Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Point Grey Battery in Vancouver BC

Visited 2,9,10 Jun 2014 -  Point Grey Battery (1939-1948) was a World War II Canadian coastal defense gun battery that defended the Harbor of Vancouver, BC.
UBC Museum of Anthropology
UBC Museum of Anthropology

I must confess to not properly researching this Canadian gun battery before our visit because I didn't think there would much left to see. The site was reported to be partially overbuilt by the University of British Columbia (UBC) Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and I suspected that not much would remain. 
Point Grey Battery Gun Emplacement #1
Point Grey Battery Gun Emplacement #1

The site was located on Point Grey which is now part of the sprawling campus of UBC on the west side of Vancouver BC. This requires us to transverse much of Vancouver to get to the site some 50km away, traffic is horrific and expensive in Vancouver. Gas is $ 5.70 US/Gallon and there is an unseen toll $ 3.00 CAN each time you cross the bridge (they track your license plates with hidden cameras and you accumulate an on-line bill, unknown to visitors). Given all of this, one trip would have been optimal, it took us three trips.
Ready Ammunition Storage Emplacement #1
Ready Ammunition Storage Emplacement #1

On the first visit we navigated directly to the site of gun emplacement #1 and to our surprise found it well maintained and interpreted. The entrances to the ammunition storage areas and the emplacement rooms were sealed but carefully labeled, no guns or mounts but an excellent interpretive sign told the story of the battery. The emplacement was pretty much graffiti free and very well kept, how they do this in the middle of a university campus with thousands of students is amazing.
Underground Magazine Tunnel Entrance
Underground Magazine Tunnel Entrance


At emplacement #1 you can see the ammunition hoist door and the ammunition ready storage areas. On the left side are work and storage rooms. In the center is the gun platform and behind it is an emergency exit from the underground magazine. The entrance to the underground tunnel to the magazines is to the left of emplacement #1 and is also sealed. I walked the area down to the fence along the cliff and did not see anything else that I could associate with the battery so we departed.
Point Grey Battery Gun Emplacement #3
Point Grey Battery Gun Emplacement #3
As I researched the FortWiki article for the Point Grey Battery I came across a couple of references to the #3 gun emplacement still existing although most said it was destroyed in building the museum. It seemed worth a trip back to try and find any remnants of that emplacement. We returned to the battery site and located emplacement #3 semi-hidden to the side of the main museum entrance. Much of that emplacement remains intact except for the right hand side. This emplacement is not labeled or interpreted and is not as well kept as emplacement #1. Again I looked over this new area for any sign of other remains and found none so we departed.
Repurposed Gun Emplacement #2 Displaying Bill Reid’s "The Raven and the First Men"
Repurposed Gun Emplacement #2 Displaying Bill Reid’s "The Raven and the First Men"


Google Maps Satellite View of Museum Roof
Google Maps Satellite View of Museum Roof
As I again researched the FortWiki article for the Point Grey Battery I came across a single obscure article by Stevie Wilson that said the #2 gun emplacement had been repurposed and was now the "centerpiece of the museum", displaying Bill Reid’s "The Raven and the First Men" a massive red cedar carving. The accompanying picture of the piece was awesome and I knew we had to go back to see the piece and the repurposed #2 gun emplacement.

The third trip was a great success, the #2 gun emplacement had in fact been repurposed and transformed into a stunning setting for Bill Reid’s dramatic carving. It's easy to see the form of the emplacement supporting the carving on a bed of sand. Above the carving is a round skylight flooding the carving with natural light, all of this at the center of the former gun emplacement. 

The Architect of the Museum, Arthur Erickson, took pains to preserve the history of the battery and all three of the emplacements in some form. If you look at the satellite view of the museum in Google Maps you can spot the skylight over emplacement #2 and around it is outlined the shape of the emplacement on the roof.


