Monday, March 24, 2014

Fort Churchill, Nevada

Fort Churchill State Historic Park
Fort Churchill State Historic Park
Fort Churchill (1860-1871) - Visited 18 Mar 2014 - Visiting Fort Churchill is not very difficult if you find yourself in the Reno or Carson City area of western Nevada. The key is Alt U.S. 95A which can be reached from Reno, Carson City or Fallon via U.S. 50 or I80. The Fort Churchill State Historic Park is just south of Silver Springs, Nevada on Alt U.S. 95A just before the Carson River crossing. There is a fee for entry, seven dollars per car for us at the time of our visit. The fee is paid at the entrance and you will need cash or check because the fee station is unmanned. Fees vary by status.
View of the South End of the Post From the Visitor Center
View of the South End of the Post From the Visitor Center
It is a good idea to stop first at the visitor center/museum to get an overview of the site and an idea of what life was like at the post. There are a couple of free publications available at the visitor center that are most useful. Included in the displays is a model of the post and two rooms with period furnishings that depict the headquarters office and a prisoner cell. Outside the visitor center/museum there is display of two 3 inch ordnance rifles on field mounts as well as a number of plaques and markers. On the west side of the building there is a great view of the fort below and an interpretive display identifying the buildings.
Interpretive Panel at the Visitor Center Describing the Fort Buildings Below
Interpretive Panel at the Visitor Center Describing the Fort Buildings Below
Remains of the Post Hospital
Remains of the Post Hospital

All of the remaining post buildings are in a state of "arrested decay", some with a shell remaining, others with just a wall or two and others with just a foundation. This was an "open plan" fort without a stockade or walls with buildings built around a central parade. The buildings were built with 20 inch thick adobe walls and that is the reason that you can see what the post looked like today. Had the buildings been wood frame they would have been carried off long ago.
Ruins of Officer's Quarters
Ruins of Officer's Quarters



There is a loop drive around the fort with two parking lots, one on the north and one on the south side of the post. Pick one and take the walk around the parade. You will quickly get the feel of the post with the officer's quarters on the north side, barracks on the west side, magazine and guardhouse on the south side. The east side housed the headquarters, quartermaster buildings and the hospital. In back of the hospital is the ruins of the laundresses quarters. The interpretive signs along the path are great, they not only identify the buildings but offer some insight into the operation of the post. 
Remains of Post Headquarters
Remains of Post Headquarters

The officers quarters were quite something and provided confortable living for the post officers and their families. The unmarried enlisted troops were housed in the barracks buildings which were less comfortable but the 20 inch walls provided protection against the extremes of weather. You can get an idea of what a barracks was like by viewing the visitor center, it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a replica of a barracks building.
Mess Hall Ruins
Mess Hall Ruins




The first post commander, Captain Joseph Stewart, 3rd U.S. Artillery, was an experienced officer who was in command of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Harbor when he was tapped for the Carson River Expedition during the Pyramid Lake Paiute War. He was subsequently ordered to establish a permanent post along the Carson River that would provide protection for settlers and miners and communities like nearby Virginia City. The gold and silver mines had resulted in the rapid influx of miners and settlers that precipitated the Pyramid Lake Paiute War. 

Sketch of Fort Churchill from Museum Display
Sketch of Fort Churchill from Museum Display

Stewart, a West Point graduate, apparently took his job seriously and the first cost estimate for the new post was $192,556, a considerable sum for the time and ten times above what it cost to build comparable posts elsewhere. The high cost of labor, the expense of shipping in materials from San Francisco during the gold rush and the necessity to get the command under shelter before the harsh winter set in all contributed to the high cost. Construction began in July 1860 and enough buildings were completed to shelter the command by October that year. The post was named Fort Churchill for Colonel Sylvester Churchill, then Inspector General of the Army. Captain Stewart returned to his command at Alcatraz 26 Oct 1860. 
Museum Interior
Museum Interior

The post was garrisoned through much of the Civil War by California Volunteer troops as were many of the western forts. Most regular U.S. troops returned east for the duration of the war. Regular U.S. troops returned after the end of war and garrisoned Fort Churchill until it was abandoned in 1869-71.

