Welcome. Walk inside, through the door and into a time long ago. Feel the coolness inside this rock structure, feel the solid cool rock under your feet, and smell the dampness in the air. Over a hundred years ago, men sweated year round inside here while shoveling mounds of bread dough into a giant oven. Look over at the end wall; see the large gaping hole in the wall, like a cave whose lips are blackened with smoke and heat? That was the oven; a large smoking monster fed with branches and tree trunks cut from around the area. Eight hundred loaves a day were baked in here, all summer and winter, to feed fort inhabitants.
Few windows adorn this rock building. They are small and the sills are wide. Look through the windows and there's not much to see. Naked trees, brown grass, a few other rock structures, blue sky, perhaps some other people. Remnants of a life that used to be here.
There is no longer any bread with its strong smell of yeast surrounding the inside. No fires burning inside the oven; no laughter and low chattering of men passing by. It's quit now and the only day visitors are scattered people in colorful clothes with cell phones in their hands, hurrying from point to point on their guide map. Only the local wildlife come to visit at night, no longer timid about what they may find nearby. Stillness of the night stubbornly and slowly relents to day without much intrusion by the outside world.
We think of history in many ways. How it is preserved - literally, visually, tactilely and even audibly- establishes some kind of connection with us. With our sense of the past, present and future. The limitation is that we cannot avoid looking at the past with our own perspective; ideas, expectations and judgements cultivated and learned in our own time. Thus, reconstruction of the past in any form requires careful consideration, research and evaluation.
Sometimes, as in the case of physical remains, the ultimate question is, should this be reconstructed? If so, how and to what extant? Some people of historical pursuits prefer to leave what remains of our past alone. Great American writer Henry James (1843(1843-04-15) – 1916) commented during during a tour of historical places in France:
"I prefer in every case the ruined, however ruined, to the reconstructed, however splendid. What is left is more precious than what is added; the one is history, the other is fiction; and I like the former the better of the two - it is so much more romantic. One is positive, so far as it goes; the other fills up the void with things more dead than the void itself, inasmuch as they have never had life."
Two extreme examples of what Henry describes can be seen in two Texas forts: Forts Phantom Hill and Belknap. Only partial remains of Phantom Hill buildings can be see on the grounds. Except for one tiny reconstructed rock structure to provide an example of what they may have looked like, the fort is truly a phantom from time. Tall rock chimneys tease your imagination to fill in the remainder of the scenes in and around the area.
Belknap, on the other hand, has been almost completely reconstructed with stone buildings scattered around a common area. They are nice, but they remind me of the Lincoln logs I played with as a child, building what I imagined structures looked like in pioneer times. Belknap's stone structures could be Legos.
Fort Griffin has a nice mixture of structural remains and a few reconstructed buildings. A balance of imagination, offering a guide for pieces of the puzzle to put together. It challenges visitors to think. People these days need more of that.
Labels: forts, history, Texas