Searchlight Shelter #10
Searchlight Shelter #10
I was determined to locate any other remnants of the battery so I took the long trip down the cliff to Wreck Beach where the battery searchlight shelters were built. Both of them still exist, covered with graffiti, but standing tall. The beach is clothing optional but I elected to remain fully clothed, not wanting to scare anyone. The trip back was tough, I estimate there were 300 or so steps back up the cliff, very steep.

This battery is an excellent example of World War II Canadian coastal defenses and well worth a visit. Do not miss going into the Museum, it is exceptional.

Friday, May 9, 2014

American and English Camp on San Juan Island

American Camp and English Camp (1859-1874)Visited on 7 May 2014
Washington State Car Ferry "Evergreen State"  at Friday Harbor
Washington State Car Ferry "Evergreen State"
 at Friday Harbor

Access to American Camp and English Camp on San Juan Island in Washington State is probably best done on the Washington State Ferry System. We boarded the car ferry "Chelan" at the Anacortes ferry terminal at 8:30 in the morning after a quick stop at a local donut shop. The trip from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island takes about an hour, a very pleasant journey with lots of island scenery. Our trip was on a sunny day in May with very little wind so we really enjoyed the trip.

We landed at Friday Harbor and immediately headed south to the site of American Camp. American Camp and English Camp came to be as a result of bad wording in the 1846 Treaty of Oregon. When the border was described at the San Juan Islands it was not clear if it was meant to follow the Haro Straight or the Rosario Straight, the difference was all the San Juan Islands and both Britain and America laid claim to them. 
American Camp circa 1868, NPS
American Camp circa 1868, NPS
National Park Service Visitor Center  at American Camp
National Park Service Visitor Center
 at American Camp

Both British and American settlers took up claims on San Juan Island and lived in relative peace until an American farmer killed an English pig. The brew-ha-ha over the pig killing caused both the American Army and British Royal Marines to establish camps on the island in 1859 and 1860. The incident became known as the "Pig War". Instead of a conflict, both sides decided that a joint occupation was better than fighting and that's how it went until the border dispute was arbitrated by German Kaiser Wilhelm I in 1872. The decision gave the Americans all of the disputed San Juan Islands.
American Camp Today
American Camp Today
Resident Eagle at American Camp
Resident Eagle at American Camp
We arrived at American Camp about 10 am and spent some time in the visitor center learning about the site and the nest of bald eagles that resides there. The site today has only three period buildings vs the original thirty some and a surrounding white Pickett fence like the original post. None of the buildings had period furnishings or were open to the public. At the top of a nearby hill is the site of a redoubt constructed by superintending engineer Lt. Henry M. Robert (of Robert's Rules of Order). The first commander of the post was Captain George E. Pickett of Civil War fame. Generals Harney and Winfield Scott were involved and it was General Scott who deescalated tensions and set up the joint occupation concept.
Officer's Quarters at American Camp
Officer's Quarters at American Camp

The site of American Camp is on a windswept ridge and the small hill to the south contains the earthen remains of the redoubt. It must be a very bleak and windy place in the winter.





English Camp Today from Officer's Hill
English Camp Today from Officer's Hill
English Camp Blockhouse
English Camp Blockhouse

We next drove up the scenic west coast of the island 13 miles to the English Camp on the north end. The English Camp has four period buildings in place but no open visitor center. The period buildings include a blockhouse on the shoreline, a storehouse, barracks and a hospital building. Nothing remains of the officer housing on a nearby hill but that site offers a great view of the camp from above and the steps lead down to the camp through a picturesque English garden.
English Camp Royal Marine Barracks
English Camp Royal Marine Barracks

The British clearly got the best location of the two posts. Their camp is at sea level in a sheltered cove so that the supply ships could literally pull right up to the camp. Like the American camp all the buildings were locked up tight and did not appear to have any period furnishings. The blockhouse was the most interesting of the buildings.

This was a great day trip for us, we took the return ferry at 2 pm and were back at our starting point by 4pm.

Visit the American Camp and the English Camp pages on FortWiki.com for more information and pictures.

John

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.