MARBLEHEAD — “It was built in 1644,” said Marblehead town planner Becky Cutting. “Think of that.”
Fort Sewall is one of the oldest surviving forts in the nation and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its age and its past places a unique responsibility on the town that owns it. Consequently, Marblehead has spent $24,700 for a study on what should be done both to preserve the fort and make the best use of it.
Half the money came from a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and half from an endowment to the town, the Curtis Coffin Fund. The consultants, McKinley, Kalsow and Associates, along with Structures North Construction Engineers, have offered recommendations that will be presented in September to the Recreation and Parks Commission, which oversees the fort, and the selectmen, who have the ultimate authority over it.
“Our primary goal is historic preservation,” said Larry Sands of the Fort Sewall Oversight Committee. Also a longtime member of Glover’s Regiment, the Revolutionary War re-enactors, Sands and his group have been holding a yearly summer encampment at the fort for 25 years. Few know the place better.
The recommendations of the consultants include attending to leaks in the fort’s rooms and restoring doors and corroded bars, he said. Also given priority are efforts to make the fort accessible to the handicapped and to keep it safe. More signs telling a little more of the fort’s history are also envisioned. Its stone walls are rated as in generally good condition.
“Our primary goal is historic preservation,” Sands said.
Yet to be determined is how much all this will cost and where the money will come from.
“That’s the piece we’re trying to figure out,” he said.
In its earliest days, the fort was primarily of earthworks — the stones came later — and it guarded the mouth of Marblehead Harbor, which would later become one of the busiest and richest harbors in Colonial North America. As such, it was a tempting target for pirates and enemy fleets, including the French, Spanish and, later, the British.