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Fort Ashby

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1755, 1939–1940. Northwest side of Dan's Run Rd. (Mineral County 15), opposite the junction with Cemetery Rd., .2 mile northeast of the intersection of WV 46 and WV 28 at the center of the town of Fort Ashby

Something of an enigma, this log building may or may not be the only survivor of a series of forts built under George Washington's direction following the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754. Washington mentioned Fort Ashby often, but its role in military history was minimal. It is known that twenty-one men garrisoned it in December 1755 and that Indians surrounded it the following spring, but did not attack. In 1794 troops were stationed here in case they were needed to help suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania.

Of the three general types of colonial Virginia's frontier fortifications, Fort Ashby was a stockade: stronger than a blockhouse but less secure than a full-fledged fort. A stockade contained a large log house, or barracks, surrounded by an open space (the actual stockade), which was enclosed by a palisade, usually vertically arranged logs some ten or twelve feet high. The log building is all that now remains, but whether it is the original barracks or a later structure, perhaps built from material salvaged from the fort, is unknown.

After Fort Ashby's military role ceased, it apparently became a residence. No nineteenthcentury references are known, but a 1904 sketch shows the same general form that exists today. Two years later, the First Biennial Report of the West Virginia Department of Archives and History categorically stated that all of the frontier forts “are gone, leaving not a vestige behind them.” The same source used the past tense in stating that Fort Ashby “stood on the east bank of Patterson's Creek on the site of the present village of Alaska, formerly Frankfort.”

Undaunted by such disclaimers, the Potomac Valley Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the dilapidated log building in 1927 and began to seek funds for a restoration. In 1932 interest had grown to the extent that the town was officially renamed Fort Ashby, but the Depression halted the proposed restoration until the D.A.R. deeded the building to the county court, making it eligible for federal WPA funding. According to summary accounts, the work consisted “of roof repair and replacement of a few decaying logs.” Obviously, far more than this was done, and part of the dilemma regarding the fort's authenticity stems from the restoration, or rebuilding. Except for the size of the logs, the rectangular building resembles Depression-era state park cabins as much as it calls to mind an eighteenth-century fort. A fire in the mid-1990s destroyed much of the interior and further clouded the possibility of determining what original fabric might have remained. Fortunately, repairs have since been made.

National Park Service historian Charles W. Porter's statement, written just before the WPA restoration, still suffices: “Whether ‘Fort Ashby’ be one of the buildings of Fort Ashby or whether it be a late eighteenth century log cabin partly constructed of materials from Fort Ashby, it is in any event a very interesting log structure, with many fine examples of pioneer workmanship, and as such it should be preserved.” That it is on the actual site of the original fort was confirmed in 1998 when archaeological investigations found evidence of the stockade walls.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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