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Monday, December 18, 2006

The ports in South Carolina are run by a quasi-governmental agency named the State Ports Authority or SPA as locals refer to it. And as in most things governmental – rarely does anything that makes sense.

Now, I have to give it props for giving $1 million towards the preservation of Morris Island, especially since the jetties that were built to protect the harbor and allow for more ships into the ports it now runs, was the main cause of over half the island disappearing due to erosion.

But what about preserving significant Civil War related property that it already owns? Well, according to an article in today’s Charleston Post and Courier, little to nothing.


…has no plans or money to preserve it.

I guess the Castle is not high profile enough for the SPA to donate a million dollars to fix up.

I can only hope that when/if the State of South Carolina does get it’s act together and form the Sequential or War Between the States Committee as State Senator Glen McConnell notes (who has yet to reply to my email asking about said committee from two months ago) that they are able to do something to preserve it.

One other thing to note, the installation also served as a prisoner of war camp after the first Battle of Bull Run. It seems like it is an important part of its history that was just forgotten in an article that tries to bring the fort to some sort of importance.

A castle (Pinckney) for the birds
Fortification housed more than 200 brown pelicans earlier this year
By Robert Behre

While humans are having a hard time figuring out just what to do with Castle Pinckney, another species seems to have things all figured out.
For brown pelicans, the fortification in the middle of Charleston Harbor makes a great maternity wing.

That's what Christopher Ziegler, a historian with the National Park Service, discovered last week as he arranged a boat trip to visit the abandoned fortification for the first time.

While Ziegler has never been there before, he knows Castle Pinckney as well as anyone. He's researching it extensively in hopes of getting the 200-year-old structure listed as a National Historic Landmark, the highest such recognition possible and one that could bring needed attention to it.

As he stood inside Castle Pinckney's center, which he estimated contains at least 15 feet of fill, he surveyed the trees growing out from the walls, the missing bricks, the lean of the walls. The fort had more than 200 brown pelican nests earlier this year, and while the chicks are gone, the smell remains. A few pelican skeletons dot the interior.

"It's always hard when you love something to see it and go, 'Oh, it is that bad,' " Ziegler says.

The island is posted with "No Trespassing" signs, but Ziegler has arranged permission for a visit with the State Ports Authority, which owns it but has no plans or money to preserve it.

Ports Authority spokesman Byron Miller explains that the SPA wants people like Ziegler taking a look at it. "We want people to consider what can be done," he says. While the agency often hears from people interested in the site, the agency makes it clear that the site's neglected state and bird nests make it a dangerous place to visit.

The fort's history began with President George Washington's visit to Charleston in 1791. He recommended building a fort on Shutes Folly Island, though a hurricane blew the first one away in 1804. The current elliptical brick fort was completed just before the War of 1812 and named in honor of Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. It was the most impressive fortification in the harbor at the time and similar to both Castle Clinton and Castle Williams in New York Harbor.

Its military importance began to fade when Fort Sumter was being built, but Castle Pinckney - and not Fort Sumter - was the first federal military institution to surrender to Confederate forces, who didn't have to fire a shot. It served as a hospital during the war, and later as a warehouse. President Calvin Coolidge dedicated it as a national monument in 1924, but when Fort Sumter was decommissioned and given to the National Park Service, the Park Service in turn gave Castle Pinckney to the state, which never really found a suitable use for it.

State Sen. Glenn McConnell says he would like to see the state's War Between the States Commission get formed soon and discuss what can be done with the fort. "I think it's a treasure trove of artifacts," he says. "It's a cultural resource that has long been neglected and needs attention."

While humans haven't given it much attention, the pelicans have moved in. State biologists Mark Spinks and Felicia Sanders have monitored Castle Pinckney for several years. Between 1999 and 2003, the pelicans nested in the marsh at the fort's base, but their chicks often would get washed away with an extreme high tide. In 2004, they built 270 nests on the fort itself, and they were far more successful.

Sanders doesn't know why the birds didn't create a single nest there last year, but this year, they returned and built 219 nests. The fort's base is also an important nesting ground for oystercatchers and other shorebirds, making the site particularly sensitive between March and October.

While the smell remains overpowering and Ziegler understands now why the fort's wall looks white when viewed from Fort Sumter, he says its condition could be worse.

"Overall, it really doesn't look that bad," he says. "I mean the masonry."
Charleston Post and Courier
Monday, December 18, 2006


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