By Mike Steely
Re-enactors can add so much to a historic place and Martin’s Station Fort, within southwest Virginia’s Wilderness Road State Park, is no exception.
My wife and I drove from Knoxville recently. I’d wanted to visit the fort for some time, having read about the history of Joseph Martin and the burning of the fort prior to the American Revolution. We found the fort isn’t next to the visitor center there but had to drive down a park road to a parking lot and then take a brief walk through the trees to a meadow where the fort has been reconstructed.
Re-enactor Richard Beeler hosted visitors at the fort and said it was an accurate reconstruction of a pre-revolutionary fort in our region. He also said the original fort was located in the Rose Hill community where a large brick home now sits atop the site.
The new Martin’s Station sits within the 300-acre park along what was once the Wilderness Road, leading travelers and settlers through the Virginia valley to eventually cross the Cumberland Gap into the Kentucky territory. It was established by Joseph Martin in 1775 and had four or five cabins.
Today the re-enactors occupy some of the cabins at the “new” fort and are dressed in period dress. We saw a blacksmith demonstration and the blacksmith fired and hammered a square nail which he gave to my wife. She prizes that little nail.
The “new” fort has a gate that swings up and down to admit visitors. The log buildings are furnished as they would have been and one door is covered with a bearskin.
Martin was a bit of a questionable figure in Virginia and Tennessee history. Although he had a family back in the colonies he also married the daughter of Cherokee Nancy Ward of Tennessee. Beeler said Martin may also have had two other Cherokee wives and as many as 24 children by them.
The original Martin’s Station, built by two streams, was abandoned by the settlers and was burned after they left by the Cherokee. Martin got a land grant for the area and built another fort nearby.
The Wilderness Road State Park has an interpretive museum, a gift shop and a docu-drama film. That film and the museum were being reworked while we were there and were not open. The park also has a picnic area, a grand view of the Cumberland Mountain, three shelters, a comfort station, playground, volleyball court, horseshoe pits and a self-guided Indian Ridge Trail.
On your way to the park and Martin’s Station Fort, you may want to stop by the refurbished old gas station in Tazewell or take a drive through downtown Maynardville or New Tazewell. The Lincoln Museum is located in Harrogate as well as the growing campus of Lincoln Memorial University.
We got there by driving up Maynardville Highway and on up Highway 61/33 to join Highway 25E almost to Cumberland Gap. Rather than going through the tunnel to Middlesboro we took a right on Highway 28. The park is only a few miles on your left. It’s worth a day away with the family and there’s lots to see. The park charges $5 per person and nothing for a handicapped person. The official address is 8051 Wilderness Road, Ewing, Va. You can call the park at (276) 445-3065 or find them on the internet.