Group plans to bring historic Fort Dobb alive

Ask a middle-school student about the significance of next Sunday, Independence Day, and you are likely to get an informed answer.

Ask the same student about the significance of the French and Indian War to our Independence, especially North Carolina's role, and you'll probably get a blank stare.

The Friends of Fort Dobb, a volunteer fund-raising group based in Statesville, wants to change that by reconstructing a historic 18th-century site that served as headquarters for the military and a safe haven for settlers during the key struggle between English colonists and native Cherokee, who were sympathetic to the French.

To accomplish that task and create a better understanding of the conflict, the group is conducting a three-phase capital improvement campaign for the historic, 31-acre Fort Dobbs site, located just minutes from the Interstate 77/Interstate 40 interchange, making it a magnet that will attract school groups and visitors from North Carolina and elsewhere.

More than 125 members and supporters filled Theatre One at Statesville's Marquee Cinemas on June 14 to hear the plans. "We believe Fort Dobbs is our chance to leave a legacy here," said Committee Chairman David Grogan. "It's a lasting, living entity that will shape our lives and the lives of our children."

The committee seeks to raise as much as $19 million over the next 10 to 12 years. At $2.6 million, phase one, which committee members hope to complete in four years, will include rebuilding the fort and infrastructure.

The capital campaign will be only part of the funds needed for the first phase. The group will also seek private support, such as grants and in-kind gifts, for the reconstruction.

The second and third phases of construction include building interpretive elements such as a native Cherokee encampment and officers' barracks.

To begin the project, the group won a $150,000 federal grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services that funded an interpretive plan designed by British creative designer Bill Haley.

"We have sought to preserve the real Fort Dobbs experience, placing the reception center on one side of Fort Dobbs Road, and the fort itself on the other," Haley said. "A pedestrian tunnel under the road will connect the two."

According to Larry Gustke, professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at N.C. State University, the reconstruction plan is projected to generate more than 125,000 visitors and 400 jobs over the next six to eight years, with an economic impact of about $21million.

"Fort Dobbs is a piece of authentic, unique North Carolina," said N.C. Cultural Resources Secretary Linda Carlisle. "It will have an impact on this region ... and our country."