Farmer's Castle fortification, near Belpre, Ohio, 1791
The subject of this week’s postcard is the Farmer’s Castle fortification near Belpre, Ohio on the Ohio River. Belpre is located about 14 miles downriver from Marietta, Ohio. The name comes from the French Belle-prairie or beautiful meadow. The Ohio Company of Associates established Belpre in 1789 with Farmer’s Castle built in 1791 as protection for the settlers during the Northwest Indian War.
It is hard to believe that construction of this fort began in January when the winter weather would have been terrible but it may have been the most advantageous time since the Indians were less active in the winter. The lives of the people depended upon the completion of the fort so as fast as the blockhouses were completed the families moved into them. The 13 houses were arranged in two rows with a wide street between the dwellings.
The picture on the card shows the upper story hanging over the lower level by about two feet to form a defense for the doors and windows below if there was an attack. Round logs were used as building material with the logs about one foot in diameter. The doors and window shutters were made of thick oak planks that were secured with stout bars of wood on the inside. Teams of oxen pulled large timbers while the lighter pieces for the roofs and gates were dragged along on hand sleds with ropes by men. The fence or pickets around the perimeter of the fort was formed from trees about a foot in diameter and 14 feet tall. Like other forts in the area the spaces between the houses were filled up with pickets.
Notice the barge in the river anchored by the ropes. This is “Devol’s Floating Mill” built in 1791. Griffin Greene proposed the idea and Captain Jonathan Devol built the floating grain mill by anchoring two connected boats within yards of the Ohio River shore. The proximity to Farmer’s Castle acted as a shield from Indian raids during the Indian Wars. The river current turned the mill wheel and depending on the strength of the current 25 to 50 bushels of grain could be processed in a 24-hour period of time. The mill supplied meal to the garrison at Farmer’s Castle and also other settlers along the river.
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Shelburne-Shelburne Films image from “Opening the Door West” award winning historical documentary [ www.OpeningtheDoorWest.com ]