A Trip to Fort Dobbs State Historical Site
Just a short drive north on Interstate 77 is Statesville and the Fort Dobbs State Historical Site. This piece of history was not only instrumental in the French and Indian War, but also was an important outpost on what was once the western edge of the North Carolina frontier.
It’s hard to believe that more than 250 years ago, Statesville was as far west as European people had settled. They hadn’t forged their way into the Blue Ridge Mountains, and they were just starting to turn the Piedmont region of North Carolina into flourishing farms.
Fort Dobbs was more than just a battleground; it was an outpost for provincial soldiers whose full-time job was to protect the settlers living on the frontier. Soldiers were sent to the site in 1755, and the three-story fort was built in 1756. It served as a battle site when the fort was attacked during the French and Indian War in 1760, and was also headquarters for the frontier company and a safe haven for settlers. Not long after the battle, the frontier moved further west, the soldiers left the fort, and by 1766, it was in ruins and on its way to turning into farmland.
Today, a trip to Fort Dobbs is fun for history buffs, kids interested in archaeology, or even just as a place to get outside and explore something new. The land has been preserved as a historic site, and even though Lowe’s Home Improvement and Walmart are just around the corner, modern-day development isn’t visible from the site. For a few minutes, you can almost imagine what it would be like to live on the edge of the frontier.
I took my 5-year-old daughter, Caroline, and 2-year-old son, Carter, on this daytrip, stopping first at the visitor’s center, which though small is packed full of artifacts and history. Archaeologists and anthropologists have held seven official digs at the site to learn more about the way the soldiers lived and to get an accurate layout of the fort. Arrowheads, utensils and other artifacts of daily life that were found during those digs are on display in the visitor’s center.
A historic interpreter is on staff, so parents don’t necessarily have to research the French and Indian War to help children understand what they are seeing. We were lucky enough to have Scott Douglas, dressed in full Colonial regalia, on hand for a tour of the grounds. We trudged out to the small cabin, which is a replica of where the soldiers would have lived during the first winter at the outpost before the fort was built. Six men lived in one small cabin, a fact that made an impression on Caroline, whose own room is about that size.
The site also has a replica of the original well, and the footprint of the fort is marked off with rope, to give you a good idea of just how big this outpost was. Plans are in the works to build a replica of the fort, and you can see where they’ve dug the basement and the ditch around the fort as part of the preparations.
There is plenty of fun any day you choose to visit Fort Dobbs. After you explore the historic site, you can take a walk on the nature trail,—a half-mile walk through the woods that features many native wild plants and trees. And if the weather’s nice, enjoy a picnic in the shelter, equipped with bathrooms and a nearby playground.
There also are special events scheduled at the fort, from battle re-enactments with soldiers, to Native Americans and civilians dressed in period costumes and Trade Fairs where you can experience life on the edge of the British Empire. Each is a great opportunity to experience a little living history.
Karen Alley is a mother of two preschoolers and web editor at Piedmont Parent Magazine, a sister publication of Charlotte Parent.
If You Go, You Need to Know …
Fort Dobbs State Historical Site
438 Fort Dobbs Road
Statesville, NC 28625
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Interpretive programming daily.
Learn the Ways of Historical Trades
Aug. 14 | 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Take a walk into the past with an enactment of the working lifestyle that prevailed in the North Carolina backcountry during the 18th century. Interact with masters of trade, from woodworkers to artists, and discover their significance in the history of the community. Unearth souvenirs as well, with the original products of the artisans and craftsmen available for purchase.