Let’s find a fort









By Sue Cornell
For Points East

Points East is always seeking hooks for family summer cruises that will excite both children and adults. And what could have greater potential than New England’s array of historic coastal fortifications?

Adults thrill to military forts because of their rich histories and perspectives. Kids? Well, what youngster hasn’t built his or her own fort or tree house using found items to create private places in which imaginations can run wild? Proof? Legendary American mountaineer Conrad Anker and his pals built pillow forts. “Mine was always like Station 9 in Antarctica. I wanted to be out there, surviving,” Anker said.

So hang onto your long-billed caps, families and friends, the following legendary fortresses await . . . if you dare engage them.


Fort Griswold: Known today as Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park, this is the site in New London Harbor, where, on Sept. 6, 1781, British forces, commanded by the infamous Benedict Arnold, captured the fort and massacred 88 of the 165 defenders stationed there, according to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). Activities include a Junior Docent Program, school tours, OpSail tours, and education programs. The Ebenezer Avery House, which sheltered the wounded after the battle, has been restored on the grounds in Groton, Conn., near the mouth of the Thames River. A Revolutionary War museum also depicts the era. FMI: www.fortgriswold.org.

Fort Trumbull: The fortification was built between 1839 and 1852 on the west shore of the Thames River, in New London. It was one of a group of 42 forts constructed for the defense of the coast of the United States, and for defense of the harbors they guarded. This group of forts became known as the Third System of Fortifications. Fort Trumbull is unique among the Third System because of the Egyptian Revival features incorporated in the architectural design.

During World War II, Fort Trumbull hosted Columbia University’s Division of War Research, which developed sonar systems, fort historians say. By war’s end, they add, this merged with Harvard University’s Underwater Sound Laboratory, which, ultimately, morphed into the Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory (which developed electronics for Navy submarines). In 1970, the Sound Laboratory was merged with the Naval Underwater Systems Center in Newport, R.I. The Fort Trumbull facility was closed in 1996.

The Thames River Heritage Park Water Taxi is a fun and affordable trip across the Thames River, between New London and Groton on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the summer, with special sunset tours, in-season. The water taxi runs on a hop-on/hop-off hourly loop between three stops: New London City Pier and the Fort Trumbull and Fort Griswold landings.

The visitor center contains multimedia theaters, computer touch-screen interactive exhibits, 3D models, and extensive graphics and text panels, DEEP says. The center depicts over 225 years of military history and technological advances from the Revolutionary War to the Cold War. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., from Memorial Day through Labor Day. FMI: www.fortfriends.org.

Where to stay: New London Waterfront Park and Marina has 40 moorings and 10 slips, pump-out services, and trash removal, use of coin-operated laundry machines, and secure head and shower facilities. Upon vessel arrival the captain/operator may contact the dockmaster on VHF Channel 9 or by calling 860-443-3786. The walk to Fort Trumbull is just over 20 minutes; the water taxis are another option, and they can take you to both forts.

The water taxis are refurbished from the Navy days of shuttling crew and admirals to and from the large ships of the U.S. Navy. According to the Thames River Heritage Park, one of the boats was assigned to the USS LaSalle, which, while in the Persian Gulf in 1988, assumed the role of Commander of Middle East Forces. The other boat was assigned to the USS Hunley, a submarine tender homeported in Charleston, S.C., servicing the nuclear-powered Polaris submarine fleet.

Check out the other marinas along the New London and Groton shores for dock space availability and rates.

Rhode Island

Fort Adams: Fort Adams, a former U.S. Army post in Newport, was established on July 4, 1799 as a First System coastal fortification. Named for President John Adams, who was in office at the time, its first commander was Capt. John Henry, who was later instrumental in starting the War of 1812. The current Fort Adams structure was built between 1824 and 1857 under the Third System of coastal forts.

An hour-long guided tour (Memorial Day Weekend – Oct. 31, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. – provides an overview of the history, design and restoration of Fort Adams. Your tour guide will take you from the top of the fort’s walls to the depth of the underground tunnels.

“Lost Fortress” tours were opened to the public for the first time in 2016. The 30-minute walk through and around Fort Adams’ Advanced Southern Redoubt, south of the main structure, reveals an impressive fortification, with two dry moats, two drawbridges, and a footprint that rivals Fort Sumter in scale.

Where to stay: Newport is a very busy place in the summer. Make your mooring reservations well in advance of your visit. A courtesy dock in front of the park’s visitor center is available for pickups and drop-offs. FMI: www.fortadams.org.

