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Marblehead’s Fort Sewall closed for renovations

Fort Sewall is being renovated and will be closed this summer. (Olivia Falcigno)

MARBLEHEAD — Fort Sewall will be closed this summer, but when it reopens there will be replica 19th century cannons, full accessibility, and park rangers on site knowledgeable about the 376-year-old fort.

“Phase 2” of the Fort Sewall restoration project began May 11, with masonry work, replacement of stairs, window bars, and brick coating ongoing. Other projects at the fort include regrading the pathways, making the property fully handicapped accessible, and renovating the bathrooms.

According to Larry Sands, chairman of the Fort Sewall Oversight Committee, the renovations and restorations should make visiting the fort an unforgettable experience for both Marblehead residents and out-of-town visitors.

“People who live in town, or who have lived in town forever, have said to me they have never been in the fort, and that’s because unfortunately it’s been open very sporadically, if it all,” Sands said. “But anyone who goes is very excited when they get the chance.”

Fort Sewall was built in 1644, and is one of the oldest coastal fortifications in the U.S. The fort was an active military site during King George’s War, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War.

One of the main focuses of the project is honoring and displaying the fort’s history, Sands said. For example, in 1705 a large gun platform was in place holding 12 cannons, and it may have been expanded to hold 18 cannons during the American Revolution. That platform will be recreated at the northern end of the fort, along with a reconstructed cannon.

“It will be similar to what was at the fort in 1820,” Sands said. “We have a company that makes reproduction cannons, and we know what sort of ordinance was at the fort during the period.”

Next to the reconstruction will be painted outlines of other cannons on the ground to give visitors an idea of how large some of the cannons were.

Work is expected to be finished by the end of September so that the fort may reopen next summer. The project is also funding a ranger program upon reopening, and on-site staff will be educated about the history of the fort and able guide visitors. Signage will also be put up to explain certain historical aspects of the fort.

And, in 2022, Sands suspects there will be a large celebration at the fort of the 100th anniversary of the fort being returned to the town by the federal government.

According to Charles Gessner, member of the Fort Sewall Oversight Committee, that means any events that normally occur at the fort during the summer, such as Fourth of July celebrations and festivals, will not happen.

The Fort Sewall project has been funded both privately and publicly. Around $600,000 has been raised in private donations, around $200,000 has been raised through grants, and the town also passed a $750,000 override for the renovation project.

According to Sands, donations are still being taken during the restoration process to improve the fort. Those who donate will be memorialized on a plaque with their names on it at the fort. There are 151 people who will have their names on plaques so far, with different “ranks” next to each name depending on the size of the donation. For example, those who donate $1,000 will be labeled a “sergeant,” all the way up to $50,000 donors, who will be labeled “generals.”

To donate to the renovation and restoration of Fort Sewall, visit www.marblehead.org, or contact the Select Board’s office at (781) 631-0000.

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