A small barracks room at historic Fort Washington, restored after 800 hours labor by volunteers and $1,200 in donations, was dedicated Sunday to the muffled, mittened applause of 100 cold history enthusiasts.
The 1824 fort, one of the country's most magnificent post Revoluntionary War forts and one of the least restored, has been largely boarded-up for years because National Park Service officials say there have been insufficient funds to restore it.
"Fort Washington has had its up and downs, year to year and even day to day, and much of what has been done here by volunteers," the crowd was told Sunday by Ira Hutchinson, superintendent of the Park Service's National Capital Parks-East division.
Jimmie L. Dunning, deputy director of National Capital Parks, agreed and said that since the Park Service acquired the fort almost 20 years ago "restoration has been agonizingly slow . . . we've not been able to accomplish what we've wanted to do."
Awards were given to several costumed VIPs - Volunteers in the Parks - who helped restore the room in the enlisted men's barracks. The ailing fort has 35 VIPs who are primarily responsible for the living-history programs seen there on weekends and summer evenings.
There are about 500 volunteers working in Washington-area parks, ranging in age from 9 to 86, and more than 8,000 in federal parks around the country under the VIP program established by Congress in 1970. Volunteers are given travel and lunch money, but the Fort Washington volunteers, like most, end up donating money as well as time to their projects.
The fort's VIPs donated about $500 of the $1,200 and also made their own Civil War period uniforms and gowns - which they did not wear while replacing the floor, plastering walls and ceilings, building bunks and other barracks furniture and installing a huge 19th century Army pot-bellied stove. The stove, the cookies and coffee were major attractions on a day when temperatures rose only to 33 degrees. Any one interested in joining the VIP program should contact officials at federal parks here or call 426-6770.
Although not VIPs, the Fort Washington Continentals, a band of two dozen local teen-age musicians which plays regularly for fort events, also braved the cold to help celebrate the restoration of the first fort room in almost two decades.