EATON — The Fort St. Clair Association is looking at building a Fort St. Clair museum off-site, following rejection of a previous proposal by Eaton City Council.
During a city council meeting on Jan. 17, David Maynard with the Fort St. Clair Association gave his final presentation on the project and sought the city’s support. Due to fear of the State of Ohio taking control of the park, the city declined to support the project. Since then, the association has had to consider how to move forward with the project and their organization.
The original proposal was presented to city council last July. Maynard detailed an eight-year plan to restore the fort. Utilizing private donations and federal grants, the project could have eventually included an archaeological dig on the site and a full reconstruction of the original fort for tourism and education purposes. The project was slated for completion in 2024.
The idea behind the project was to expand economic development in Preble County.
“It would attract a lot of tourism dollars to the area, not just to Eaton, but to Preble County,” Maynard said. “I served on the CVB board and we talked during one of our board retreats about how to bring more tourism to Preble County. This came out of that. We believe that by reconstructing the Fort, that would bring a lot of economic development to Eaton and Preble County. I even did some research — in 2011 there was 26 billion dollars brought into the State of Ohio by tourism.
“There’s no reason why we can’t get a slice of that pie,” he continued. “Right now, the main travel destination in Preble County is Hueston Woods State Park. Which brings lots of people through Eaton and through Camden, and we’re trying to figure out a way to capture those tourism dollars when they come through town. Instead of driving straight through town, how can we have them spend their dollars here in Eaton?”
After hearing the concerns of the Eaton Parks and Recreation Board, the foundation decided to focus on Phase I and II before planning any additional phases. Neither planned phases would have broken ground, but instead would focus on fundraising and hiring the surveying company. According to Maynard, the Fort would not be disturbed and they would have worked around planned events.
Council did not find Phase I or II problematic, but feared for the latter stages, when ground would be broken. Council member Craig Moormeier said, “Any time the state gets involved, they get their fingers in it, it gets taken away or something bad happens.”
“The council’s primary concern is that we might unearth something that would shut the park down, that was their concern. We have talked with the State of Ohio, the Ohio History Connection, I even brought that up at the meeting. The Ohio History Connection wants this project to go forward, they’re behind it. They will not shut the park down. There is really no basis for council’s fear that the park would be shut down,” Maynard said.
He added, “One of their concerns is, if they were to unearth a Native American, that the Native Americans would then want to shut everything down. That won’t happen either. The State of Ohio has informed us that they have had these issues come up before, they dealt with them, they know how to handle them. Honestly, the only area we are looking to survey is the Fort area — we’re trying to figure out the actual footprint area of the Fort, how big it was, what was the shape of it — and to determine where the soldiers were buried. Those are the only two areas we are asking to survey.
“If we do find some bullets or pottery, that would go to the State, they would catalog it, and then they would turn it back over to the museum. They already told us that.”
Following the rejection by city council, the Fort St. Clair Association gave a presentation to the Republican Central Committee (RCC) at the RCC’s request. Maynard presented the same information he gave the city and informed the RCC that there were no plans for moving forward. After the RCC presentation Maynard received a letter from Eaton City officials repeating their disinterest in the project. They had heard Maynard was giving presentations and felt as if he was disregarding their decision.
The letter, signed by City Manager Brad Collins, in “response to the Fort St. Clair Association’s proposal presented to council on Jan. 17, 2017” noted “As you are aware, the consensus of council at that meeting was not to proceed with the plans presented.”
It continued, “I am sure you recall that the state of Ohio conveyed the land to the City of Eaton to use a city park. It is our belief and duty that we, the city are entrusted with protecting and preserving the historical and natural integrity Fort St. Clair. As such, the city would not want to risk losing any use of this wonderful park which we have maintained for over 27 years. We literally have over 50,000 visitors a year using the park.
“Unfortunately, and despite council’s disfavor of this project, we recently became aware that the association is continuing to speak with organizations about its plans for this city-owned property. Council again discussed your plans during their Feb. 21 council meeting. I would like to reiterate the city’s opposition to this project. Council feels that it is in the best interest of the citizens of Eaton not to move forward with your proposals.”
According to Maynard, in response to the letter, he had a conversation with Mayor David Kirsch.
“I told the Mayor that I will come to council in April and I will stand before them and answer any questions they ask,” he said. “I told Mayor Kirsch that we’re not looking to do anything that will undermine the City Council. I said, we still want to partner with the City, we don’t want to do anything that burns bridges,” he added.
Maynard said he was surprised by the proposal’s rejection. “When they turned us down, we didn’t expect to be turned down,” he said. “We thought they would at least let us do Phase I and II, because it’s non-invasive. We were going to work around the cross-country meets and Whispering Christmas.”
However, the Fort St. Clair Association is now focusing on how to move forward, instead of focusing on the past.
“At this point, our committee is regrouping and we’re looking at other options,” he said. “What that includes is, we’re looking to possibly go off-site. In other words, we were hoping to build the museum in the Fort St. Clair park and then actually rebuild the Fort in the place where we think it was — but now we’re looking at other options in the City of Eaton.”
“We respect the Council’s decision to not bring it to a vote or go forward with it,” Maynard said, “but we still believe in the project and will still do something outside of the parameters of the Fort at this point.”
As for the response to the project, from what Maynard has seen, the citizens of Eaton approve of it.
“Everybody we have talked with is in favor of what we are trying to do. There is a lot of support for the reconstruction of the Fort,” Maynard added.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH