(Pictured Left:) Welcome the New Historic Site Manager at Fort Fisher Jim Steele.
By: Rachel N. Johnson
The Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Pleasure Island proudly welcomes a new historic site manager at Fort Fisher. Steele joined the team at Fort Fisher on May 15th and was welcomed and introduced to the public at a special reception on Tuesday, May 22nd.
Jim Steele and his family moved to the local area from Bamberg County which is located 90 minutes south of Columbia, South Carolina. Steele feels “privileged to work at Fort Fisher.” While residing in Bamberg County, Steele served as the site manager for Rivers Bridge State Historic Site. Rivers Bridge is a small Civil War battlefield operated by the South Carolina State Park Service. This unique battlefield is tucked away in the South Carolina countryside about 30 minutes to the nearest town. Steele and his family resided on the site for 2 years.
The position at Rivers Bridge State Historic Site prepared Steele for his new position at Fort Fisher. The position requires Steele to oversee everything from visitation services to special events such as the upcoming artillery shoot scheduled for July. The major difference that Steele will face is the volume of visitation. Rivers Bridge welcomed approximately 50,000 guests per year and the Fort Fisher State Historic Site averages one million visitors per year. Steele is looking forward to the challenges and joys of a high volume historic site.
Jim Steele has a bright vision for increased events at Fort Fisher. “I am still getting settled in,” explained Steele. “I would like to have more artillery demonstrations possibly even monthly.” Another event Steele would like to increase at the site is the number of living history programs offered. Living history programs offer guests a hands-on experience with actual items and uniforms from specific time periods.
These programs offer a plethora of information and provide an invaluable education for participants. In addition to these plans for the future, Steele would also like to replace the palisades fence which has been weathered thru the years. “I want to make Fort Fisher the premier Civil War site in not only North Carolina but the entire East Coast.”
History has always been an interest and passion for Jim Steele. His earliest memories of realizing his passion were at the age of 4 or 5. He recalls the first time he ever set foot on a Fort located in St. Augustine, “I was blown away and fascinated by the canons and the fort.” For Christmas of 1972, Steele received a set of Civil War soldiers. “Those soldiers fed my interest and I still have them today,” explained Steele.
Throughout his childhood growing up in South Carolina, Steele had many opportunities to visit and explore Fort Sumter. These experiences turned into a life long love for the history of the Civil War and especially in the Southeast. Steele often participates in Civil War reenactments in East Tennessee. These reenactments bring great joy to the participants while providing education for the spectators. He still joins these events as often as possible.
After high school, Jim Steele joined the United States Navy where he served four years. During this time he was stationed in the USS Eisenhower and was deployed in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. Next Steele worked in all kinds of different trades to include residential maintenance, plumbing, tree service, and installed restaurant service equipment. These experiences in different trades have proven an assest in Steele’s roles on historic sites. He is able to make many repairs himself.
Steele attended the University of South Carolina where he majored in History. After several years of seeking a profession in which he could mix his passion for history and work, Steele decided to return to school and seek his Masters degree. “There had to be someway to take my interests and make a living,” explained Steele. In May of 2007, Steele finished his Master’s thesis and graduated with a Master’s degree in Public History from the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Almost ten years ago, Jim Steele resided in the Wilmington area while working in the trade field and was ecstatic to learn of the opening at Fort Fisher State Historic Site. He and his wife Gabrielle along with their two small children Thomas and Daniel have been settling into their new life here along the North Carolina coast. “I am looking forward to getting to know the staff.
They are a great bunch of people and I hope to incorporate their ideas to improve the historic site. Everybody has made me feel welcome. I am glad I am here,” smile Steele. Drop by the Fort Fisher State Historic site and visit Jim Steele as he settles in to his new position.
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