State park's new Fort Howard exhibit taking shape

  • Article by: PAUL SRUBAS
  • Associated Press
  • December 23, 2013 - 12:05 AM

ALLOUEZ, Wis. — From certain vantage points, Heritage Hill State Historical Park is starting to look capable of defending itself.

That's because the park's new Fort Howard exhibit is taking shape, with the old guardhouse and new commander's offices standing shoulder-to-shoulder as a solid and secure entry point into a courtyard area or parade ground surrounded by six buildings.

Those twin buildings installed this summer are linked by a deck at the second floor, creating a sally port through which visitors will enter the fort area. Heavy wooden gates are yet to be installed on that causeway, and stockade fencing will partially surround the complex, completing the fort-like feel of the exhibit.

The park, which features a variety of buildings and grounds that showcase different periods in the history of the Green Bay area, has an area dedicated to displaying the old Fort Howard, which once was home for a garrison of 19th-century soldiers on Green Bay's near west side.

Of the six buildings making up the park's version of the fort, four are 1830s structures that once stood on the actual grounds of the original fort, some 4 miles to the north. The others are reproductions made with careful attention to styles, details and construction methods of the original fort buildings.

The park has long featured the fort's original hospital and kitchen, a replica of the original officers' quarters, and a schoolhouse built in the style and manner of the historical structures. In 2009, the park acquired the guardhouse from the fort, a building that had been moved off the fort grounds to Bond Street more than 100 years ago, when it was converted to residential use.

Acquisition of that historical building launched a plan at the park to reproduce the mirror-image building that originally stood alongside that guardhouse and use the two, as they were used in the 1830s, as the formal entrance to the rest of the fort, Press-Gazette Media ( reported.

This summer, workers moved the old guardhouse from a shop area on the park grounds to the site of the fort exhibit. Now, the guardhouse and its newly constructed mate stand atop 10-foot-high foundations, and are linked with a wooden deck just as they stood more than 180 years ago but now on the south end of the park.

Nick Backhaus, restoration and maintenance manager for the park, said his crew has stripped off all of the later-edition add-on features of the guardhouse that helped the building serve as a home. They've removed modern siding and wallboard, revealing foot-thick, hand-hewn beams and other 19th-century features.

Doors and windows in the structure had been closed and new ones opened elsewhere to accommodate residents over the years, so Backhaus' crew, using old photographs and dusty records as a guide, have been restoring the original locations of those openings. The crew is using construction methods in the old building to faithfully reproduce them in the building's mate.

"The ceilings are being lathed and will be covered with real plaster," he said, pointing at the interior work done so far. "You can tell sheet rock from plaster, and we want the little subtleties to be accurate."

Crews have installed period-correct glass in the windows. That's glass made the old-fashioned way, from hot glass cylinders that are then split and opened flat, that, when looked through, show all the bubbles and visual distortions that the old original windows would have had.

The crew wanted to install period-correct lattices and frames for those windows that matched those of the originals, but it's not like you can just pick up those from a local hardware store; Backhaus' workers had to grind blades that fit the molding profiles.

Exterior work mostly has concluded for the season but eventually will require covering the concrete foundations with limestone and whitewashing them, installing the gates and building the jail cells under the guardhouse. The matching replica should have matching six jail cells, too, but probably will get classroom space in the area, instead, Backhaus said.

Workers this summer also did some landscaping to improve the whole fort grouping. They raised the hospital 6½ feet and the schoolhouse 2½ feet and leveled the court area in the center of the grouping. That was intended to take care of drainage issues but also provide a level field for historical military exercises, parades and other activities.

Construction of the two buildings and stockade fencing is expected to be completed in spring 2015, with a grand opening taking place that fall.

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Press-Gazette Media

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