Fort Wetherill: Across the Narragansett Bay’s East Passage from Fort Adams State Park, on 100-foot granite cliffs, is Fort Wetherill State Park, on Conanicut Island (Jamestown). The former coastal-defense battery and training camp was formally acquired by the State of Rhode Island from the United States in 1972. Its military history dates back to the American Revolution. As a prominent overlook to the East or Middle passage of Narragansett Bay, the 61.5-acre park has been a favorite overlook for Tall Ship events and America’s Cup races.

According to ristateparks.com, the site’s military story began with an effort by American colonists to fortify it to prevent British attacks on Newport at the outbreak of the Revolution. The battery here – to be known as the Dumpling Rocks Battery – was captured before it could go into effect. In December 1776, the British captured Jamestown, along with Newport, and they retained control of the lower Bay – except for a brief interlude in August 1778 – until 1779. During the Battle of Rhode Island (also known as the Battle of Newport), troops of the French fleet occupied Jamestown.

FMI: www.riparks.com.

Where to stay: Jamestown Boat Yard is nestled in the Dumplings area. The fort is directly south of the boatyard. Amenities include launch service, a waterfront grille and deck, outdoor and indoor showers, a full galley (during launch-driver hours), and a waterfront bocce court. There are roughly 12 transient moorings and no dockage. Launch service monitors VHF Channel 72. To make mooring reservations call 401-423-0600 between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Fort Wetherill is not directly accessible by water. You can see the gun fortifications and the main part of the park when approaching from land. The fort is less than a half-mile walk south from the mooring field via Dumplings Drive.


Fort Warren: This fort is on Georges Island, an ideal location from which to defend Boston. Centrally located in the middle of Boston Harbor, Fort Warren was vital to the defense of the city for nearly 100 years. The fort itself was home to Union soldiers, Confederate prisoners and Southern legislators during the Civil War. Later, it was used as a training ground for soldiers preparing for the front during World Wars I and II.

Built between 1833 and 1860, Fort Warren was completed shortly after the beginning of the Civil War. During the Civil War, Fort Warren served as a prison for Confederate officers and government officials. James M. Mason and John Slidell, the Confederate diplomats seized in the Trent Affair, were among those held at the fort. High-ranking civilians held at Fort Warren included Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan.

Still active through the Spanish-American War and World War I, Fort Warren was modified from the late 1890s into the early 20th century to accommodate the newer rifled ordnance then being developed for coastal defense. During World War II, the fort served as a control center for Boston Harbor’s south minefield, a precaution against attacks by German U-boats.

Fort Andrews: This structure was built on Peddocks Island during the turn of the 20th century.

“After World War I, Fort Andrews was put on caretaker status (mothballed), but was brought back into action again during World War II,” park historians have chronicled. “In 1942, the fort’s massive coast defense mortars were scrapped, but its six-inch and three-inch guns served out the war guarding the southern approaches to Boston Harbor. The fort also served as a prisoner-of-war camp for Italian prisoners during World War II, who were employed as laborers following the Italian surrender to the Allies in 1943.”

Most piers allow passenger pick-up and drop-off, and visitors can also anchor off the islands at their own risk. Inflatables and dinghies are allowed on islands. Boat ramps closest to the islands are in Winthrop, Boston, Quincy, Hingham, Weymouth and Hull. FMI: www.bostonharborislands.org.

Fort Revere: This is an eight-acre historic site situated on a small peninsula in Hull, at the entrance to Boston Harbor. It’s on Telegraph Hill, in Hull Village, and houses the remains of two seacoast fortifications, a water tower with an observation deck, a military history museum, and picnic facilities.

Fort Revere was called Fort Independence and later named after Paul Revere. It was used to protect Boston Harbor; and did so from the time of the American Revolution through World War II. Following the decommissioning of the fort in 1947, according to the Fort Revere-Fort Independence Preservation Society, efforts begun during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976 resulted in the fort’s restoration and the installation of amphitheaters within the walls of the fortification.

Fort Independence on Telegraph Hill presumably is the gravesite of nearly 200 French soldiers who died here while fighting for America in the Revolutionary War, park historians suggest. In 1778, they add, while the Revolutionary War raged across the colonies, those 200 French soldiers, who had been captured in Nova Scotia by the British while fighting for the Americans, were exchanged for English prisoners and shipped south to Fort Independence. FMI: www.fortrevere.org.

Where to stay: Protected Allerton Harbor, right below Fort Revere, is the site of the Hull Yacht Club (781-925-9739) and the Hull Town Pier (781-925-0316), and, south of the harbor, Bumkin Island and Sunset Point create a deep-water anchorage.

