Historic island sites honored, set for restoration

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Fort Mitchel, the iconic earthen Civil War military post built by the Union in 1862 on Hilton Head's north end, has been added to the list of National Register of Historic Places.

It joins 1,400 South Carolina sites that are already part of the national program that identifies, evaluates and protects America's historic and archeological resources.

The Heritage Library's application was first approved by the South Carolina Historic Preservation office in May, then submitted to the National Park Service, which oversees the historic register.

"This designation will be extremely helpful in preserving and telling the story of this fascinating site," said Linda Piekut, executive director of the Heritage Library, which owns and maintains the Fort Mitchel site.

"It not only eases the process of applying for grants, it validates years of hard work on the part of our volunteers," she said.

Volunteer grant writer Dr. Barry Riordan handled the application paperwork. "This is such a marvelous distinction for a historic site; the National Park Service does its utmost to ensure that each place is worthy of inclusion," he said. "Because of this, the application process is formidable."

The remains of Fort Mitchel were discovered in 1972 when the construction of the Old Fort Pub restaurant commenced.

The fort had been decommisioned in 1868 after defending the site against Confederate attacks during the war.

The Library now conducts regular tours on Thursdays at 10 a.m. of the Fort Mitchel park.

The library received another boost to its esteemed portfolio of historical, cultural, educational and genealogical endeavors in September when the Church Mouse thrift shop bestowed a three-year $135,000 grant to assist in the restoration of the Baynard Mausoleum, the oldest existing structure on Hilton Head Island, built in 1846.

A gala celebration on Sept. 21 at the cemetery marked the donation occasion.

Mayor David Bennett said the campaign to develop the site as a learning center "will help to highlight the Hilton Head stories that underpin our nation's past."

The Church Mouse is a mission of St. Luke's Church on the island.

St. Luke's rector Greg Kronz said, "The Zion Chapel of Ease represents the best of Hilton Head: faith and freedom."

The church's long history with the Zion Chapel stretches back to 1767 when the original St. Luke's Parish was founded.

The wood-frame chapel was built in 1788 as part of the parish.

The donation complements a $440,000 capital campaign launched by the nonprofit library to upgrade and expand the mausoleum and the Zion Chapel of Ease Cemetery, which contains 45 marked graves and two memorials and is the resting place of four Revolutionary War patriots and notable members of wealthy landowners.

Among the details of "returning the property to glory" will be to: restore the mausoleum, beautify the grounds, build benches and a speaker's platform, install electricity, and improve and secure fencing.

Funding also will create an outdoor learning center for children and adults that will focus on the antebellum period on the island and build an endowment for the future.

Plans also call for building a replica of the original Zion Chapel of Ease that has long since disappeared.

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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