Museum Replica of Headquarters Office
Museum Replica of Headquarters Office






This is a great place to visit and offers a good look at what a pre Civil War western fort must have looked like. We visited in March and we were the only visitors during the two hours we were there. The experience could be enhanced with a few additions especially a period flag pole and garrison flag on the parade where the original was located and perhaps some recorded bugle calls to break the silence. Well worth the visit!

GPS Coordinates: Lat 39.2925 Long -119.27056



Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Michigan


Visited 26 Aug 2013 - Fort Mackinac (1780-1895) was a British Revolutionary War fort on Mackinac Island just off Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The British never lost this fort to an American attack but lost it twice as a result of the treaties ending the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The fort was designated the second U.S. National Park in 1875 and garrisoned by U.S. Army troops to protect it until it was turned over to the State of Michigan in 1895.
Fort Mackinac and the Town Below
Fort Mackinac and the Town Below
Fort Holmes Earthworks & Log Sallyport
Fort Holmes Earthworks & Log Sallyport


The fort has been restored with 14 original buildings that span the life of the post. It sits on a 180' limestone bluff overlooking the harbor and Lake Huron below. The fort walls, the three blockhouse and the long inclined road up to the waterside sallyport are all painted white and create an imposing picture that almost dares an enemy to attack.

The fort only has one glaring weakness and that is the higher ground behind it. The British took care of this deficiency by building another fort, Fort Holmes, up on this peak.

1798 North Blockhouse
1798 North Blockhouse

It requires a lot of effort to visit Fort Mackinac, first you have to get to St. Ignace on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, next you have a ferry ride over to the island and third you have to figure out how to get around on an island that has no motorized vehicles. I'll cover all of that stuff at the end of this post, and for now you can assume we magically appeared at the north entrance of the fort.


1835 Officer's Hill Top Duplex Quarters
1835 Officer's Hill Top Duplex Quarters





The north entrance brings you into the fort at almost it's highest elevation and you get a great view of the fort below and the lake beyond. At this level there are three restored original buildings, the schoolhouse, the north blockhouse and the hilltop officer's quarters. These buildings, as are all of the restored buildings, furnished with period furnishings and in the case of the north blockhouse, animated figures describing the British attack on the fort. The duplex officer's hilltop quarters was especially well fitted out.

1859 Barracks
1859 Barracks
Western Defenses
Western Defenses



As you go down the stairs to the parade level the large Barracks building is on your left and straight ahead are the two officer's quarters buildings. Further off to the right is the Hospital and the western defenses. Further off to the left are the garrison buildings and the eastern defenses. The south sallyport entrance is just below the eastern defenses.

First Sergeant in His Quarters
First Sergeant in His Quarters




All of the interior displays are well worth your time but the one that really stuck in my mind was the First Sergeant's quarters. The First Sergeant is the guy who really runs the day-to-day operation of the fort and here you see him getting ready to start the day. There is an amazing sparseness that you would expect but great detail that includes the collar stiffener on the chest, the lettered footlocker on the floor and civilian clothes on the wall.



video
Don't miss any of the fourteen buildings, inside and out. There is a cannon firing and rifle demonstrations throughout the day. The cannon was fired on the hour and the rifle demonstrations were every hour on the half hour. Walking tours were conducted periodically usually after the cannon firing.



1780 Stone Officer's Quarters Now the Tea Room
1780 Stone Officer's Quarters Now the Tea Room
We had lunch at the Tea Room operated by the Grand Hotel and housed in the 1780 Officer's Stone Quarters overlooking the town and harbor, good food, excellent service and a great view. Don't let the name fool you, it has regular food. 

