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Betty Oderwald helps save a memory in stone of a 200-year-old forgotten US war

Betty Oderwald has led an effort to restore the Powder House, one of Connecticut's few buildings connected to the War of 1812, now celebrating its bicentennial.

By Cathryn J. PrinceContributor / March 26, 2012

Members of the New York Army National Guard march down 5th Avenue in New York wearing uniforms from the War of 1812 on Memorial Day in 2006. The year 2012 marks the bicentennial of that war. In Connecticut the Powder House, a War of 1812 era building, has been restored, and a plan to honor War of 1812 veterans is under way.

Chip East/Reuters/File

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The Powder House in Fairfield, Conn., is one of the state’s few surviving witnesses to the War of 1812.

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The stone structure stored ammunition during what has been called the "second war of independence" or the Forgotten War. Over time it fell into disrepair, stones were askew, the door had nearly rotted away, and the property was overgrown.

Then Betty Oderwald came on the scene.

As president of the Connecticut Society of US Daughters of 1812, Ms. Oderwald raised local awareness and prevented the town and state from losing this structure.

Together with Connecticut's Society of The War of 1812, the Fairifeld Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and the Fairfield public works department, and with $5,000 from town funds, Oderwald was able to provide the cottage-like stone building with a new roof and new door. Its stones were also realigned and cleaned.

It was an important endeavor because the Powder House is thought to be the only structure in Connecticut built expressly for the War of 1812 that is still standing, Oderwald says.

US President James Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Britain had steadfastly rejected America’s right to engage in free and unfettered transatlantic commerce. It routinely boarded American vessels and pressed American sailors into the Royal Navy.

The small building was built in 1814, two years after the war began, according to minutes from Fairfield’s 1814 town meeting. Fairfield citizens didn’t become truly worried that their town might be a target for British troops until 1814.

“[French leader] Napoleon [Bonaparte] had abdicated, and Britain could now turn all its forces on America with a kind of burn-them-out mentality. At that point, it became crucial that you had adequate defenses,” Oderwald says. “Britain always had ships going up and down Long Island Sound. The citizens really knew [a raid] could happen.”

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