Fort Steuben captures the spirit of America and represents the opening of the West after the Revolutionary War when settlers could finally afford to purchase land. The first seven ranges of the Northwest Territory along the Ohio River needed to be surveyed into sections before being sold to those settlers.
In 1787, Fort Steuben was constructed to protect the surveyors from the Indians as well as prevent squatters from coming across the Ohio River from Virginia. The Federal Government wanted to sell this land so made it illegal for those early pioneers to cross the river and settle without purchase.
Major John Hamtramck was responsible for getting the fort built. It was named for Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a drillmaster who served under General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. It’s easy to see how Steubenville, Ohio received its name. It was the perfect place for a defense with the Ohio River to the east, a bank of hills on the west, and a nice plateau on which to build. Its location was mid-way between Pittsburgh and Wheeling.
One hundred fifty soldiers guarded this fort. There was a lookout station where they could easily watch the Ohio River. However, after one year, the fort was abandoned and never used again.
Some say that in 1790, the fort burned but archaeological digs have shown no evidence of ashes or burnt objects. Others think that perhaps settlers dismantled the buildings and moved them to a place where they were going to live.
Every year since 1978, the University of Steubenville has conducted a summer session on the grounds of the former fort. Their archaeological dig has discovered many discarded items from that time and some are on display at the Fort Steuben Visitors Center while others can be found at the University of Steubenville.
Several times over the years, people had been interested in reconstructing the fort, but it wasn’t until 1986 that two ladies became enthusiastic about the project after attending a lecture by the archaeologists. Their enthusiasm led to the community becoming involved in the project. It began in 1989 but it wasn’t until 2009 that the fort was completed.
Fort Steuben Park has become a central part of community activities as this is where they hold the Dean Martin Celebration, Nutcracker Village, Farmers’ Market, 4th of July Fireworks, and weekly concerts in Berkman Amphitheater during the summer months. The fort is a private effort funded by local supporters and is staffed with a director and many helpful volunteers.
Taking a self-guided tour or touring the fort with a trained interpreter in this reconstructed village gives you a glimpse of what life was like over 230 years ago. There are seven buildings in the complex where you will find posted stories of the trials and tribulations suffered without today’s modern conveniences. Step inside the Officer’s Quarters, Hospital, Commissary, or Guard House to learn their stories.
A special feature is the Federal Land Office, the first one built in the United States in 1800. The original building has been moved near the fort. There seemed to be a natural connection as this Land Office was where people came to buy the land after it had been surveyed. The agent and his family lived in the Land Office cabin.
The land was measured off in plots of one square mile, which would be 640 acres. A settler could purchase a square mile for $1 an acre but had to buy 640 acres. Later, those plots were divided and settlers could purchase 320 acres for $2 an acre. Some consider this Ohio’s Ellis Island as it was at the Land Office that people started new lives.
The outstanding Visitors’ Center is open all year long while Fort Steuben is open from May through October. Hours for both are from 10 am – 4 pm. Admission to the fort is $10 for adults and $7 for students 6-12. Those under six are admitted free.
If you enjoy history, you’re sure to enjoy visiting the Welcome Center and Fort Steuben.