We entered the fort from the north entrance so we departed from the south sallyport entrance. That takes you down the long inclined roadway to the town below and offers you some amazing views back up at the fort


South Sallyport Entrance
South Sallyport Entrance


Now about getting there, we took our RV up Michigan mostly on Interstate 75 and crossed the Mackinac toll bridge between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. The bridge is 5 miles long and is a very interesting ride in an RV when there is a crosswind. 

Once you get to St. Ignace plan to stay a couple of days to allow for bad weather. Mackinac island access is by commercial ferry from St. Ignace harbor, roundtrip fare is about $25 per adult for about a 20 min ride. There are three different ferry lines. There is an additional $11 entrance fee to the fort. 

One of the Three Ferry Companies
One of the Three Ferry Companies

There are no motorized vehicles on the island and transportation there is provided by commercial bike rental companies and commercial horse drawn carriages/conveyances. The horse drawn conveyance tours offer the easiest way to get an overview of this extraordinary island but they do have a limited number of stops and it may be difficult to get good photos. The tours do stop at the north fort entrance and you can spend as much time there as you want. 
Two Horse Team in Downtown
Two Horse Team in Downtown





The best deal for non-bike riders is to purchase a package at the ferry terminal that includes the roundtrip ferry fare, fort access and the horse drawn tour, that costs about $56 per adult. Buy the $2 visitor guide sold on the ferry and on the island, it is outstanding. Make sure you pick up the fort brochure at the entrance, it has a great map of the fort.

I've only covered our fort visit but there is so much more to see on the island that you should plan for half a day for other attractions. Don't forget there is another fort on the island, Fort Holmes, on the peak behind Fort Mackinac.

For more information and pictures see the FortWiki.com pages for Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fort Wayne - Detroit, Michigan

Visited 16 Aug 2013 - Fort Wayne (1843-1949) was one of eight forts designated as Northern Frontier Forts in 1840 by the Chief Engineer of the United States Army, Joseph G. Totten. The Northern Tier Forts were placed at strategic locations along the Great Lakes to prevent any British incursion across the border and to control traffic between the lakes. 
1845 Stone Barracks, 500 Man Capacity
1845 Stone Barracks, 500 Man Capacity

Star Fort Sallyport and Brick Facing
Star Fort Sallyport and Brick Facing

Fort Wayne's role at Detroit was to prevent enemy ships from passing between Lake Erie and Lake Huron and to protect Detroit. Construction began in 1843 under the supervision of Lieutenant Montgomery C. Meigs. The old star fort remained a part of the active military post until 1949 when it was given to the City of Detroit. The newer garrison part of the post remained an active military post until the 1960s and has military tenants to this day.
East Bastion Casemate and Embrasure
East Bastion Casemate and Embrasure

Our visit began with a phone call to set up an appointment. The park is run by a coalition of volunteer organizations and a single city employee. Hours are limited so make sure you call before visiting.

Driving through downtown Detroit is an experience but luckily the fort is just three blocks from the freeway exit. The entrance to the grounds has a manned gate and there is a large parking lot for visitors.

Left SE Wall, Sallyport  Right Dem-bastion
Left SE Wall, Sallyport  Right Dem-bastion



Fort Wayne is really multiple forts in one, the overshadowing feature is the four story 1845 stone barracks inside the old star fort. The star fort was originally an earthen fort faced with oak logs that had four bastions, one on each corner. The fort you see today is part of the original blended into an 1860s brick faced fort. The easiest place to see the combination is in the sallyport entrance. The remaining 1840s features include the stone barracks, the stone magazine and the sallyports. The 1860s upgrades included the brick facing walls, casemates in the bastions, service magazines on top of the bastions and Civil War era gun emplacements.

Civil War Era Rodman Gun Emplacement, East Bastion
Civil War Era Rodman Gun Emplacement, East Bastion

Our tour brought us through the stone sallyport into the brick casemates for the east bastion. The casemates were impressive both for the original construction and their current excellent condition. We exited the sallyport to a fantastic view of the stone barracks and moved up to the top of east bastion where eight Rodman gun emplacements have been exposed. These emplacements are in good shape.
Stone Magazine Interior
Stone Magazine Interior





We explored the interior of the 1845 stone magazine and the stone barracks and then we headed toward the back entrance cut through the west baston. This back entrance opens into the next phase of the fort's development. This part of the fort had no defensive fortifications but served as an administrative, training and housing area for the troops. Most of this area was built between the 1870s and the 1900s and it features an officer's quarters row, an NCO quarters row, a large parade and four large brick barracks on the north end. 

