by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly staff
PROSPECT — A new book chronicling the history of Fort Knox in Prospect has been published by the Friends of Fort Knox. The book, “The History of America’s First Fort Knox” by Liza Gardner Walsh of Camden, takes a fresh look at the history of the National Historic Landmark and State Historic site. Proceeds from the book will benefit the ongoing restoration of the fort.
“I had written ‘Haunted Fort’ so I had developed a relationship with the Friends board through writing that book,” Walsh said. “The Friends asked me if I would be interested in writing a non-spooky book about Fort Knox. A former book [about the fort] had gone out of print and they were looking for a straight history.” “Haunted Fort” dealt with the supernatural.
For her new book, Walsh had to do additional, more extensive research covering a broad expanse of historical time.
“I looked at the geology, prehistoric history of the land the fort is on, the people who inhabited the land and traveled up and down the river, wars, and the people, such as the Friends, who have a special relationship with the fort,” Gardner said. “I love the war willow story.” She was referring to John Pierce, who had a farm on the site where the fort eventually was built. When he heard that the British were coming upriver in 1814, he took the responsibility of warning people in the area of the impending danger. In order to make his horse step right along, he broke off a willow switch to use as a persuader. When he arrived home, he stuck the willow switch in the ground next to his house, Eventually, the switch grew into a tree 30 feet tall and as big around as a flour barrel, she said.
Stories like that, she said, add texture to the history of the fort.
“The fort always surprises me in terms of the extensiveness of the building and how it was never really used for anything,” said Walsh, who works part-time as a preschool teacher. She is a former children’s librarian.
“I like writing books that have some sort of exploration in them. Visiting the fort is a real exploration. I am always in awe of the granite spiral stairs, it’s a jaw-dropping sight. I always get a little spooked in the two-step alley, in the dark and cold, and I love standing on top of the fort and looking at the river and the mountains,” she said.
The book was roughly two years in the making. Walsh researched documents in the Maine State Archives in Augusta for information for the book. “I found really nice local histories about the fort,” she said.
“One of my favorite parts about writing the book,” Walsh said, “was chronicling what the Friends of the Fort did — the idea that it’s the people’s fort. I love the penny drive that area children did to help raise funds [for the fort’s restoration] — it speaks to what a small community can do. That and the idea that historical places are important to preserve and visit, that they teach us not only a lot about the past, but the importance of community.”
Walsh also is the author of “The Maine Coon Cat,” “Muddy Boots: Outdoor Activities for Children” which will be published in August and “Where Do Fairies Go When it Snows?” to be published later this year.