Staff Spotlight, Jackie McGowan
The dust floats down and the sand makes small rain noises as Jackie McCowan shuffles along the scaffolding and climbs down. His job never ends, yet he returns every day with the same dedication and drive. Jackie is the historic brick mason for Fort Clinch, and his presence inside the fort is as predictable as the cannons on the ramparts.
Jackie is a Fernandina Beach native, growing up in the Old Town neighborhood. Fort Clinch was always in his backyard. Jackie remembers the first time he saw Fort Clinch up-close.
“It’s a funny story, but I snuck onto the property! I was very interested in what was going on here as a young kid. I’ve always been interested in nature and natural science, and Fort Clinch is the perfect place for a kid to explore.”
As a rite-of-passage for all Nassau County children, Jackie visited the fort as part of a school trip and then often with his father.
Jackie began working with his father at a young age. He says his dad was very detail-oriented, timely, and precise with his work, and those traits stayed with him. He learned from his dad about construction, which led him to trade school and eventually historic repairs at Fort Clinch.
He now shares his knowledge by working with volunteers to keep the historic Canopy Road safe and preserve this cultural resource.
“When I set my goal and meet it, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something, and I feel good about it,” he says.
The memories of Fort Clinch run deep for Jackie, from sneaking in as a child and school field trips to working with his dad on fort buildings as a contractor.
“Who knew that years later I would return here and be part of preserving history,” Jackie says.
More dust fills the air as he climbs back up on the scaffolding. The sea breeze quickly whirls it around and takes it away. Jackie gets back to work but not before he shares, “I take great pride in being a brick mason for the fort.” Then he’s back to work because a fort isn’t going to take care of itself.