.
Regretfully, one of the forts we didn’t get a chance to see was Fort Jackson on Dry Tortugas , which is way out past the tip of Florida’s Keys and only reachable by boat or seaplane.
According to the National Park Service, Fort Jefferson is the largest all-masonry fort in the United States. Construction began in 1846 and continued until 1889, when the government pulled the plug before it was finished. Technology had advanced to the point that Fort Jefferson was obsolete, and it was shuttered without ever firing a shot.
But the effort wasn’t a waste, because the fort lives on today as a national park. In recent years, park staff, masons, conservation specialists and the 482nd Civil Engineers Squadron from Homestead Air Reserve Base have been undertaking projects to preserve. Above is a 25-minute (give or take) YouTube video about the restoration.The above National Park Service links have neat info about the forts,especially the Matanzas site, which includes an interactive map. A Wikipedia list of other forts in Florida is here. (7.26.12)