Collection: Quaint and Historic Forts of North America

Fort Niagara

The main building of old Fort Niagara, “The Castle,” is probably the oldest piece of masonry in the State of New York, having been constructed by the French in 1726. The stonework of the barracks, a structure 134 by 24 feet with walls only eight feet in height, goes back to 1757, and in this year was, also, built the magazine. The bake-house, replacing a former one on the same site, was put up by the British in 1762 and the two stone blockhouses by them in 1771 and 1773. In the two hundred and eighty-eight and a half acres of the government reservation here one is in touch visibly with the Past. And what deeds of the Past these old stone buildings might tell if they were given power of speech I The name Niagara is of Iroquois origin, as are so many names of New York State, and is of ancient application to the river and the falls, which bear them. The falls of the Niagara are indicated on Champlain’s map of 1632 and in 1648 are spoken of by the Jesuit Rugueneau as “a cataract of frightful height.” It is certain that the indefatigable emissaries of the order of which he was a member had penetrated to the region of the great falls before this. In 1678 the falls were visited by the Friar Louis Hennepin,...

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Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay, Alabama

Mobile Bay, that pear shaped body of water, with its far reaching system of water tributaries, has been a scene of settlement and fortification since the early days of French attempts at settlement in the New World. There was, to begin with. Fort Louis de la Mobile, which protected the infant first settlement of Mobile, precursor of the city of today. In various guises Fort Louis passed from one to another of the different races of men with which the history of Mobile Bay is associated. Then there are the forts placed on the islands at the mouth of Mobile Bay and the forts at the head of the bay where the big rivers flow in. Finally there is Fort Morgan (Fort Bowyer to begin with) which occupies the point of that long, thin peninsula of land which forms the southern boundary of Mobile Bay, dividing its waters from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Fort Morgan today is in ruins and has never been thoroughly rebuilt since its capitulation to Farragut in one of the hottest battles of the Civil War. The governmental reservation of land on which the works are situated contains about 500 acres and is occupied, as well, by modern defenses. The view from the point on which the old fort is situated gives a wide prospect of blue water and sky. Across the...

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Fort Mifflin

Visit to Fort Mifflin, Mud Island, on the Delaware River, Pennsylvania, today reveals a star shaped fort of familiar pattern and of most substantial construction. It has the distinction of being within the corporate limits of one of the largest cities on the continent of North America, – Philadelphia, – yet a more deserted or forlorn looking spot it would be hard to imagine. Without benefit of policemen or any of the familiar marks of a great city, it might well serve in a ” movie ” for an ancient stronghold in a desert waste and may have been discovered by some enterprising movie manufacturer before these words are in print. Not always quiet, however, Fort Mifflin was the scene of one of the heaviest cannonadings of the War of Independence, when it sturdily held off the combined English naval and land forces until its own walls were reduced to powder. The ground on which the Fort Mifflin of today stands was deeded to the Federal government by the State of Pennsylvania in 1795, and the present works were commenced in 1798. As the strategic advantage and the ease of fortification of the point had been amply demonstrated during the Revolution, a large and strong fortress was built and garrisoned until changing conditions of warfare caused its importance to be a thing of the past and its garrison to...

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Fort Monroe

Morning bugle call, the evening gun, grey ships of war stealing in from a misty sea with long plumes of soft black smoke, military uniforms on the streets and trig bright houses are, probably, the average civilian’s impressions of a stay at Old Point Comfort where is located Fort Monroe. “Fort ” or “Fortress,” for the place changes its sex indifferently according to the state of mind of the speaker, it probably satisfies the popular conception of a mighty stronghold of defense more completely than any other such establishment in the United States. And, indeed, it is a great...

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Fort Michillimackinac and Fort Holmes

It was a conjunction of the Church and the State which began the career of Fort Michillimackinac, more than three centuries ago, at Saint Ignace, a point on the Canadian side of the Straits of Mackinac; the Church in the person of the restless Father Marquette and the State in the form of its indefatigable military servant, the Sieur de la Salle. In 1673 Father Marquette established the mission of Saint Ignace in a thriving village of the Ottawas, who were, Francis Parkman tells us, among the most civilized tribes of the American natives. Two years later La Salle visited the place in the Griffon, the first vessel to sail the Great Lakes. This barque the indefatigable Frenchmen had just constructed on Cayuga Creek just above Niagara Falls. The beginnings of a fort were already made when La Salle came to St. Ignace, that is, a palisade had been erected. Its defenders were Indians. La Salle sent the Griffon back to civilization for supplies and rigging for a second sailing vessel. Fortunately for history, which would have lost one of its most picturesque figures, he decided to remain, himself, at Saint Ignace and not to accompany his beloved Griffon on its round trip. That bewildered little ship was overcome by the fury of one of the lakes. At least it never returned, or was heard of, and reasonable surmise...

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Fort Massac

The far too farseeing French in 1702, in furtherance of their design of dominion in North America, despatched a detachment of about thirty men from Kaskaskia under the temporal command of M. Juchereau de St. Denis and the spiritual direction of fiery Father Mermet to establish a trading post, mission and fort, as near as convenient to the mouth of the Ohio River to guard the southern access to this vital means of travel. The result of this expedition was the establishment of Fort Massac, the site of the future little city of Metropolis, Illinois. Consider the map as it is today, showing Metropolis and the surrounding country, and see the fine position that Fort Massac had in the day of its establishment: It was about thirty-six miles above the mouth of the Ohio, quite far enough up to be out of the reach of any flood of that great torrent and also to be beyond the convenient call of marauding expeditions which might be making the Mississippi their route north; it faced to the south the mouth of the Tennessee River and was not far from where the Cumberland and Wabash rivers joined their courses to the Ohio, and thus it had fine trading advantages. Therefore it is not to be wondered at that for a time the new post flourished mightily. Juchereau traded and Father Mermet preached...

