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Fort Stanwix, Rome

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Fort Stanwix, Rome
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It brings 60,000 visitors to the Rome area every year, but 235 years ago, Fort Stanwix was on the front lines of the American Revolution, with both British and colonial forces fighting for control of the state and the country. In this week's edition of Your Hometown, our Sarah Blazonis takes a look at the role the fort played in the birth of the United States and how it continues to influence Rome today.

ROME, N.Y. -- For 21 days in August of 1777, British forces set their sights on capturing the colonial stronghold of Fort Stanwix in what's now the City of Rome. A plaque that sits between East Park and Church Streets is the closest they ended up getting to the structure they helped build years before.

The year was 1758, and British and colonial troops were working together to battle the French for dominance in North America during the French and Indian War. While no fighting took place near the fort during that conflict, it did serve as the staging point for three main attacks against French holdings along the Canadian border. It seemed for a time that small notoriety was the most Ft. Stanwix would ever get.

William Sawyer, Fort Stanwix National Monument Park Ranger, said, "Just as our government nowadays has pursued over the years decommissioning various military bases that they don't feel they need any longer, that's what England was looking to do at the end of the 1760s."

Aside from a few British soldiers, the fort was basically abandoned, until 1776. That's when a New Jersey regiment was sent to rebuild it for use by the colonists in protecting their important hold on New York as they fought the British for independence.

"If England had been successful in converging its forces here in New York, it would've been able to cut the northern colonies from the southern colonies and make it nearly impossible for Washington to move men and supplies," said Sawyer.

That's exactly what the British tried to do, by capturing Fort Stanwix. For 21 days in the summer of 1777, colonial forces held off troops trying to invade the area from the western water routes. The British were finally forced to retreat, helping lead Americans to a later victory at the Battle of Saratoga.

Sawyer said, "That, of course, recognized by historians as being the first and most major turning point of the Revolution, principally because it's one of the things that helped bring France onto our side."

The original fort didn't survive the end of the war. Fires and floods destroyed it by 1781, and it would be nearly 200 years before a grassroots movement to build a recreation and preserve the history of the area would take place. Before construction began, small-scale archaeological digs helped unearth important fragments of the area's past.

Fort Stanwix officials say among the most significant artifacts found were the actual foundations of the original fort itself, including several of its original fireplaces."

Not all were in favor of reconstruction of the fort, however. The push to rebuild the fort in the 1960s and 1970s meant the destruction of 347 businesses along the Dominick St. corridor. Many were mom and pop shops. Only about 40 of those reopened.

Robert Avery, Rome Historical Society Executive Director, said, "Still to this day, a lot of the long-time Romans, they're very remorseful that they feel the center of the city was significantly modified."

But the present-day fort -- a national monument -- has also brought a lot to the community. It hosts reenactments of the siege and other aspects of life at the fort in the warmer months and offers tours all year round. It also plays a role in Rome's annual Honor America Days celebration.

"The community comes out in droves," said Avery. "I mean, the entire fort property is just filled with local people and people from outside the area. They really enjoy it, so I think that there still is a lot of pride."

It may no longer play a role in defending the nation, but Fort Stanwix continues to serve as a reminder of the role the earliest Romans played in the fight for freedom...and the shaping of the United States.

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