Leaders of a Hilton Head historic group hope to learn soon if the federal government will list the ruins of an old Civil War fort on the National Historic Register.
Fort Mitchel was erected on Hilton Head’s northern end not long after Union troops captured the island in 1861. The fort and its cannons were meant to protect the Hilton Head from Confederate raiders or possible assault, although no attack ever came. It was decommissioned in 1868.
Hilton Head Heritage Library President Lou Benfante said the fort was practically forgotten until its earthworks were discovered during construction on a restaurant in 1972, The ruins are protected in a park maintained by the library, although the park is located in the gated community of Hilton Head Plantation. The library does conduct tours open to the public for a fee.
“The recognition makes you eligible for more grants and you get the publicity of being on the register,” Benfante said. “Hopefully, we’ll attract more people to come on tours so we can generate a bit more income from the site, as well.”
The National Historic Register is a nationwide list of properties deemed worthy of preservation. More than 1,400 historice sites in South Carolina are included on the register and Benfante noted the more-than 150-year-old fort is a notable omission, largely because the library lacked the staff to fill out the massive amounts of paperwork required for an application.
The South Carolina Historic Preservation Office approved the application and submitted it to the National Park Service for final consideration last month. The state’s National Register Historian Ehren Foley said the federal government is close to the 45-day limit for a response. But, even if it is rejected, Foley said the submitted research will still be a positive for historians.
“A lot of times these documents are the first attempt or the only attempt to fully document the significance and history of properties which maybe have a local significance,” Foley said.
The land was deeded to the Heritage Library not long after the fort’s re-discovery. Work eventually finished on the nearby restaurant, which was named “Old Fort Pub” in Mitchel’s honor.