Up in Wetumpka, where the Coosa and the Tallapoosa join to form the Alabama River, there is a place once described as among the most important strategic sites in the world. It was the talk of kings and ministers all over Europe as France, Spain and England played the Great Game for world domination with the territories and peoples of the so-called New World as both pawns and prizes.
We took the dog to Fort Toulouse National Historic Park on a beautiful fall Sunday. Maybe because the Alabama National Fair is going on, and football season is in full swing, we were among very few visitors that day, and this among any number of other factors seemed to depress the man staffing the Visitor Center. He seemed like he might be easy to depress, but did cheer up slightly when telling us about the park’s upcoming Alabama Frontier Days (Nov 4-8). Then he seemed sad again advising us to come on the weekend for that event (“Unless you want to be around thousands of schoolchildren. Though we used to get 15,000 or so…down to about half that now, with proration and other things”). We plan to go, so expect a full report.
When you drive in to the Park, the Visitor’s Center is a small white house adjoining one of the main parking lots. It has a small gift shop, where we purchased what seems to be the definitive work on Fort Toulouse – Fort Toulouse: The French Outpost at the Alabamas on the Coosa, by Daniel H. Thomas. We paid $20 for it at the gift shop, and were pleasantly surprised to find that this was basically the list price. In any case, the Visitor’s Center also has a room that clearly was (at one time) supposed to be a museum-type room with glass cases, exhibitions, etc. This has not worked out, or is in transit, or something. But we already know a little bit about the site, so we head off in the direction of Fort Toulouse.
Which is where the reproduction of Fort Jackson is. On the original site of Fort Toulouse. And vice-versa – a reproduction of Fort Toulouse’s stockade currently occupies the site where Fort Jackson was. Which is very strange, and must have mortified whoever it was who made what seems like a fairly critical archaeological error.
Fort Toulouse was built by the French as an extension of the Louisiana territory. It was designed to create, basically, a goodwill outpost/early warning station in relation to the Alabamas, who were seen as strategically key to the whole business of keeping the English bottled up in the Carolinas and the Spanish contained in Florida. The French feared that if they lost the goodwill of the Alabamas, their whole operation could be in danger. So, contrary to the inscription on the monolith pictured above, the fort wasn’t set up in defense against the locals at all.
In any case, once you walk into the Fort Jackson replica on the old Fort Toulouse site, you can go through to an old Mississippian mound and a site that was probably occupied for thousands of years before Europeans ever showed up. The banks of the rivers are surprisingly steep around here, and you can really see why this was a perfect place to have a settlement or fort – extremely strategic and defensible.
One of the many William Bartram nature trails in Alabama and elsewhere is also here, although we didn’t walk it. It’s .75 miles or so and goes down to a boat ramp.
Up by the Visitor Center is the old Fort Jackson site, where the Fort Toulouse replica is. There’s a blacksmith shop in the process of being restored by prison labor, its roof partially covered with FEMA tarps. There are also some “Indian houses” which we did not enter. They seemed like they might be full of spiders, and in any case it’s hard to imagine how they could be weirder than the “Indian houses” at Moundville with their strange staged scenes of native life.
There is also a campground and picnic area. Overall, we found this a great place to visit. It is easily the very best place we’ve taken our dog in the Montgomery area. There are plenty of beautiful fields to walk through, and it’s really quite verdant and lovely. We plan to go to Frontier Days and will report back.