Restoration At Camp Ford: Cabin re-creation, better maintenance could be slated for Confederate camp

Published on Friday, 22 August 2014 22:40 - Written by Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

A former Confederate prisoner of war camp could see various improvements, including new signage and a rebuilt cabin.

Smith County Judge Joel Baker said the Camp Ford site is on county property, but policies about maintenance have been lax.

He said the Smith County Historical Society would use county road and bridge crews from time to time, as well as probationers, to mow and trim and keep it clean.

But he said the historical society recently approached the county about what could be done there to make some improvements.

So now, he said, Smith County is working on establishing a more regular maintenance program for the site. He said it also is looking at some potential new signage and has added money in the current proposed budget for grounds maintenance at Camp Ford.

“We want to preserve the history, but we also want to improve the site to make it more conducive to all the activities that the historical society sponsors there, and to make it more welcoming to visitors …” he said. “It’s just a good place, and we need to do our part to make sure it’s taken care of and maintained.”

Baker said he appreciates all of the work that the historical society does, and the group intends to present their ideas to the Smith County Commissioners Court to see if the court will approve new signage for the Camp Ford entrance.

He expects the proposed new signage to be considered at a commissioners court meeting in the next couple of weeks.

Aside from the county’s efforts, there are also efforts to rebuild the J.B. Leake Cabin at Camp Ford.

Randy Gilbert, a local attorney, amateur history buff and historical society member, said the cabin was built in 2000 and 2001 using two perspective sketches that Lt. Col. J.B. Leake drew of his cabin.

Leake, of the 20th Iowa Infantry, arrived at Camp Ford in the fall of 1863, and the following winter, he was the highest-ranking Union officer there, according to the Camp Ford website. At the time of his capture, he was serving as a brevet brigadier general.

Gilbert, who spoke during Thursday night’s meeting of the Capt. James P. Douglas Camp 124 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the cabin is rotting and needs to be rebuilt.

But he said the project is going to require a great deal of work, and will take eight to 10 people committing to six to eight weekends of work.

He said one thing needed for the project is a big white oak tree that can be cut beforehand to make shingles for the roof. He estimated that it needs to be three feet in diameter or bigger.

For the project to begin, he said all the materials should be committed, the trees should be identified and flagged for cutting and volunteers should be in place.

Gilbert said he has the know-how to teach volunteers about the craft of building a cabin, including how to hand split shingles and cut notches in wood.

He said the cabin is significant in that it provides something visual and tangible for visitors, and on the information plaque about the cabin is a page from Leake’s diary that shows the two perspective views of his cabin.

Hue Adams, vice president of the historical society’s Camp Ford Committee, said the cabin is used during tours and shows visitors that Camp Ford has historical significance and it’s a real place that had real prisoners.

So he said it’s important to ensure that the cabin is still there and to maintain the integrity of the Camp Ford site.

Gilbert said the fall would be a good time to get the project going.

“Because it’s volunteer, it’s going to be a challenge, but if they’re committed, then we can make it happen,” Adams said.