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  • FILE: Jeanne Bornefeld plays an Appalachian mountain dulcimer during an event at the Historic Old Fort in May. Fort

  • Chad Martz of Preston Allen Homes knocks out part of the center supporting beam that never settled like the rest of the block house at the Old Fort, causing the floor to push up. The section was taken out to lower the floor. (Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette)

Tuesday, August 08, 2017 1:00 am

Old Fort in need of support, literally

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

There's a reason they call the old fort the Old Fort.

The place was built more than 40 years ago, and over the years it has suffered its share of neglect.

At one point, some city officials wanted to tear the place down.

A few years ago, though, volunteers took over operation of the place, made repairs and started opening it for more frequent events.

Not long ago, though, someone noticed that one of the gun ports on the second floor of a blockhouse was tilting. When people went to fix it, they realized the heavy timbers that made up the wall were completely rotten.

“They wouldn't support anything,” said Tom Grant, a volunteer with the fort, which sits on Spy Run Avenue across the St. Marys River from Headwaters Park.

The fort has now hired Preston Allen Homes, which rebuilt the fort's blacksmith shop when it burned a couple of years ago, to make repairs. But every building in the fort will have to be carefully inventoried for similar log damage.

The process could take years, and there's no telling how much the work will cost, Grant said.

And there are complications.

“One of the big challenges will be finding logs big enough and long enough to do the job,” Grant said.

The logs used to build the fort are 8 inches by 12 inches by 12 or 14 feet.

Frick Lumber has found some large logs in its inventory, Grant said, but logs that can be cut into timbers those size are difficult to come by.

Officials with the fort are also considering working with tree services and the parks department, Grant said. “Let us know if they have any long, straight logs that we might be able to acquire,” rather than cut them up into firewood.

Fortunately, they are working with Preston Allen Homes, Grant said. They've got as much passion for the Old Fort as its volunteers, Grant said.

“They have put porches on the fort, and they've done a lot of work for ARCH,” Grant said. “They're skilled at working on older homes,” including the Merchant Huxford House on Tennessee Avenue, which dates to about 1850.

Part of that house's main timbers are huge, hand-hewn trees that were salvaged from the original fort, Grant said.

But all this costs money. Grant speculates that the work being done on the blockhouse could cost about $20,000.

Then it will take time to carefully examine every other log in the fort.

So the fort is asking for donations. People can send them to Historic Fort Wayne Inc., P.O. Box 12650, Fort Wayne, IN 46864, or you can go to the fort's website, oldfortwayne.org.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.