A topographical map (Appendix III) clearly demonstrates the strategic location of a military fort at this location.Fort Hawkins was not only on the highest hill of the sacred Old Fields, but also on one of the highest hills on the eastern Ocmulgee River in Bibb County, if not all of Middle Georgia.Some experts estimate that the view encompasses more than 40 miles, which would greatly increase with the fort’s elevated blockhouses.The Macon Plateau becomes a reality at Fort Hawkins with a nearly 360 degree panorama and breathtaking presentation of the Coastal Plain breaking away from the imaginary, yet real, Fall Line, running right by the fort. The view from atop “fort hill” is certainly majestic.
The next most striking feature found on the fort site today is the iconic 1930’s blockhouse replica of the southeast corner of the original Fort Hawkins. The three-story reconstruction, with a two-story crow’s nest, commands this mighty panoramic vista with a proud dignity befitting the original impressive Fort Hawkins that crowned the prestigious hilltop in 1806.The blockhouse replica is totally surrounded by a 1920’s school era, five -foot wide, decorative brick walk that is intact save the gaps created by the 1936 archaeological dig.This same decorative brick walk is found throughout Macon from the sidewalk across the street from the fort on Fort Hill Street to the sidewalk in front of the Georgia Trust’s National Historic Landmark, Johnston-Hay House.P.L. Hay was a City Alderman in the 1920’s and is recognized at the Fort Hill Cemetery for his work there during this time.
Due to the site’s development since 1806 atop this high hill, erosion has taken its toll with red clay predominant or just below any barely surviving topsoil. Several feet of fill dirt and clay were added to the site in the 1920’s with the construction of the Fort Hawkins Elementary School, which has confounded past and present archaeology.Remnants of the school still plague current archaeological efforts and dot the fort site with concrete features including a large portion of foundation. Yet it appears the school may have protected, more than damaged, the significant archaeological resources of the Fort Hawkins site.
The Fort Hawkins Elementary School provides more features around the entire fort site. A brick retaining wall from the school runs down the property line from t from corner of Woolfolk and Maynard Streets.A stone reflecting pool is the only extant feature left from the school era, and is in relatively good condition.Adjacent to this reflecting pool is an area first developed in the 1930’s as a playground and finally used as asphalt basketball courts for the school, with some asphalt remaining today.Both of these features are three levels, or terraces, down from the original fort location and fronting Emery Highway (the fourth terrace) and next to the service station built on the southwest corner of the Fort Hawkins block.The former school also contributed to the site’s flora.
The most impressive flora on the sparse Fort Hawkins landscape are the four large trees left from the school’s landscaping – a Southern Grandiflora Magnolia, a Deodara Cedar, and two native Red Cedars.These impressive specimens are found along the former front of the school on Fort Hill Street and fortunately out of the fort’s original palisade location.The other trees on the fort site include a colony of black locust and sugarberry trees on the Maynard Street right-of-way; 2 seedling black locusts; 1 loblolly pine tree; 2 yaupon holly trees; 2 flowering Crabapple trees; and a large Yoshino cherry tree – reputed to be the 100,000th tree planted in Macon, the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World. All of these specimens are found around the blockhouse replica.
There are 14 bright pink crepe myrtles planted in the 1960’s by the city along the Maynard Street right-of-way; 24 Yoshino cherry trees planted in 2007 along the Emery Highway and Maynard Street right-of-ways; and 2 Bicentennial dogwood trees planted in 2007 at the corners of Fort Hill and Woolfolk and Maynard and Woolfolk.Near the blockhouse replica 3 Cherokee Roses have been planted on the security fence along Maynard Street, as have 2 Chinese fringe trees flanking the 1930’s steps off Maynard outside the security fence. There is a circular planting of 10 native yuccas found in the reflecting pool.The majority of the site is green space with a ground covering of bermuda, centipede, and rye grasses with the natural mix of wildflowers and weeds.
Despite the dense urban environment surrounding the fort site there is more fauna present than neighborhood dogs and cats. The site also borders vast wilderness areas particularly to the south and the Ocmulgee River is less than a mile away as the crow flies.Crows, hawks, vultures, doves and songbirds are always seen on the site along with the evasive house sparrows and starlings around the blockhouse replica.An occasional plover may be spotted in the site’s current parking area.Insects and spiders infest the blockhouse replica and fire ants do the same to the site’s green space, and both need to be better controlled.A massive colony of ground bees appear every spring in the former front yard of the school grounds. Although possum, raccoon, armadillo, and coyote should be expected, no sightings have been reported.However, the fort is literally across the street from the Ocmulgee National Monument with its abundant wildlife including deer and turkey, and only three miles south and quite visible from the fort site, is found the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge with documented black bears, alligators, bald eagles, and many other native species.
Today the Fort Hawkins site is bounded by Woolfolk Street to the north, Maynard Street to the east, Emery Highway to the south, and Fort Hill Street to the west. When compared to the adjacent neighborhood, it appears that Macon’s modern grid system (Appendix IV) was dictated by the reality of the fort layout with Church Street, part of the original 200 year old Federal Road, jutting diagonally across the grid to the west and both Smith Street and Stewart Street dead ending, not passing through, the fort property.This serendipitous development
further protected the site’s sensitive and valuable archaeological resources despite the continuous growth of Macon around the fort site.
