Ft. Tonoloway search sets stage for possible future archeological digs

by Geoff Fox

Preservation Maryland set out last year to uncover the mysterious location a fort in Hancock that has disappeared to the annals of history.

Fort Tonoloway was built in 1755 to protect the area that would become Hancock against Native American attacks.

While this sign at the intersection of Rt. 144 and Locher Road points drivers onto Locher Road as the spot for Fort Tonoloway, researchers with Preservation Maryland are still in their research stage in an attempt to find the long lost location of the fort.

However, the fort would only last a year when it was abandoned in 1756, as the men stationed there would be moved to Fort Frederick further east.

Between 1756 and 2021, the exact location of Fort Tonoloway, or Stoddert’s Fort as it was also known, has eluded historians.

Possible locations of the fort have been mentioned as the high school, the area of America’s Best Hotel and Potomac River Grill, and also Fort Tonoloway State Park.

In late 2019 and into 2020, Preservation Maryland took up the search in an effort to pinpoint that location.

In a 156 page document submitted to Preservation Maryland from Rivanna Archeological Services, the history of the area is recounted, leading up to why the fort was built.

Along with the history, maps are included as well as pictures of the work being done, the Widmeyer Cemetery, dry-laid stone wall with a garden terrace behind it, and what remains of the Brent House.

In their research of the fort and the area, Preservation Maryland looked to historical documents, books, and local historians.

While a number of maps within the document have possible locations of the fort, no pinpoint location is given in the final document.

But that was only the research phase of the project.

According to Preservation Initiatives Manager Jessica Feldt, this phase sets the stage for possible future phases.

“We are very pleased with the work Rivanna Archeological Services on this phase,” she said.

The research phase was to conduct historic research and use predictive modeling to suggest a likely location for the fort that could help inform any future archeological efforts.

During the phase, there were no excavations or digging, so there weren’t any archeological finds.

Feldt said the report provides “a great foundation” for future archeological work and there is hope Preservation Maryland would be able to secure funding for a second phase to continue the work of pinpointing an exact location.

“As you see in the report, some information on locations was redacted in order to protect the site from treasure hunters while we work to secure that funding,” she said.

As Preservation Maryland was doing their work, the world entered into the coronavirus pandemic. However, it didn’t stop the work from being done.

Feldt said the team was able to visit the site and complete a lot of the research that required on-site resources prior to the pandemic.

“We were largely in the review phase of the work when the pandemic hit and so it did not greatly impact the overall work,” she said.

In a few years, the United States of America will celebrate its 250th anniversary.

Feldt said as the country approaches that milestone, “the stories, places, and people that led to our creation in the 18th century will take on a new level of importance and we hope that the Tonoloway story will be elevated as a result of this project and increased attention and interest.”

The full document of the Preservation Maryland and Rivanna Archeological Services findings can be downloaded at