WINSLOW — The country’s oldest blockhouse is getting a needed update.

Construction began Thursday on a new roof for Fort Halifax, a town treasure and National Historic Landmark. The project is expected to be completed by the end of May.

The roof is being replaced with split cedar shingles.

“There were areas in the upper level where you looked up and could see light coming through,” said Amanda McCaslin, director of the towns’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We were at real risk to see damage to the integrity of the fort.”

Planning for the project began more than a year ago when McCaslin met with representatives of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Friends of Fort Halifax.

A $12,500 State Historic Preservation Office grant secured in 2019 funded the hiring of a historical architect to outline the project, but the state did not have money to match the grant.

The Friends of Fort Halifax donated $5,500 to the project, and the town of Winslow donated the remaining $7,000 from its Fort Halifax account to see it through.

Elery Keene, president and secretary of Friends of Fort Halifax, said keeping the blockhouse in good shape is important to the town. While the state owns the fort, Keene said, the town does much to maintain it.

Keene said he did not believe the town should have to pay for the fort’s upkeep, but the community does what needed to take care of it. Keene described the blockhouse as “an important historic facility.”

“It’s a symbol of the very beginning of the town of Winslow,” Keene said. “It’s a recognition of history. I happen to be one of the people that cares about the old kind of history. It’s good to have available an old building the way it was built back in the 1700s.”

A crew from Mid-Maine Restoration Inc. of Boothbay works Friday to repair the roof of the Fort Halifax blockhouse in Winslow. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Ray Caron, chairman of the Town Council and a member of Friends of Fort Halifax, said work on the blockhouse is an example of how projects should work. Caron said Fort Halifax Park is more than just a blockhouse. It has history, including serving as a centralized meeting place for more than two centuries.

“My feeling is that moving forward, if you’re waiting for the state, the town or private organizations to do something, you’re going to be waiting a long time to get projects,” Caron said. “Amanda, the Friends of Fort Halifax and the state came together, and that’s how things in the future are going to have to be done.”

Along with Keene and Caron, Linda Lambert, Ernie Baker and Gerry Poissonnier worked on the project with Friends of Fort Halifax.

Last fall, the Friends of Fort Halifax completed a project that laid stones at the original corners of the fort, built by English settlers in 1754 at the start of the French and Indian War, which lasted until 1763, to guard Wabanaki canoe routes that went through to Canada. At the time, Maine was part of Massachusetts.

The monument site flooded in 1987, and the blockhouse was destroyed, but the town kept up its support for the landmark and rallied to rebuild it the next year. The Friends of Fort Halifax was created the year after the site flooded.

Winslow hosts an annual outdoor Fort Halifax Days celebration, but did not do so in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The town’s Department of Parks and Recreation has hosted Winslow Elementary School second- and fourth-graders for field trips. Town officials hope to continue with such events.

Fort Halifax Days is moving from June to August this year as Winslow marks the 250th anniversary of the town’s incorporation April 26, 1771.

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