Once a bustling fort armed with mines, rapid-fire guns and cannons, Fort Fremont sat abandoned and quietly deteriorating on St. Helena Island for most of the past century.
But a nonprofit organization wants to bring back some of that history with an exhibit at the John Mark Verdier House in downtown Beaufort.
The fort was used only for a short while and then abandoned, "so it's really a snapshot of the technology of the time," exhibit co-director Ray Rollings said.
The "Fort Fremont: Homeland Security c. 1898" exhibit runs through June 30 and is cosponsored by the Friends of Fort Fremont Historic Site and the Humanities Council SC, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Friends of Fort Fremont raises money for improvements and awareness of the park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The exhibit includes uniforms, rifles, artillery shells and newspaper clippings. Many artifacts are on loan from museums and private collections. Co-director Marian Rollings, Ray Rollings' wife, also made flags with the Army Coast Artillery Corps emblem and a quilt to match a photograph of the fort's buildings.
Construction of the fort began April 6, 1898, just weeks before the April 25 start of the Spanish-American War, according to the exhibit.
With a deep natural harbor that requires no dredging, Port Royal Sound was a strategic location for the military, Ray Rollings said. The F.S. Naval Station in Port Royal had a coaling station and a dry dock where ships could be repaired, he said. The exhibit contains a model of that dock.
The fort remained active until 1921, when it was closed. All of its buildings are gone except for the hospital, which was once used as a hunting lodge on the Lands End Plantation. Today, it is a private residence.
In 2004, the county bought 15 acres of what was once a 170-acre site. The county plans to plant trees, place new signs and provide better beach access. Although county crews have cleared the overgrowth from 70 years of abandonment, Ray Rollings said, much is left to be done.