History of Zumwalt’s Fort and its Reconstruction
After the restoration of Heald Home, the O’Fallon Community Foundation took on the rebuilding of Zumwalt’s Fort as its next project. The reconstructed Zumwalt’s Fort is the only War of 1812 site in the State of Missouri that’s open to the public. Although there are at least thirty War of 1812 sites throughout the state, Zumwalt’s Fort is the only one in a publicly-owned park. Most sites have been destroyed or are in private hands. Over the years, the structure declined and by the 1970s all that remained of the original Fort was the stone chimney.
Before Zumwalt's Fort could be rebuilt, the State of Missouri required that an archaeological excavation be conducted. At costs totaling approximately $60,000, the project was completed in three phases, the final portion in the spring of 2006.
Through the excavations, it was learned how this log residence was constructed which aided in its accurate reconstruction. More importantly, researchers gained a deeper appreciation for the lives of the Zumwalt and Heald families who resided in this log home and a better understanding of what life was really like for the early American settlers of O'Fallon.
Archaeological excavations under the main residence and the eastern addition also uncovered the original foundations of these buildings. Two rectangular storage pits were found under the west pen of the main residence and one under the east pen, which the family used for food storage. Artifacts were being cleaned and researched to help preserve the heritage of the community for the future.
Researches learned that the southern addition was added on by the Healds and that it was used as a kitchen and possibly slave quarters. It measured approximately 25'x 20' and was standard frame construction instead of the log construction of the original Fort.
A chimney stood at the southernmost end of the kitchen and a stone with the initials “DH” carved on it. Other artifacts include remnants of children’s toys, marbles, buttons and various sewing tools, leading researchers to believe that this area was used for preparing meals, mending, and the care and supervision of children.
The Second Step
With the excavations completed, the next step was to draw up plans and gather the expertise and the materials needed to begin construction. The Foundation received a tremendous boost when Charlie Brunjes, a longtime resident, City employee and chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, offered to donate timber from his property in Silex, Missouri, to build the first phase.
Charlie Brunjes harvested the timber during the winter of 2006 and 2007. Mueller Brothers Timber of Old Monroe milled the white oak timbers and stored them for curing.
The reconstructed Zumwalt’s Fort opened in 2015 as a gift to the City from the O’Fallon Community Foundation. It stands as a reminder of O’Fallon’s frontier past and the countless residents who helped to preserve the City’s unique history.
Zumwalt's Fort's history: The decline of Zumwalt's Fort and the dream of seeing it rebuilt
The dream of seeing Jacob Zumwalt’s Fort rebuilt has a long history of its own. Long before the Fort crumbled to an unrecognizable shape, local historians were pleading for its restoration.
Miss Marcia Williams, whose family purchased and lived in the former Woodlawn Seminary following the cyclone of 1915, was the Fort’s first known local advocate. Interestingly, however, in an early article that appeared on the fort, she credits Rose Lane Wilder with being the first to suggest its restoration. The daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose was a writer herself, best known for her early biography of Jack London. We have no way of knowing what happened for Miss Marcia (as she was known by all in O’Fallon) to give Miss Wilder this credit, but considering her passion for the West and her fierce libertarian views, (Miss Wilder rejected her social security checks regarding them as a form of socialism) it’s not difficult to imagine that she just might have been a fan of our Jacob Zumwalt.
According to Jerry Varner, the park’s superintendent in 1974, Rudolph Goebel (1835-1923) took the well-known photograph of the fort with Darius Heald sitting on a log. Goebel, whose studio was in St. Charles, took frequent excursions through rural areas of the county to photograph points of interest. At the time that picture was taken, reportedly in 1888, Darius had already built his new home, Stony Point, and the Fort was occupied by one of Darius’ hired hands. In 1889, Darius is said to have put a new roof on the fort himself, though he was 67 years old at the time.
Upon Darius’ death in 1904, Edmonia Heald McCluer and husband Tom inherited the property. The Rebekah Wells Heald Chapter of the Daughters of 1812, named for Darius’ mother who had purchased the Zumwalt property in 1817 with her husband Nathan Heald, was formed in 1909. The McCluers gave them permission to use the Fort for their meetings, a practice that continued until 1918.
In the fall of 1916, Fred and Ida Gentemann purchased the 80-acre property (at a price of $100/acre) from the McCluers. When Raleigh Jessup interviewed the Gentemanns in 1974, Ida said that the fort at the time looked like it did in the famed “burned tree” photo.
Ida described the fort as being in “fair condition” when they owned the property. The springhouse still stood below and the hillside surrounding the fort was “covered with big locust trees” and “was a beautiful sight in May.” In the interview, Ida also mentions that the date 1798 was carved in one of the mantels in the fort. We can only take Ida’s word for that and regret the loss of the walnut mantel since that would be one more piece of anecdotal evidence of the date at which Jacob Zumwalt first settled on this land.
Fred Gentemann owned the Gentemann Lumber and Supply Company at the time and built the wooden stave silo on the west end of the fort. They used the fort itself as an animal shed and for feed storage. In 1919, they sold Stony Point to a Mr. and Mrs. Fred Albers of Kansas.
In the years following, the property had several owners and a variety of tenants in the Darius Heald home, some of them hired by the state as caretakers for the park. Despite Miss Marsha’s efforts to get the fort reconstructed, it continued in a downward spiral of decline. Miss Marsha was, admittedly, a rather eccentric woman who didn’t let facts dampen her zeal for romantic historical tales, and we will never know to what degree the tales she handed down regarding ghosts, Zumwalt premonitions, and the legendary Black Hawk were founded on truth. Perhaps for that reason, her petitions on behalf of the fort were never taken seriously.
In the ensuing years, with the ownership in the hands of the State of Missouri, remaining pieces of the fort dwindled away gradually and by the mid-1970s, nothing was left but the chimney. By then, Raleigh Jessup had begun his campaign to get the fort restored, a cause for which he worked tirelessly until his death in 2010.
When the O’Fallon Historical Society moved and restored another log cabin in Civic Park as their Bicentennial project, Raleigh and then O’Fallon mayor Del Peters clandestinely claimed the last of Jacob’s white oak logs and placed one as a mantel in the log cabin museum. Raleigh then used the remnants to carve the model of Zumwalt’s Fort that has educated and enthralled hundreds of school children who were lucky enough to listen to Raleigh tell them the story of Jacob Zumwalt and his homestead fort.