A terrific National Geographic map – “Boston Harbor Islands” – shows the locations of anchorages and mooring fields, restrooms, picnic areas, and refreshment stands on Georges Island, and on other islands in Boston Harbor. For more details, visit www.natgeomaps.com/trail-maps/trails-illustrated-maps/.

New Hampshire

Fort Constitution: Located in New Castle, adjacent to the U.S. Coast Guard Station at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, this fort is likely New Hampshire’s most important and interesting military fortification. Defenses were first established on the site in 1631, and Fort Constitution was originally named Fort William and Mary, after the king and queen of England.

In December 1774, Paul Revere rode a horse to Portsmouth from Boston to warn the colonists of British plans to reinforce the fort, to protect its store of powder, the website portsmouthnh.com says. The colonists, however, surrounded the fort and seized light cannon and 97 barrels of gunpowder. Many consider the attack to be the first overt act of the Revolution, and it’s thought that some of the supplies were used in the Battle of Bunker Hill. FMI: www.portsmouthnh.com and www. nhstateparks.org.

Where to stay: Portsmouth Yacht Club (PYC) maintains eight guest moorings in front of their docks and in Pepperell Cove diagonally across the harbor in Maine. Contact PYC on Channel 16 or 78A, phone 603-436-9877, or email info@PortsmouthYC.org to make a reservation. PYC offers visitors showers and a BYOB kitchen and bar.


Fort Preble: Fort Preble was the largest federal fort built in Maine until forts Knox and Gorges were begun. Secretary of War Henry Dearborn of Maine named the fort in honor of Commodore Edward Preble, U.S.N., of Portland, known as “The father of the American Navy.” Between 1807 and 1950, Fort Preble – excluding the years of the Mexican War (1846-1848) – was the longest garrisoned of any Maine fort. It was involved in the defense of Portland Harbor during the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II.

According to Southern Maine Community College, Spring Point Ledge Light was built near the site in 1897. A 900-foot granite breakwater – extending from the fort and surrounding the lighthouse – was later added in 1951.

The Portland Harbor Museum, located on Fort Preble, is dedicated to celebrating South Portland’s lengthy maritime history. The exhibitions illustrate the shipbuilding industry, a cornerstone of Portland Harbor. Visitors will see original documents and photographs related to wooden shipbuilding. The only surviving part of the clipper ship Snow Squall, is displayed in the PHM (www.portlandharbormuseum.org).

Where to stay: Spring Point Marina is at the entrance to Portland Harbor, in South Portland, within walking distance of beaches and lighthouses. It can accommodate most any size vessel, with draught limited to around 14’. The marina has half a dozen or so dedicated transient slips but can find space for everyone. A new building houses laundry, shower and bathroom facilities, as well as a new restaurant. Transient customers can make a reservation using dockwa.com or by contacting the dockmaster at dockhouse@portharbormarine.com.

Fort McClary: For more than 275 years, a fort has protected the approaches to the Piscataqua River at the southern gateway to Kittery. The most recent of these is Fort McClary, named for New Hampshire native Major Andrew McClary, who died in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Fort McClary stands today as one of the state’s more important historic forts that preserve military history, including changes in military architecture and technology.

The buildings on-site today represent several different periods of construction as the fort was upgraded and modified to meet the area’s defensive needs, says Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The site was manned during five wars: the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I. FMI: maine.gov/fortmcclary.

Where to stay: Pepperrell Cove at Kittery Point is a beautiful, well-protected harbor with easy access from the ocean. It offers transient moorings, a public restroom, post office, and a supermarket at the town dock.

From the ocean, the entrance to the Piscataqua River is well marked by lighthouses on either side of the harbor, and land markers to guide you directly into Pepperrell Cove. If no moorings are available, a large anchorage area, with a good holding and plenty of swinging room, is off Fort McClary.

The Town of Kittery operates a public pier and boat ramp about two and a half miles from the fort’s gatehouse by road and within sight of the fort’s main beach area across the cove. No moorings or docks are at the fort. However, some people do beach their small boats and kayaks there. Boaters need to be aware of established swimming areas. The Town of Kittery has five slips and six transient moorings available. For reservations, contact the harbormaster at 207-451-0829 or email kpa@kitteryme.org.

We think the idea of coastal fortresses as cruising destinations is a winner for barnacle-backs of all ages. Check out the websites provided in this article, formulate an itinerary, and head out on a cruise into New England’s rich seafaring history.

A resident of Killingworth, Conn., Susan Cornell is an independently contracted writer, photographer, and marketing and public relations consultant. During the summer, she and her husband Bob “pretty much live at Brewers Pilots Point Marina” aboard their Nonsuch 30C Halcyon.