Restored Commanding Officer's Quarters
Restored Commanding Officer's Quarters



The commanding officer's quarters is restored to it's original 1880s Victorian look but the rest of officer's row retains the brick veneer exteriors added in the 1930s. The NCO quarters row is a mixed bag with some of the buildings deteriorating. Only two of the large brick barracks remain and one of them is in deteriorated condition.





Deteriorating NCO Quarters
Deteriorating NCO Quarters

There are two different period guardhouses on the post, the earlier 1889 guardhouse is completely restored and should not be missed. The interior is beautifully restored with period furnishings that make it look like the troops just fell out for inspection five minutes ago. We ended our tour with a walk back by the newer guardhouse which has a small collection of guns out front.




Interior of 1889 Guardhouse
Interior of 1889 Guardhouse


Our guide Adam is one of the volunteers at the fort and he literally knew every inch of the grounds. He gave us a great tour and we could tell how proud he was of the work done by the folks at the fort. This is a Must See fort if you are in the Detroit area. 

Fort more information and pictures see the Fort Wayne (2) page on FortWiki.com.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Saint Helen Island Fort, Montreal, Canada


Visited 30-31 Jul 2013 - Saint Helen Island Fort (1820-1870, 1870-1945) was a British colonial fort built on Saint Helen Island in Montreal Harbor. The fort was a combination arsenal and fort built after the War of 1812 while the threat of American invasion was still fresh.

Fort Front View Note the Cannon on the Right and the Entrance on the Left
Fort Front View Note the Cannon on the Right and the Entrance on the Left

Original Arsenal Floor and Rails Exposed
Original Arsenal Floor and Rails Exposed
It's not often that we get to visit a fort that just had a seven million dollar upgrade, especially when it's not particularly promoted as a fortification but more as a museum. The Stewart Museum operates the former fort to house it's impressive collection of military and historical artifacts and documents. The arsenal portion of the fort contains the museum collection and the interior of that portion was the focus of the renovation so the inside of the arsenal buildings look more like a museum than an arsenal. Not to worry, the architects exposed some of the old architectural details so that you can actually see how it was built.
Museum Entrance Tower
Museum Entrance Tower



The access problem for challenged folks could not be solved inside the building so the architect built an external glass elevator/stair tower so anyone can access all three floors with ease. The museum collection is great, don't miss it.


Enclosed Powder Magazine
Enclosed Powder Magazine







Outside the museum there are a number of great attractions that include a powder magazine, a period blockhouse, a cannon collection and the remains of a 250 man barracks that burned down in 1875. Signage around the grounds and in the museum was good, nearly everything was in English and French.


Brass Cannon
Brass Cannon





In the cannon collection there are the usual suspects of mortars and cannons but there is also a large beautiful brass cannon. Other guns are scattered around the compound and there is a fine looking 24-pounder cannon on a regulation iron garrison carriage at the front of the fort.


1807 Fort Blockhouse
1807 Fort Blockhouse






Only the stone first floor of the 250 man barracks survived the 1875 fire and that is all that remains today. The first floor is covered with a flat roof and appears to be in use. The enclosed powder magazine appears to be in great shape. The period blockhouse at the edge of the compound predates the Fort. It was built in 1807 to monitor traffic on the Saint Lawrence River.
French Unit Musket Firing
French Unit Musket Firing







The museum also operates several demonstration and kids events throughout the day during the summer season. One demonstration group provides the personnel for a French military unit that does drill and musket fire demonstrations. A second unit provides Scottish bagpipe and drum demonstrations.

