Restoration helps hold down the fort

Balto. County hopes to use Pikesville site as living museum

November 17, 2003|By David Anderson | David Anderson,SUN STAFF

Kirk Dreier sits on a wooden stool, hacking away at a log that will eventually become a bowl.

The 44-year-old "living historian" uses an adz to shape the wood. He has made most of the furniture and other wooden implements in Fort Garrison, a 300-year-old stone structure in the middle of a residential Pikesville neighborhood, using such Colonial-era tools.

Dreier, a park naturalist and director of the Oregon Ridge Nature Center, has been arranging presentations about the fort -- the oldest standing fort in Maryland -- since the late 1980s as part of Oregon Ridge's special-events program.

He and several colleagues will be present this morning when the fort, which is owned by Baltimore County and has been undergoing a restoration since the spring, is dedicated. The ceremony will begin at 10:30.

The project involved replacing mortar, rebuilding an interior fireplace and ensuring the integrity of the building. The county hopes to use it as a living museum.

Fort Garrison, a two-story stone building about the size of the surrounding houses on Garrison Farms Court, was built in 1693, when Baltimore County was a collection of isolated farms spread through acres of forest. At the time, the fort was the "vanguard of civilization," Dreier said.

Although it was nine miles from the nearest farm, nine local militiamen called rangers were stationed there to protect the farmers from American Indians, who hunted in the area.

"Think about it," he said. "In Baltimore County, there were wolves, Indians, elk, bears. This fort is a time capsule of a time that most Baltimore people couldn't even imagine."

The rangers contributed to the future landscape of Baltimore County. One of their duties was to blaze trails as they patrolled the area. Those trails became some of the county's major thoroughfares, such as Joppa and Old Court roads.

The fort was used as a military outpost during the French and Indian War of the mid-1700s. It also served as a slave quarters in the 1800s, and as a barn and warehouse in the 20th century.

In 1965, a developer was building houses around the fort and wanted to tear it down. Audrey Levine banded with her neighbors and paid the developer for the property, which the developer then donated to the county.

"It represents democracy and freedom of religion," Levine, 69, said of the fort.

Levine's three sons and their friends would dig in the dirt around the fort for arrowheads. One of those friends, Marcie Kline, then 5, found a spoon and what she thought was a key.

Marcie Kline-Weisberg, now 45 and living in Owings Mills, said that she has taken the "key" to archaeologists but that no one can say exactly what it is. "They just said they had never seen anything like it before," she said.

Kline-Weisberg and her mother, father and sisters have kept the artifacts for 40 years. She and Levine, who lives a block from the fort, donated them to nearby Fort Garrison Elementary School, where they will arrive today and be put on display.

"It was one of the most wonderful childhood experiences, to have a real fort to play in," Kline-Weisberg said.

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