The Friends of Fort Macon, an all volunteer tax exempt organization currently with over 500 members, have as their mission the support of the Fort through the following activities by:
- Providing guides for the Fort and Nature tour programs.
- Assisting in celebrations and special events held in the park.
- Procuring enough cannon to make the ramparts of the Fort resemble their appearance in 1862.
- Restoration and preservation of Fort Macon, and the interpretation of it’s history
- Assisting in the development and construction of additional educational exhibits.
- Providing information about the Fort through newsletters and the Internet.
Friends for Thirty Years
By: Bennett Moss
It was in 1977 that seven members of the Carteret Historical Research Association gathered together to form The Friends of Fort Macon. So began, in a very small way, an organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of historical Fort Macon. As 1977 began, the Fort was in desperate condition. Very little had been done to reverse the ravages of time since the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The nascent Friends organization had little in the way of financial resources or political influence, but they had an abundance of determination to do anything they could do to help reverse the shameful process of neglect and decay that afflicted Fort Macon for so many years.
The Friends group operated as a subordinate component of the Carteret Historical Research Association (CHRA), which in later years became the Carteret County Historical Society (CCHS). The CHRA was in itself a very young organization that was still feeling its way around, looking for a new home, and trying to grow.
In 1975, the president of the CHRA, a very assertive and energetic woman named Emily Loftin, learned that the state legislature had actually appropriated $367,000 back in 1970 for restoration work on Fort Macon. Because the Division of Parks and Recreation had no plan for the use of the money, it had remained unsent, but still available. To understand how much a situation could exist, one should keep in mind that Fort Macon State Park is the only state park which contains a significant historic site. All of the other historic sites in North Carolina are under the jurisdiction of the Division of Archives and History. With more than 30 state parks to administer, the Division of Parks and Recreation did not view historic preservation as one of its major functions.
When Emily Loftin learned of the unspent funds available for work at Fort Macon, she sensed a golden opportunity for generating a new mission for the CHRA, with attendant publicity and membership growth. In 1976, she began a correspondence with officials in the Parks Division offering them her guidance on how they should spend the money, and of the major role that CHRA could play as the liaison between the Park and the community. To the great surprise of no one but Emily, she was informed that the Parks Division was quite capable of planning the restoration work without her assistance, but the support of the community would always be welcomed. Without any official encouragement, Emily Loftin and the CHRA proceeded to create the Friends group in recognition of the principle that supporting worthy causes will always be appreciated by the community.
The Friends of Fort Macon elected their own officers, and were careful not to associate too closely with Emily Loftin or the CHRA. Nevertheless, they continued to be administratively a part of the CHRA. It would be another 15 years before they would acquire their own address, tax exempt status, and corporate identity. In the first years of their existence they focused their efforts on establishing a relationship with the Park Superintendent, raising funds that could be used to provide exhibits for the Fort, and recruiting more members. It was during their first year, in 1977, that the funds originally appropriated in 1970 were finally expended on the restoration of some of the casemate rooms in order to make them suitable for displaying historical artifacts.
It was not often during their first decade that the Friends’ roster of active members exceeded 30 names. In spite of their small numbers, the Friends were able to chalk up some important achievements. Their efforts contributed to the establishment of the first position in the Park system for a Ranger/Historian, filled by Paul Branch in 1981. The Friends were also able to procure a grant that partially funded the construction of a new World War II barracks exhibit.
In the mid-1980s, the Friends elevated H.F. “Van” Van der Voort to the presidency. Van was one of the most effective leaders the Friends have ever had. He spent more than two years trying to convince the Division of State Parks to permit the installation of a donation box at Fort Macon. Finally, Van went to Raleigh to meet with Governor Martin in order to break the log jam. The donation box for visitors support for Fort activities.
In the late 1980s, the Friends paid for a security system in order to prevent the theft of precious artifacts. The Friends also purchased new carriage wheels for the cannon on Parade Ground. In 1987, under the chairmanship of Gene Dugan, the annual Spring lecture series was begun.
In 1992, a new dynamic leader took over the helm of the Friends. Kathryn Cloud, in her first two years, increased the Friends’ membership from a mere forty souls, to more than 400 enthusiasts. The number continued to grow until we finally crossed the magic threshold of 1,000 VOTERS! It now became possible to influence legislators in addition to government administrators.
In 1994, the first of our annual Ice Cream Socials commemorating the April 25th Battle of Fort Macon was introduced. The first issue of Fort Macon Ramparts made an appearance in 1994.
1996 was a banner year for the Friends. That was the year that our very talented member, David Pleace, engineered and constructed a replica of the hot shot furnace built upon the foundation of the original 1836 furnace. Also that Spring, our first reproduction 32-pounder coastal defense gun was installed by helicopter. The Summer of 1997 also saw the completion of the steel carriages for our two Civil War mortars. Another innovation was the first use of the Friends members as volunteer tour guides. Under the leadership of Nancy Donnan and Joe Beam, the volunteer docent program has proven to be a major accomplishment of the Friends’ organization.
By the end of our second decade, the Friends’ objective, the restoration of the Fort, had still not been accomplished. But the long awaited break-through was about to happen. In 1998, the Friends’ lobbying efforts resulted in State Senator Beverly Perdue procuring two million dollars from the state’s Repairs and Renovation Fund. Although this was far short of the total cost, it was enough to get the project started.
Looking back at the first three decades of the Friends of Fort Macon, it is evident that the Fort which we see today would look very different if the Friends had not existed.
Other important achievements soon followed: A second cannon was acquired through the assistance of Don Russell, rebuilt the 5-kettle cooking range in the 1834 kitchen and the dining room; the Friends started the highly popular summer concert series inside the Fort; and the head of the brick masons working on the Fort rebuilt the old bake oven with materials procured by the Friends.
This is only a partial list of the many ways in which Friends have made important contributions to Carteret County’s most important historical and cultural attraction. And it is fair to say that the future is every bit as bright as the past. We are about to witness the ground-breaking for the new Visitor Education Center. Following its completion will be the reconstruction of one of the 1867 officer’s houses. These projects will open up some wonderful new volunteer opportunities for our members.
Looking back at the first three decades of The Friends of Fort Macon, it is evident that the Fort that we see today would look very different if the Friends had not existed. But don’t for one moment think that there is nothing more for the Friends to accomplish. Just look at all of the empty casemates just crying out for new exhibits. The new facilities will also offer opportunities for new programs. And was there ever a better group to support than the wonderful staff at Fort Macon? So continue to march on, the best is yet to come!
Roster of Friends’ Presidents
1977 – Martha Loftin
1977 – Doug Fleming
1978 – Horace McLean
1980 – Arthur Brown
1981 – Neil Vester
1982 – Ed Baker
1983 – Carolyn McIntire
1985 – Henry Van der Voort
1990 – Jean Kell
1992 – Katheryn Cloud
1997 – Bennett Moss
2001 – Grayden Paul
2010 – Tom Kelly
2016 – Cindi Davia & Cathy Imhoff