Scottish Bagpipe and Drum Demonstration
Scottish Bagpipe and Drum Demonstration






Now about the name, it's difficult to determine the real name of this fort. Even the folks at the fort were unwilling to commit to a name and you find all different kinds of names depending on where you look. I've adopted an English placename for the fort since none of the other names seemed appropriate.





This is a great place to visit if you are in Montreal but check for the museum operating days (currently Wednesday thru Sunday in the summer) before you come. We were able to access the Fort grounds even on the days the Museum was closed but you don't want to miss the Museum. Plenty of parking but it is expensive ($6-$20). Structured Museum admission fees.

For more details and pictures see the FortWiki Saint Helen Island Fort page.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fort McRee on Perdido Key, Florida


Visited 26 Apr 2013 - Fort McRee (1834-1947) was originally a brick Third System coastal fort that saw service during the U.S. Civil War and was almost completely destroyed in the 1861-1862 battles for Pensacola and it's harbor. 
Early Photo of the Old Fort McRee Ruins
Early Photo of the Old Fort McRee Ruins

The old brick fort lay in ruins after the Civil War and all trace of it were eventually covered by the changing sands on the key. Two concrete Endicott Period gun batteries were built on the old military reservation in 1898-1899. Battery Center had four 3" gun emplacements and Battery Slemmer had two 8" gun emplacements. 

A 1906 hurricane with a 12 foot storm surge covered the island, damaged the batteries and killed several military members and dependents. The batteries were rebuilt and an 11 foot high seawall was built around the reservation. 
1928 Photo of Fort Mcree
1928 Photo of Fort Mcree with the two Endicott Period Gun Batteries and the Seawall
CDSG Members landing at Fort McRee
CDSG Members landing at Fort McRee

World War I saw both Endicott Period batteries disarmed and fire control stations built on the Island. During World War II, a modern 6" coastal gun battery, Battery 233, was built on the reservation along with support facilities. The battery was never armed and it was abandoned after the war in 1947. The old military reservation is now part of the Gulf Island National Seashore administered by the National Park Service.
Battery 233 Rear Entrance
Battery 233 Rear Entrance





You can visit Perdido Key via private boat and land in a cove directly below the World War II Battery 233. I did this along with other members of the Coast Defense Study Group (CDSG) as a part of their annual meeting. Our group departed from the Navy mariana at Sherman Cove for the very short trip across the channel to Perdido Key. We were accompanied by a National Park Service historian who supervised our access to the interior of Battery 233. The battery is normally locked up to protect it from vandals and graffiti artists.
Battery 233 Internal Generator Room
Battery 233 Internal Generator Room


Battery 233 was build along a standard plan for this type battery so the interior was familier but still interesting and a bit dangerous because it's pitch black inside and there are some unexpected drop-offs. Lots of graffiti on the walls, some dating back to the 80s. There are three entrances to the battery, one for each of the two gun positions and a central entrance at the back of the battery. 
Battery 233 Gun Emplacement #2 Entrance
Battery 233 Gun Emplacement #2 Entrance
Battery 233 Emplacement #1 Gun Pit
Battery 233 Emplacement #1 Gun Pit

The gun positions are located on either side of the central structure and you can find the empty gun pits in front of the emplacement entrances. If you climb up to the top of the battery you can see all the entrances and the gun pits as well as a great view of the whole reservation inside the seawall.




Battery Center Gun Emplacement #4
Battery Center Gun Emplacement #4






Battery Center is located at the north end of the reservation while Battery Slemmer is on the south end. Both of these batteries are pretty much buried in sand but there is enough of the upper level exposed on both of them to identify the gun emplacements. Battery Slemmer was disarmed in 1918 and later overbuilt with a fire control station and a 60" searchlight position.





Battery Slemmer Crows Nest Observation Post
Battery Slemmer Crows Nest Observation Post



The remains of two fire control towers can still be seen on the key, one is a tall concrete tower at the southwest corner of the seawall and the other is a collapsed concrete BC/CRF station and steel tower behind Battery 233. Only the foundation, or perhaps it is the roof, of the fire control station built into Battery Slemmer is visible.






