Dr. Cox receives 2023 Garst Heritage Award

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Dr. David Cox (left) receiving the Heritage Award on behalf of the Friends of Fort Jefferson with Garst Museum Board Chairman Dr. Stephen Gruber (right).

GREENVILLE—The Darke County Historical Society’s Heritage Award, initiated 40 years ago, recognizes outstanding citizens or organizations for their distinguished contributions or actions of unusual excellence. Dr. David Cox, a retired Darke County podiatrist, accepted the award on behalf of the Friends of Fort Jefferson (FOFJ), a group conceived to honor the significance of Darke County’s past, at the annual meeting of the Darke County Historical Society on March 21, 2023.

The FOFJ organization grew out of curiosity and pride. In 2016, Ian McAtee insisted there had to be military artifacts left in the ground around Fort Jefferson. With the owner’s permission, he convinced a group of metal detectorists to check the areas on private property around Fort Jefferson. They turned up musket balls, buttons, buckles, and even iron cannon shot. He persuaded one landowner to do a shave procedure in his farm field, which allowed artifact hunters to detect metal a little deeper. Success ensued with even more fort material being discovered, and McAtee authored an article about it in American Digger Magazine.

Four years later, the Darke County Parks seriously took an interest in reviving Fort Jefferson both historically and materially. Over the years, Fort Jefferson had become a “forgotten fort.” Local landowners had become dismayed with the rundown facility and its odoriferous outhouses.

Joe Beatty, a past resident of Darke county, had several ancestors who were associated with Fort Jefferson having served in the 1790s military. Some were with Arthur St. Clair’s army and even helped build Fort Jefferson. He reported that three Beattys lost their lives in that campaign and one survived. He was proud of that heroism and wanted Fort Jefferson to reflect that patriotism with pride. He desired that his grandchildren know the stories of that time. Beatty called a meeting of interested people in 2020 to see if he could convince them to help him revitalize the fort grounds and show respect for these frontier patriots.

The group bought into the idea and called themselves Friends of Fort Jefferson with the motto “Remember Fort Jefferson.” They formed a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. Immediately donations came in. Dave Heckaman spearheaded research and became the group’s historian. Bill Light made accurate Fort Jefferson models of the garrison from the only two pictures known to exist. He used journals and diaries to validate the details. The 1950s book Fort Jefferson: The Frontier Post of the Upper Miami Valley was revised and republished.

Anthony Wayne’s Research Group, an Ohio archaeology organization with years of experience, volunteered for more metal detection and successfully discovered numerous artifacts along the fence row, which led to three more magazine articles that were published.

The project continued to gain momentum. The 1st American Regiment is a well-respected group of re-enactors of that time period. They sold their cannon and donated $12,000 to Friends of Fort Jefferson.

Adjacent farmland comprising about 17 acres came on the market, and FOFJ borrowed the money to purchase it in hopes that eventually the Darke County Parks could get a grant or find donations to purchase the land and enhance the six-acre Fort Jefferson Memorial Park. Historians believe that Arthur St. Clair’s army camped on a portion of this new property. Dave Heckaman found a drawing that indicates where the camp was.

Future plans for the site include a follow-up dig to confirm the campsite’s location. The local DAR chapter is researching the soldiers who are buried nearby to erect a memorial to pay homage to them, and plans are being considered to include a yearly military service to commemorate those who served.

And, the visionaries believe that the location would be perfect with the addition of an interpretive center with an audiovisual room and Northwest Territory library. The FOFJ related that Fort Jefferson can be common ground to recognize both sides of the conflict since there are many misconceptions about the Ohio Indian Wars. The FOFJ hopes to tell the full story accurately.

Embracing the initiative, the Ohio History Connection has hired Darke County Parks to revive and maintain the park. In one summer, there has been a huge turnaround, but there is still more than “a day’s march” to preserve this piece of our heritage.

The FOFJ group joins other previous recipients of the Heritage Award in the many years since its inception. This is the second Heritage Award in which David Cox was directly involved. The recipients in 2012 for their work on the Crossroads of Destiny exhibit at Garst Museum included David Cox, his wife Mara, Fred Brumbaugh, and the late Tony DeRegnaucourt.