The Treaty of 1821 opened the western side of the Ocmulgee River for settlement.Bibb County was laid out and organized in 1822 and Macon was founded in 1823 on those western banks directly across from Fort Hawkins and Newtown. Fort Hawkins had been nearly abandoned by this time, yet was not officially decommissioned until 1828.In 1829 the whole Fort Hawkins reserve was surveyed, laid off into lots, and Newtown was incorporated into the new town of Macon by an act of the Georgia Legislature.The Legislature had previously in 1823 passed a measure “to grant and secure to commissioners of the incorporation of the town of Macon five acres of ground at or near Fort Hawkins for the purpose of a public burial ground.” The Fort Hill Cemetery is rarely credited for being Macon’s oldest cemetery, even pre-dating the city, due no doubt to the fact that the majority of East Macon was not officially annexed into the city until 1909 and the neighborhood’s decline into the 20th century.
Although the Fort Hill Neighborhood around the fort site is one of Macon’s oldest communities, today it is one of its neediest with many of the usual modern American urban problems seemingly exaggerated in this still proud and now minority neighborhood.Despite recent gains in the neighborhood including a new school, Burdell-Hunt Elementary School; a new community center, Rosa Jackson Center; demolition of some abandoned and neglected structures; and the building of several new homes, there is still much need for improvement especially with the Davis Homes Housing Project, the entrance to the Ocmulgee National Monument, and more economic life on the depressed Emery Highway. Improvements have been discussed and planned in all these areas for years.
The Southeast Blockhouse Replica reconstruction began in 1937 with the Nathaniel Macon Chapter N.S.D.A.R. spearheading the project with a successful fund raising program with local school children selling penny Fort Hawkins stamps.With the assistance of the Works Progress Administration, the replica was completed and dedicated on March 19, 1939.The property was transferred in 1947 from the Bibb Board of Education to the Nathaniel Macon Chapter N.S.D.A.R. who deeded it to the city of Macon in 1951.This dedicated group of patriotic women has always been in the forefront in honoring Fort Hawkins, having erected a memorial marble monument at the site in 1914.
The 1951 deed stipulated that the city “maintain and improve the property” and in 1966 the city completed several major upgrades to the replica including a renewed roof structure, improved door and window hardware, installation of electric lights, and the erection of a protective fence creating a small enclosure around the blockhouse replica.Limited tours were then offered by the D.A.R. and local Boy Scouts with the first Fort Hawkins Commission established by Mayor Ronnie Thompson in 1969, leading to the 1971 archaeological dig.
After this first Commission sadly evaporated, the Fort Hawkins Commission was reestablished by Mayor Lee Robinson in 1990, after a task force investigating this possibility was created by the Keep Macon Bibb Beautiful Commission in 1985.The KMBBC’s logo features the Fort Hawkins blockhouse replica.
Under the guidance of the current Fort Hawkins Commission, the blockhouse replica has enjoyed improved night security lighting, upgraded electrical wiring and water services, an authentic wooden shingle roof, the acquisition of nearly the entire city block around the fort, the addition of a substantial 12 ‘ chain link security fence around the entire new perimeter, the removal of the school’s basketball courts and the removal of the1960’s small enclosure security fencing.Exposing the entire decorative brick walk, adding a safety rail to the entrance steps, and placing three picnic tables are further amenities around the blockhouse replica today.
In 2007 two new features were added to the fort’s landscape.With the generous “Bicentennial Birthday Present” from the Peyton Anderson Foundation, an original, impressive brass 6 pounder cannon, assigned to Fort Hawkins, was returned to the site and now commands the entrance to the blockhouse replica.With the Commission’s partnership with the Georgia Historical Society, an official, handsome Fort Hawkins State Historic Marker was erected on the site and now educates visitors at the current entrance onto the site.The Commission also had a local contact information sign installed by the front gate to further aid visitors since the site is normally closed and secured.
The Commission has added greatly to the blockhouse replica’s surprising collection of artifacts and exhibits.Over the years a variety of sources have created this significant but endangered collection.Despite the city improvements over the years, the blockhouse replica has no climate control, no insect control, no bird control, no sanitation facilities, and should therefore have no collection.
Many of the 1960’s exhibits have miraculously survived and came from the Ocmulgee National Monument on a long-term loan with the National Park Service (Appendix V).The Daughters of the American Revolution, local families and school children, and even the Baconsfield McDonald’s have contributed to the historical displays that include a handsome bust of Benjamin Hawkins, an authentically attired Creek Indian mannequin, plus many fort models and framed histories(Appendix VI).The blockhouse replica has seen more archaeological exhibits since the dig began in 2005 including the public display of the 1700 plus surface collection of artifacts rescued from the site periodically by the Commission Chairman.Although the Commission has taken steps to mitigate the lack of needed conservation in the blockhouse replica, a proper Interpretive Center is sorely needed to save this core fort collection.