Concrete Pillar from Fire Control Station
Concrete Pillar from Fire Control Station




At the north end of the reservation here are a number of concrete pads and a couple of very short roads that were a part of the WWII facilities built to support Battery 233. The Battery 233 structure is the only intact building within the seawall perimeter.

There was no sign of the original brick fort on the beach.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, Mississippi

Visited 18 Apr 2013 - Fort Massachusetts is a brick Third System coastal fort that was started just a year before the U.S. Civil war began and was incomplete when the war started. 
Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island
Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island
Casemates Inside the Fort
Casemates Inside the Fort
The fort was located on Ship Island just off the Mississippi Gulf coast and after a brief occupation by Confederate forces it was occupied by Union troops for the duration of the war. It was used during the war as a Confederate prisoner of war camp. The fort was completed after the war in 1866 and armed with 17 large caliber cannons including two huge 15" Rodman smoothbore cannons and two 100-pounder Parrott rifles.

You have to take a boat to visit Fort Massachusetts and you catch the excursion boat to the island from the Port of Gulfport, Mississippi. 


Fort Massachusetts Excursion Boat, Capt. Pete
Fort Massachusetts Excursion Boat, Capt. Pete
The boat travels the 11 some miles to the island in about an hour each way. The schedule is seasonal and for 2013 it begins on the 16th of March and ends on October 27th. Within that season there is a spring, summer and fall schedule and within those, the schedule varies by day of the week. Call ahead! The cost is $27 per adult, $25 per senior and $17 per child.

Ship Island is a popular recreation area as well as the site of Fort Massachusetts. The snow white beaches and the historic fort draw groups from all over the country and the excursion boat may have a number of good sized groups on it.
nside the Fort, Circular Staircase on Right and  Hot Shot Furnace in the Corner
Inside the Fort, Circular Staircase on Right and
Hot Shot Furnace in the Corner

The boat lands at the Ship Island pier which is right at the fort. You exit the boat on a long boardwalk which goes past the fort and on to the Gulf side of the Island and the recreational beaches. This is a very small island and it is not far from one side to the other.

The fort itself is in remarkably good condition considering the number of major hurricanes it has weathered, including Camille (1969) and Katrina (2005). The National Park Service has done a remarkable job in restoring and maintaining the fort. The park rangers conduct tours of the fort usually starting right after the boat docks. On my visit they conducted the first tour for the non-group people and later they did separate tours for each of the two student groups. 
15" Rodman Cannon in North Bastion
15" Rodman Cannon in North Bastion
The tours begin at the signs in front of the fort and continue through the sally port across the parade and over to the casemates. The tour moves up to the Barbette level via the central spiral staircase and moves around to the north bastion where the 15" Rodman Cannon is mounted. This Cannon is in pretty good shape and the barrel is not plugged as so many are. It's unclear if the carriage is original or a reproduction but in any case it is in great shape. The tour continues across the parapet tier from the north to the south bastion passing by the two 100-pounder Parrott gun positions to the second 15" Rodman Cannon position. These last three positions contain only broken up pieces of the original guns. The tour ended on the south bastion.
Outside Embrasure, Note the Different Color Brick
Outside Embrasure, Note the Different Color Brick

The tour may or may not include a peek inside the parade level magazines and the two guard rooms, make sure you check them out if they are not on the tour. Only the central spiral staircase was open on the day I visited but there are two more that you can view. A walk around the outside perimeter of the fort gives you some insight into the construction stages and the water side profile of the fort. The iron looking casemate embrasures seemed to all be reproductions but really looked real and add a lot to the look of the fort.

If you go during the week you will probably spend most of the day on the island so go prepared. There is a snack bar and they have many beach necessities for sale. They also rent beach chairs and umbrellas. The menu includes hamburgers and chili cheese dogs. Don't forget the sunblock, the snow white sand really reflects the sun.