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Giving back a piece of history.

The Military Ocean Terminal, Sunny Point (MOTSU), relinquished possession of historic Fort Johnston at the mouth of the Cape Fear River to the City of Southport on September 8, 2006 after the federal government formally conveyed the property to its new owner.

Fort Johnston, formerly the oldest and smallest active duty fort in the United States, was originally built in 1748 by the British to protect the Cape Fear region from Spanish marauders. Since the late 1950's, it had served as Army Family Housing for Soldiers and their families assigned to MOTSU. The MOTSU Commander's quarters had been the Garrison House overlooking the Cape Fear River and one of the oldest buildings in historic Southport. It was built in 1810 to serve as officers' quarters but was significantly modified beginning in 1955 to accommodate a single family.

The history of Fort Johnston is integral to the history of Southport and the entire Cape Fear region. Cape Fear militia ousted the Royal Governor of North Carolina from Fort Johnston in 1775 as the Revolutionary War began to take shape. Weeks before the firing on Fort Sumpter in 1861, North Carolina militia demanded Fort Johnston from federal caretakers and then themselves abandoned the fort upon the fall of Fort Fisher and the Union push to Wilmington in January 1865. Fort Johnston was garrisoned until 1880 when several federal entities, in succession, occupied the property leading up to use by the U.S. Army as the initial MOTSU headquarters and then, subsequently, as family housing.

The decline in the number of Soldiers assigned to MOTSU, coupled with abundant housing in adjacent residential communities, resulted in Fort Johnston becoming excess to MOTSU's needs. The decision was made to excess Fort Johnston in the fall of 2003 and the Department of the Army approved the action the following year. Over the next year, MOTSU worked in coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, to prepare the necessary documentation to turn the property over to the General Services Administration (GSA) for final disposition. Thorough research and development of specific covenant language conveyed with the deed to protect the historical integrity of the property.

The GSA obtained the property in the fall of 2005 and advertised it through several "screenings" to determine potential public interest. The City of Southport submitted an application to the National Park Service to obtain the property through it's Federal Lands to Parks program. The National Park Service responded to the GSA during a public entity screen that they had an approved application from the City of Southport and desired to convey the property to the city for use under parks and recreation. After other applicants were evaluated and eventually disapproved, the GSA finally conveyed the property to Southport through the National Park Service.

The City of Southport is delighted to assume responsibility as Fort Johnston's newest steward. They are already planning to relocate their Visitors Center to the Garrison House and plan to highlight Fort Johnston's history through displays and an interactive media center. While Fort Johnston provided for MOTSU over the past 50 years, it was time to let go. Fort Johnston has completed its historic 250 year mission but, under the protection of the City of Southport, its legacy will never diminish.

by Don Parker

Deputy to the Commander

Ammunition Terminal Croup (Provisional)
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Author:Parker, Don
Publication:Translog
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:555
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