After 150 years, Fort Mitchel, a Civil War encampment on the north end of Hilton Head Island, finally has received the recognition it deserves. A plaque now announces its place on the National Register of Historic Places.
In a ceremony June 20 at the fort, Dr. Ehren Foley of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, presented the official plaque to Barry Riordan, grant writer for the Heritage Library who spearheaded the recognition efforts.
In his remarks, Dr. Foley, who is the state's Historical Marker Coordinator and National Register Historian, answered a common question: "Why did it take until now to get Fort Mitchel listed on the National Register? Part of the reason is that the National Register is driven by the people.
"This is not a top-down process, this is not scholars deciding which places are historic," Foley said. "We need the people to help us identify and recognize these places."
The process of recognition was a long and tedious one that required a detailed application, site visits, answering questions and resubmitting the request. It was well worth the time and effort, Riordan said. "There is lots of history here," he said, "fascinating history."
It took Union troops 16 months to build the fort, starting in 1862, and it was in use for just 14 months, Riordan said.
The Heritage Library, a nonprofit organization, owns the site at 65 Skull Creek Drive, next door to the Old Fort Pub. They receive help from the town, the county and Hilton Head Plantation to maintain the grounds.
Mayor David Bennett acknowledged the value of the recognition, not only for the island, but for Beaufort County and beyond. "By celebrating this history, we are making history," he said. "The story of this place and its people, they matter."
For his Eagle Scout project, Joey Reindl of Hilton Head Troop 245 will be building and installing benches at the site for future tours and lectures.
For more information and tour schedules, visit heritagelibrary.com.