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Fort Mason Draws Visitors from Far and Wide
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 • Posted April 20, 2011

For more than three decades, the reconstructed officers’ quarters at the site of Fort Mason has been billed as one of our community’s top tourist attractions. But how many people actually visit it? And where do they come from?One year ago, a guest registry was reinstated at Fort Mason for the first time in many years. Since then, 2,892 people have signed it. Some of the fort’s local caretakers have observed at various times that approximately two-thirds of the guests they have seen at the site actually signed the register. Based on that estimate, Fort Mason probably drew more than 4,300 visitors during the past year, which would make it Mason County’s single most important tourist site.Even more impressive, the visitors came from 48 states and the District of Columbia. Foreign guests included tourists from Israel, the Philippines, Hungary, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Thailand, England, Ireland, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, India, Belarus, Argentina, Holland, France, New Zealand, Germany and Vietnam.One visitor, a relative of Robert E. Lee, wrote, “Beautifully restored. Love this place. Anxious to come back.” Fort Mason was Lee’s last command for the federal army exactly 150 years ago this past winter.Mason’s citizens can also be proud of some of the comments other visitors have made. They include:“Great restoration, town and people.”“We love coming here each year.”“This is an important part of history I did not know existed.”“As good as Ft. Davis.”“Interesting—your whole town. Mason’s hospitality was wonderful.”“Thanks for preserving history.”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.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 foundations remained overgrown with brush and prickly pear for nearly a century until Wilburn Shearer started clearing and excavating them in the mid-1960s.The effort to preserve Fort Mason began in earnest in 1967, when property owner Richard Eckert donated the site to the county with the Mason County Historical Society as custodian. As a community project for the American Bicentennial, the historical society reconstructed the officers’ quarters on the original foundations under the direction of Kurt Zesch. With the help of countless volunteers and donors, the building was completed ahead of schedule in the fall of 1975.In 2000, the historical society celebrated the refurbishment of two of the fort’s four rooms under the supervision of Marjorie Tinsley. One room represents the commander’s office as it would have appeared at the time Lee was stationed at the fort in 1860-61. The other portrays the parlor of Col. and Mrs. Albert Sidney Johnston, circa 1856.If you have not visited Fort Mason in the past year, please take the opportunity to join the approximately 4,300 people who have done so and see what this historic site has to offer.

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