It's a damp and chilly Friday afternoon in mid-November, but there are duties to perform at the Old Fort.
Two privates line up for inspection as their first sergeant checks their uniforms and guns before the three historical soldiers parade around the grounds. After the parade, they “kit down” in their barracks, changing into more comfortable uniforms to escape the cold by the warmth of a roaring fire.
This is Fridays at the Fort, a new program that features a small group of re-enactors from 3 to 7 p.m. most Fridays through May. Visitors can ask questions and watch the soldiers perform military drills and occupy the fort as it would have been in 1816.
The three “soldiers,” who may occasionally be joined by additional re-enactors, are really local high school seniors who are working with the Old Fort as part of internships.
Cory Balkenbusch, 17, of Homestead High School, and William O'Brien, 18, and Harrison Snyder, 17, both of Snider High School, can also be found at the fort several other days of the week in contemporary clothing doing maintenance and upkeep on the property including splitting wood for the fires to keep them warm on cold winter Fridays.
Though the Friday re-enactments had not been announced until this month, the teens have been on-site since the start of the school year and in warmer weather saw around a dozen people walking through each Friday – often surprised to see soldiers.
The young men have all been involved with the fort for several years and understand the importance of historical accuracy. For example, 1st Sgt. Balkenbusch is quick to point out that Pvt. Snyder's beard is not period-appropriate for a soldier, but it is “No-Shave November” in 2018.
Tours are available for visitors, and the teens' knowledge of the fort and history is on display while looking inside rooms such as barracks and officer's quarters, the hospital and surgeon's office, and a block house. Along the way visitors might learn details such as where the phrases “drummed out” and “sleep tight” come from.
“You just pick it up as you go along,” Snyder says, explaining how he learned everything he knows about the fort. He has been volunteering at the site for five years.
As he wraps up a tour for The Journal Gazette, a family with several young children bundled up in warm jackets has dropped by and is getting a tour from one of the other soldiers, who aren't exactly wearing down coats. It is dedication that will keep them going in the cold.
“We get high school credits for it,” Snyder says. “But moreso, we obviously have a deep appreciation for United States history.”
The Friday re-enactments are part of an effort to bring more visitors to the fort and provide access at a more casual pace than larger events, says Malinda Pagel, public relations liaison for Historic Fort Wayne, which manages the Old Fort.
The Old Fort has also installed a Travelers' Information Station radio system to provide details about the fort. Operating on 1640 AM, the noncommercial signal can be heard in a 2- to 3-mile radius around downtown and gives the history of the fort, hours of events and parking information.
The content is created by Historic Fort Wayne, and the group is hoping to install signs soon to encourage people driving by to tune in.
“We're really just trying to expand as best we can both our hours and our reach and kind of draw in as much of the public as we possibly can,” Pagel says.
– Corey McMaken, The Journal Gazette
If you go
What: Fridays at the Fort
Where: Old Fort, 1201 Spy Run Ave.
When: 3 to 7 p.m. Fridays through May 31 with the final tour beginning at 6:30 p.m.; weather might affect availability, so the public is encouraged to check the fort's social media accounts before visiting