Why is Fort Madison in Danger?

Fort Madison Home

Why is Fort Madison Important?

Who was buried there?

Why is Fort Madison in Danger?

What can we do about this?

Recognition/ Fort Madison in the media


Images of the Fort

A lack of institutional memory- there are no villains.

The location of the original Fort Madison had been known or suspected by settlers in the 1830s and later residents of the City of Fort Madison. A large monument was built in the early 20th century to mark the fort location; this monument still stands next to U.S. Highway 61. In 1965 the Sheaffer Pen company was building a water line across its parking lot, where the fort was long rumored to have stood. When the construction crew encountered fort-period material, they asked the Iowa State Archaeologist to excavate the new utility line, and provided financial and logistical support. Marshall McKusick’s excavations showed that the fort was deeply buried under silt and historic fill and largely intact. Because of Sheaffer’s cooperation, the fort location was confirmed, a wealth of new historical information was obtained, and Sheaffer was able to build its waterline.


Sheaffer later sponsored efforts in the 1970s to have the fort listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of Sheaffer’s demonstrated commitment to preservation of the site, Fort Madison was considered to be a success story for historic preservation. In 1983 the reconstructed Fort Madison was built a few blocks west of the original fort, much of the volunteer labor supplied by inmates at the penitentiary.

Eventually Sheaffer Pen was bought by BIC USA, which did not have local connections, and is headquartered in Shelton, CT. While it is impossible to say, it is likely that the Sheaffer Pen Company’s institutional memory about protecting the fort was not transferred to BIC USA, and most of the older workers and directors at Sheaffer who remembered the importance of the fort since retired. When BIC USA sold the property in 2007, the developer who purchased it might not have known that substantial portions of the fort remained intact under the parking lot, or he might not have known its true significance. 


Attempts to get the Archaeological Conservancy to purchase the site has not worked yet. There is no legal way to force someone to preserve a site that is important, even if it is on the National Register. The probable soldier burials might be an obstacle to development, since human remains are legally protected, but it is not a permanent solution and is fraught with its own technical issues.