WINSLOW — Memorial Day will mark a new beginning for the historic blockhouse at Fort Halifax Park.
It will be open to the public on a regular basis for the first time in more than a decade.
The Town Council this week unanimously approved a license agreement with the state of Maine, which owns the blockhouse, allowing the town’s parks and recreation department to use and manage the site. That will enable public viewing of the inside, tours and other educational displays.
Under the agreement, the town is allowed to keep the blockhouse open from 9 a.m. to sunset, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This year, that’s May 30 to Sept. 5.
“To see the Fort Halifax blockhouse reopened to the public makes a history buff like myself very pleased,” said Ray Caron, a town councilor and chairman of the Fort Halifax Park Committee. “Fort Halifax Blockhouse is a treasure for all to see.”
There’s some work to be done, however, before the blockhouse is opened, according to Dennis Dacus, director of Winslow’s parks and recreation department. He said the inside needs to be cleaned and old graffiti will be removed.
Dacus said the department hasn’t yet decided on the blockhouse’s exact hours of operation. Recreation workers are responsible for opening and closing the blockhouse, and it will be locked at night.
Dacus hopes that the town might be able to display park artifacts inside, as well as other educational signs, and bring in guests to discuss its history.
“I think it’s an absolutely awesome idea,” Dacus said. “We have people come in from all over the country to see it.”
The blockhouse is believed to be the oldest of its kind in the country, established there in 1754-55, during the Seven Years’ War between the English and French. The state acquired ownership of the blockhouse in 1966 and the town now owns the park. The Great Flood of 1987 swept the blockhouse down the river and it had to be reconstructed.
The blockhouse hasn’t been opened to the public regularly since around 1996, town officials have said, and it was closed following break-ins and vandalism.
Earlier this year, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Land recently installed an information kiosk beside the blockhouse with text and photos about its history, written in both English and French.
The blockhouse’s reopening comes as the Fort Halifax Park Committee, a volunteer group, is assembling a master plan for the park’s future. The group is scheduled to meet May 10 to review a final draft and it will then go to the Town Council.
When the park group met last fall, its members said they were disappointed the blockhouse wasn’t open during tourist seasons.
Caron said the agreement allowing the blockhouse to be opened to the public was made possible not only by the park group, but also the Friends of Fort Halifax, the Winslow Family Fourth of July Committee, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, and the Winslow Parks and Recreation Department.
“It is a example of how people with different interests can come together for the common good,” he said.
Scott Monroe — 861-9239