Rifle pit named to list of threatened sites

June 8, 2016. Courtesy of The State Port Pilot. http://stateportpilot.com/

Caswell Beach, Southport

By Lee Hinnant
Staff Writer


The 1918 rifle range pit is one of the few physical reminders of the Great War and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Historic Wilmington Foundation has listed the Fort Caswell Rifle Range among the most threatened historic places for 2016, a designation designed to increase awareness of regional landmarks.

The 1918 structure is 200 feet long and was used to train soldiers to fire rifles at long range. State officials have said it is one of the few remaining examples of its type from the Great War.

Once a part of the larger Fort Caswell, the rifle pit was abandoned by the U.S. Army after World War II and is now on the edge of Oak Island Golf Course inside the Caswell Dunes subdivision.

The concrete section of the range has both a target area and a passageway that included a storage room. Target operators would raise targets on poles above the pit for soldiers to shoot. Operators remained safe deep inside the concrete bunker.

George Edwards, director of the foundation, said he hoped the designation would help draw attention to the need to preserve the rifle range.

“It seems appropriate to recognize this World War I site as we approach the 100th anniversary of the Great War,” Edwards said. “We’re watching to see that nothing bad happens and maybe something good will happen. We hope it will drive home the worthiness of the site and the effort to save it”.

Edwards said there are very few World War I sites in the Cape Fear region.

“We are encouraged that this group found our site important to the Cape Fear region and validated our application by selecting it for their list of most endangered sites of the region,” said Norma Eckard, who, with husband Ron, founded the nonprofit Friends of the Fort Caswell Rifle Range.

The Friends group raised more than $2,300 at its recent Kentucky Derby-themed event. Local businesses and individuals contributed more than $1,100 toward the cause.

The national Daughters of the American Revolution also made a contribution of more than $1,500 to the Harriet Barlowe Memorial. That money will be used to place permanent tablet-type markers at the rifle pit and to mark the firing line.

Supporters continue to build a Wall of Honor, with photographs and other memorabilia from World War I, which is kept at the Caswell Dunes clubhouse.

Stabilizing the rifle pit was among the early tasks performed by volunteers.

Funds raised to date have paid to remove trees that were damaging the structure and for a hydrological investigation of the surrounding soils. Next up is an engineering study to identify methods to repair the concrete and lintels and further stabilize the walls. For more information email ftcaswellriflerange@gmail.com

Other sites listed as threatened this year included family cemeteries in Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties, Rosenwald schools in Pender County and the Russian Orthodox church in Burgaw.

For more information about the foundation, visit http://www.historicwilmington.org