Support the Fort (Sewall)
Preserving Fort Sewall – A Centennial Campaign Established in 1644, Marblehead’s Fort Sewall is one of the oldest English coastal fortifications in the United States, and is the second most visited spot in town according to surveys, with over 50,000 annual visits by residents and visitors. Known for many years as the Marblehead Fort or the Fort on Gale’s Head, it was renamed in 1800 to honor Marblehead’s Samuel Sewall, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Chief Justice.
The Fort’s greatest historical moment was probably Sunday April 3, 1814 when the U.S.S. Constitution, being chased by two British frigates, escaped into Marblehead Harbor under the protection of the fort’s guns. Two Marblehead crewmen piloted the Constitution between Marblehead Rock and Marblehead Neck – thus escaping the British warships that lacked charts for the harbor’s underwater rock outcroppings.
In February 1922, the U.S. Congress passed a law returning Fort Sewall and all its related structures to the Town of Marblehead. The Senate Bill stipulated that the land not be sold for hire or used for other purposes and be kept open to the public in perpetuity.
The Town included Fort Sewall within the Marblehead Old Town Local Historic District in 1968, and in 1975 Fort Sewall was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1976 the Marblehead Bicentennial Commission requested funds to restore the fort but the proposal was indefinitely postponed, and another effort to fund restoration failed in 1981.
In 1998 the Town won a Massachusetts DEM Grant of $25,000 to undertake a “Master Plan for Improvements to Fort Sewall.” A Fort Sewall Oversight Committee (FSOC) was established to guide and review preservation and improvement plans. Various landscape and other improvements were subsequently made (electric wires buried, benches replaced, terrain reinforced) and interpretive panels were placed at the Fort’s entrance noting key historical moments for the fort. The large and long task of historically preserving and restoring Fort Sewall has been underway ever since.
In 2009, through a 2008 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, a second phase of physical improvements was designed and implemented (some fence replacement, walkways repaved, and limited repair of eroded areas) as proposed in the Master Plan. A second MHC grant funded some preservation repairs to the fort structure.
In November 2018, the FSOC launched a $1.5 million fund raising effort to complete the Master Plan. The work addressed ADA access issues, structural problems at the fort, and safety systems such as fencing and handrails. The Fort Sewall Donation Fund (FSDF) also specifically includes monies for enhanced maintenance and a summer internship program of student Fort Rangers to act as docents to guide and inform visitors.
The FSOC has established six categories for recognition on a significant plaque to be installed at the Fort. The categories are
Of course gifts of any size are greatly appreciated. All donations are tax deductible. All gifts will be recognized in a commemorative Centennial book to be published by the Committee in 2022.
All donations for the plaque must be received by Monday, November 15.
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