Witness history in North Carolina’s second most visited park
Fort Macon State Park, North Carolina’s third smallest yet second most visited state park, dates back to 1756 when Fort Dobbs, the first structure, was begun but never completed.
While it may not be a target in modern times, North Carolina’s coastal region was highly vulnerable to attack in the 18th and 19th centuries. Blackbeard and other infamous pirates are said to have sailed through the Beaufort Inlet, and his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, is thought to have been discovered in the shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the park’s coast.
Successive wars with Spain, France and Great Britain prompted North Carolina leaders to develop coastal defense points and begin the construction of military forts. Located in Beaufort, Fort Dobbs was constructed to provide defense on the edge of the western frontier during the French and Indian War.
However, its incompletion left the Topsail inlet undefended during the American Revolution. The harbor remained defenseless until the construction of Fort Hampton, a small brick masonry built on the tip of the Bogue Banks in 1809. It was used for more than a decade before it was washed into the inlet by a hurricane in 1825.
Construction of Fort Macon began in 1826 and lasted eight years. The five-sided brick and stone fort was named after U.S. Senator Nathaniel Macon who procured the funds to build the facility. It was designed by Brig. Gen. Simon Bernard and built by the US Army Corp of Engineers. Its rooms are enclosed by outer walls that are 4.5 feet thick. The total cost of the fort was $463,790.
During the Civil War, North Carolina seized the fort from Union Troops but was later attacked and reclaimed it in 1862. The fort was a coaling station for navy ships for the duration of the war.
From 1867 until 1876 the fort was used as a civil and military prison. It was garrisoned by state troops in 1898 for the Spanish-American War, and by 1903 the US Army had completely abandoned the Fort. In 1923, the fort and surrounding reservation was sold for $1 to the state of North Carolina to be used as a public park.
The Civilian Conservation Corps restored the fort between 1934–35 and established recreational facilities. Fort Macon State Park opened in May 1936 as North Carolina’s first functioning state park.
The fort was again occupied by the US Army from December 1941 until November 1944 to protect numerous nearby facilities. During the occupation, some unsuspecting soldiers mistook cannonballs for solid iron shot and rolled them into fireplaces and andirons. The exploding powder-filled balls, or “last shot of the Civil War,” killed two men and injured several others.
The state park, located on 389 acres on the eastern end of the Bogue Banks, underwent a four-and-a-half year renovation in 2003. In addition to extensive preservation and stabilization work done during the course of the project, a new museum facility was built. It consists of 26 rooms (casemates) of exhibits dedicated to the 170-year history of the fort.
Today, visitors can admire the fort’s powder magazines, counterfire rooms with cannon emplacements and the wide moat that could be flooded to protect the fort during a siege. The fort features several original and replica cannons. Explore the quarters to see how officers and soldiers lived.
There is much more to the park than the new museum. The fort is surrounded by three bodies of water—the Bogue Sound, Beaufort Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. The area is home to undisturbed natural beauty and offers activities such as swimming, fishing, picnicking, shelling, hiking and bird watching.
Regularly schedules education and interpretive programs about the fort take place from April 15 until Oct. 30. Join a walking tour or conduct your own with a guide available in the bookstore. Historic reenactments are often held on the fort’s inner court of parade ground.
Fort Macon State Park is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and is closed on Christmas Day. For more information, visit www.ncparks.gov.
— By Derek Page