CofC Logo

Fort Johnson May Get New Role

Sea Will Again Likely Give Her Reason For Being Historic Fort Johnson: Does Its Future Lie With The Sea?

By JACK LELAND, News and Courier Staff Writer, News and Courier, February 14, 1954

an aerial shot of the Fort Johnson campusThe sea caused Ft. Johnson to be built and the sea throughout the course of American history has been the old fort’s raison d’etre. Now comes the question: Will the sea once again give the ancient site a new chance to serve the country in a new way—that of marine biological research.

The question hinges on many facets of governmental red tape, political maneuverings and salesmanship.

Currently the College of Charleston wants Ft. Johnson as proposed summer school for students of marine biology and for a year-round station for deep-sea research. Under a plan proposed by Dr. George D. Grice, College president, the College would be given free simple title to the property (90 acres and buildings) after 20 years tenancy. The College would be prepared to begin immediately to set up its initial undergraduate summer courses and, according to Dr. Grice, within four or five years would have a summer student and teacher colony of some 400 to 500.

While the College of Charleston would operate the laboratory it would draw its summer students from some 17 Southern institutions, Dr. Grice said. He conferred in Washington Friday with Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby, secretary of health and public welfare. That department has charge of the U.S. Public Health Service which operated Ft. Johnson until it was decommissioned several years ago.

Ft. Johnson was built in 1704 to help defend Charleston against an expected French invasion from the sea. The invasion never came but in 1759 another fort was built to further strengthen the harbor defenses. In 1765 the first Colonial flag appeared when three volunteer regiments from Charleston, carrying a blue banner with three white crescents in the upper staff corner, marched on the fort and forced British troops to send some unwanted stamp paper back to England.

In 1775, the First Liberty flag was flown over the fort when it was seized by three companies of Gen. William Moultrie’s command. A third fort was built in 1793 and, in April 12, 1861, the first shell of the War Between the States was fired on Ft. Sumter. In 1906 the federal government established a quarantine there and continued it in such capacity until February 1950, when it was closed as an economy measure.

Subsequently efforts have been made to utilize the site for various functions but none materialized. Last year the College of Charleston initiated a conference here to determine suitability of the site as a regional marine laboratory. That project was not approved, however, and the fort remains as surplus property.

G. Robert Lunz, director of the Bears Bluff Laboratory on Wadmalaw Island, said he would like to see Ft. Johnson established as a research and study center.

“What we need in this state and neighboring states is more education as to the potentialities of our marine resources,” he said. “The College of Charleston’s plan is one to make this possible and it deserves the backing of everyone interested in the future welfare of the state.”

The plan has the approval of Charleston County Council and, thus far, no opposition has been revealed. However, its fate rests with persons unfamiliar with the area.

Should the research laboratory be established, proponents believe that old Ft. Johnson will continue to be an important part in the nation’s history. The only difference, they assert, will be that it will be producing knowledge which some day will enable man to obtain more of the sea’s potentialities for its use.

This, they believe, will be much more important, if less romantic, than the fort’s warlike past.