EASTPORT, Maine — The former powder house in what was once a British-held fort has seen a lot of years since it was built in the 1800s, and today it is just a shell of itself.
But a group of people who describe themselves as “padded” armchair historians are looking to rebuild the historic structure. Russell Terry and Frances Raye, both of Eastport, are spearheading the project.
“I don’t sit in hard armchairs very long,” Terry said with a smile in a recent interview.
The building — its roof gone, its stone sides crumbling — is the last remaining structure standing at the site of what was once called Fort Sullivan, later renamed Fort Sherbrooke. The powder house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What is left of the fort — the powder house — sits atop a hill behind Shead High School.
Terry, 66, moved to Eastport in 2003. A year later, he wanted to show what was left of the fort to visiting family members, but couldn’t get near the site because it was so overgrown.
Raye was born in Washington County 81 years ago. She has been interested in history and genealogy for the past 50 years. About seven years ago, she and her husband, Harry, who has since died, cleaned the area around the powder house, but it was a massive undertaking.
“We cleaned up maybe five truckloads of brush out of there,” she said.
In 2005, Terry and others began to clean up more of the site.
Fort Sullivan was built in 1808 by the Americans, but was captured in July 1814 by the heavily armed British, who renamed it Fort Sherbrooke.
The powder house was built that fall.
It had 3-foot-thick walls and was 18 feet wide and 24 feet long with an arched brick roof. While the British were there they built a wooden structure over the top of the powder house to make it look like a storage shed.
Historian David Zimmerman in his book “Coastal Fort: A History of Fort Sullivan” notes that the fort was one of the smaller coastal fortifications built. “The fort was built on Clark’s Hill, which enabled it to dominate the harbor in such a way that the small battery could fire on a ship approaching from any direction,” Zimmer-man wrote.
The British outnumbered the Americans and captured Eastport in 1814 and held it for the next four years. No shots were fired.
“The British saw themselves not as conquerors but as liberators of part of New Brunswick illegally usurped by the United States with the construction of Fort Sullivan in 1808,” Zimmerman wrote. They named it after Lt. Gov. Sherbrooke of Nova Scotia. And during that period, the name Eastport ceased to exist, Zimmerman said. The place was known as Moose Island.
Moose Island-Eastport eventually was returned to American control, Zimmerman added, and was home to peacetime military. “The Civil War marked the beginning of the last phase of military occupation of the fort,” Zimmerman wrote.
After about 200 years of unkind winters, the powder house’s stone walls have crumbled and are lying inside and outside the building. Some of the stones are missing, having been carried off by souvenir hunters.
Armchair historian Terry would appreciate if the rocks taken would be returned, no questions asked.
Terry, armed with pictures and lots of history, recently laid out the group’s plan to save the structure.
A marker identifying its history is in place, but more needs to be done.
Raye plans to have a sign put up this summer near the high school directing visitors to the site.
“I think the powder house could be a draw for visitors,” Terry said, which could lead to economic development for the town.
Terry and Raye are looking for help in the form of grants. They also need help from volunteer historical preservationists to guarantee they are headed in the right direction for their restoration project.
The group wants to place a wooden roof over the building to preserve it and keep the weather from causing the stone structure to deteriorate even more.
“If we can get that up there while we are waiting for the rest, then that keeps the weather … from deteriorating the rest of it,” Terry said.
The group could use more volunteers as well as donations to restore the building to its original condition.
A replica of the fort with all of its buildings including the powder house can be found at the Border Historical Society’s Barracks Museum on Washington Street in Eastport. The building was part of the barracks and officers’ quarters at Fort Sullivan. It later was moved to its present site.
For more information go to www.borderhistoricalsociety.com.