Fort Macon State Park highlights Fort Macon, one of the most complete forts of the Civil War era in the United States. The fort was taken over by Confederates on April 14, 1861, attacked from land and sea by Union forces in an eleven-hour bombardment on April 25, 1862, and surrendered the next day. It was occupied by the Union for the rest of the war. The fort is totally intact, covering about five acres on the tip of Bogue Banks, where it was located to protect the channel and Beaufort Harbor from attacks by sea. Structurally, the fort is in great shape following a five year restoration and renovation that was completed in 2003. The park also offers Fort Macon Beach and is one of the most visited state parks in North Carolina. With an estimated 1.3 million visitors a year, it is by far the most visited site of any attraction on the Crystal Coast.
Walking on the wide path to the fort, a visitor comes to the huge wall and moat, 24 feet deep, that was intended to be flooded with seawater as another obstacle to attackers. Crossing the moat bridge, a visitor is drawn back into the reality of what life was like in such forts. Huge cannon emplacements still surmount the ramparts, and two mortars stand out amid the interior, which also has vaulted ceiling casemate rooms where the garrison lived. There will be living history reenactments three times this year.
The newly opened Coastal Education and Visitors Center is the first LEED–certified green building constructed by North Carolina State Parks. The center, right beside the actual fort, is shaped like the fort itself. The nature and coastal exhibits in the visitor center are now completed and open to the public. Guided tours are offered daily from mid-April to mid-October at 11:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM.
The critical defense location had been considered before, with Fort Dobbs, named for Governor Arthur Dobbs, begun in 1756 but never completed. In 1808 and 1809 Fort Hampton, a small masonry fort, was built to guard the inlet. Hampton was abandoned shortly after the War of 1812 and by 1825 had been swept into the inlet.
Fort Macon was designed by Brig. Gen. Simon Bernard and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1826 and 1834 at a cost of $463,790. The fort was named for Nathaniel Macon, who was speaker of the House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator from North Carolina. The five-sided structure was constructed of brick and stone with outer walls 4.5 feet thick. The fort was deactivated after 1877 and then regarrisoned by state troops in 1898 for the Spanish-American War. It was abandoned again in 1903, was not used in World War I and was offered for sale in 1923. An Act of Congress in 1924 gave the fort and the surrounding land to the state of North Carolina to be used as a public park. The park, which is more than 400 acres, opened in 1936 and was North Carolina's first functioning state park.
At the outbreak of World War II, the Army leased the park from the state and, once again, manned the fort to protect a number of important nearby facilities. In 1946 the fort was returned to the state, and the park reopened the following year.
Today, Fort Macon State Park offers three great features — beautiful, easily accessible beaches for recreation, a historic fort for exploration and the Coastal Education and Visitors Center. Visitors enjoy the sandy beaches, a seaside bathhouse and restrooms, designated fishing and swimming areas, and picnic facilities with outdoor grills. The park is full of wildlife, including herons, egrets, pelicans, warblers, sparrows and other animals.
The fort itself is a wonderful place to explore with a self-guided tour map or with a tour guide. Restored rooms and a bookstore offer exhibits to acquaint you with the fort and its history. The fort and museum are open daily year round. Fort tours are guided through late fall. Reenactments of fort activities are scheduled periodically from spring to fall. Talks on the Civil War and natural history are conducted year round. The fort offers a free summer concert series — call the fort office for this season's schedule. The fort is open daily from 9 AM to 5:30 PM except for Christmas day. Admission is free.
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