Mason County News
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Volunteers Needed for Fort Mason Improvements
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 • Posted May 13, 2009

The Mason County Historical Society is issuing a call for volunteers and donors to help with two new projects at Fort Mason. The first is the construction of a level area to be used for reenactments and other outdoor presentations. The second is the furnishing of a period bedroom. These improvements are intended to make the fort more attractive as a tourist site and more functional for living history events.

The society’s plans call for a sandstone retaining wall to be built on Post Hill west of the officers’ quarters. The area behind the wall will be filled to create a level ground for events. This space may be used for educational programs and festivities such as cavalry reenactments, living history demonstrations, and Native American camps. In addition, one of the rooms in the officers’ quarters will be converted into a bedroom featuring furnishings from the 1850s or 1860s, the era when the fort was active.

Another proposed idea is the establishment of a “Friends of Fort Mason” network. This group would promote the site and mobilize the resources needed for future improvements.

The historical society is seeking donations of time, labor, materials, equipment and money for these projects. In particular, it needs sandstone for the retaining wall, as well as period furniture, clothes and personal items for the bedroom. If you can help, please contact Tom Koepke, 347-6021 or bckoepke@verizon.net, or Fran Hoerster, 347-1207 or hchoerster@verizon.net.

Founded in 1851, Fort Mason was home to the army’s elite Second Cavalry during the mid-1850s. Historian Jerry Ponder called it a “training ground for generals,” because at least 40 men who had been stationed at Fort Mason served as generals during the Civil War. They included Robert E. Lee (his last command for the federal army), John Bell Hood and Albert Sidney Johnston. When Johnston arrived at Fort Mason in 1856, his wife, Eliza, wrote: “The view from the fort is one of the grandest and most extensive I have ever seen.”

The secession crisis of 1860-61 sharply divided the people of Texas, as well as the men from different parts of the country who were stationed on Post Hill. When Robert E. Lee left Mason for Washington on February 13, 1861, he made his first known remark indicating which side he would ultimately take in the impending war: “It may be necessary for me to carry a musket in defense of my native state, Virginia.” The same month, Mason County voted against secession by 97 percent, the highest pro-union margin in the state.

After the army abandoned the fort in 1869, the structures were razed and the rocks were used in constructing some of Mason’s most substantial buildings. The site of the former fort, which extended south and west of the present-day building, fell into private hands. The foundations remained overgrown with brush and prickly pear until Wilburn Shearer started clearing and excavating them in the mid-1960s.

The effort to preserve Fort Mason began in earnest in 1967, when Richard Eckert donated his property on Post Hill to the county with the historical society as custodian. In 1975, Kurt Zesch oversaw the reconstruction of one of the officers’ quarters on its original foundations. This enormous grassroots undertaking attracted countless donors and volunteer laborers. The following year, the building was dedicated as Mason County’s Bicentennial project. In 2000, the historical society celebrated the refurbishment of two of the fort’s four rooms, a commander’s office and a parlor, under the supervision of Marjorie Tinsley.

A generation has passed since the people of Mason first heeded the call to help preserve this important part of our region’s history. The historical society urges new volunteers to step forward and get involved with the ongoing process of maintaining and upgrading Fort Mason.

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