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Fort Independence

That Bostonians are thankful people truly appreciating their public blessings is amply proved by the way in which they turn out to Fort Independence, Castle Island, now a part of the Marine Park of their city, for the fresh air and unexciting recreation it offers. Other citizens of other cities create parks from their historic places and, then, content to know that they have them when they want them, allot the day and night watchmen entire seclusion in these domains. With Bostonians it is different: On any bright and cheering day throngs can be found at the old fort, of various classes and of widely sundered poles of thought; but joined together in one great common heritage, a capacity for making use of that which they have and of taking their pleasure in a devout and noiseless manner not to be seen amongst the habitants of any other great American city. It is a pleasant place, Castle Island, and the air there on a sunny day sweeping in from the great reaches of Boston’s environing waters is a true elixir. The views in various directions are entrancing, showing, in one direction, wide expanses of blue with dim islands in the distance and cottony clouds overhead; in another, the shipping and sky line of Boston harbor and the jumbled city. Geographically stated, Castle Island is a body of hard, rocky...

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Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip

The two forts which were the scene of Farragut’s first brilliant exploit in running by the enemy’s works with wooden vessels have not been regularly garrisoned since 1871 and have been maintained only in a casual sort of a fashion. Stronger and newer defenses have taken their place, though these two spots have had a long and honorable existence in the defense of the mouth of America’s greatest river and of its picturesque French Spanish American chief city, New Orleans. Situated 32 nautical miles by river from the Gulf of Mexico and about 22 miles from the lighthouse at the head of the passes of the Mississippi, they occupy the first habitable ground bordering the river, at a sharp bend known as English Turn. Fort St. Philip is on the northern bank of the river. Fort Jackson on the southern. Though so far from the Gulf by river. Fort St. Philip, owing to the peculiar formation of the mouth of the Mississippi, with long fingers spread out into the sea, is only a short distance from the Gulf as the crow flies. About a mile above the site of Fort Jackson there stood an ancient French fortification known as Fort Bourbon, which gradually yielded to the encroachments of time so that now there is of it nothing left. Fort St. Philip, itself, was founded by the French and was...

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Fort Frederick, Pemaquid, Maine

The English clenched hand, which answered the brandishing of the French mailed fist at Pentagoet, now Castine, was Fort Frederick at Pemaquid, that anciently known peninsula which marks the entrance to the Kennebec River. Parts of the walls of old Fort Frederick are still standing, its entire outlines are plainly to be discerned, and it is a favorite point of visit with the many people who make their homes in this part of the Maine coast during the summer months. Pemaquid, itself, is one of those long arms of rock, which are characteristic of the Maine coast. A good word picture of the locality has been painted by S. A. Drake, the chronicler of Maine coast history. “A belt of rusty red granite stretches around it above low water mark,” he writes, ” and out into the foaming breakers beyond. Pastures pallid from exhaustion and spotted with clumps of melancholy firs spread themselves out over this foundation. In the extreme corner of this threadbare robe there is a lighthouse. You look about you in vain for the evidences of long occupation which the historic vista has opened to you in advance.” While there have been many wild reports that the settlement on Pemaquid antedated that on Massachusetts Bay, itself, there is lacking weight of historical evidence to support this contention. Pemaquid was visited by Captain John Smith in 1614,...

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Fort George, Castine, Maine

The little town of Castine, on the Penobscot River, Maine, is a favorite resort for summer visitors, who are attracted by its fine air, its abundance of seafood, and its accessibility to the interior of the country. These same considerations together with the fine strategic location of Castine Peninsula at the head of Penobscot Bay, guarding the entrance to the Penobscot River, influenced the French adventurers of three hundred and more years ago to plant their settlement of Pentagoet and to build a fort in this very vicinity. Traditions of the settlement and grass covered ruins of the fort are still to be discovered at Castine. In the course of the years there came here the British at war with the colonies, and His Majesty’s forces built Fort George, an important post in its day and one of the best-preserved Revolutionary works in New England. These ruins are the scene of pilgrimage of hundreds of people annually merry parties from the summer colonies which dot the shores of Penobscot Bay or from Mount Desert Island, around the corner as the land lies from Castine. The remains of Fort George might even today be, with no disproportionate labor, put into condition for defense. The fort was a square bastioned work protected by a moat excavated down to solid rock. Each bastion was pierced with four embrasures. Though no buildings now...

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Fort Columbus or Fort Jay

Even Governor’s Island, once a smiling garden, appertaining to the sovereigns of the province, was now covered with fortifications, inclosing a tremendous blockhouse, – so that this once peaceful island resembled a fierce little warrior in a big cocked hat, breathing gunpowder and defiance to the world! – Washington Irving, “Knickerbocker’s New York.” The graceful little island of Washington Irving is described in a recent publication of the government printing office at Washington after the following eloquent fashion: ” Irregular in form but approaches nearly the segment of an oblate spheroid, its longest diameter being from north to south, and about 800 yards in length. The transverse diameter is about 500 yards. It has an elevation above high water mark of 20 feet, and its face is smooth and green, with a rich carpet of grass.” On the top of the highest feature of this smooth, green face with its rich carpet of grass is Fort Columbus, more properly known by its ancient name of Fort Jay. No doubt you will find it hard to visualize the importance of Fort Jay. It is the headquarters of the Department of the East of the army of the United States, you may be told. Yes, you will answer indifferently, it is a quiet little place, not nearly so noisy as the roaring forties of Broadway; it keeps to itself and is...

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