As a traveler and explorer this past year has been particularly confining, though I admit that I have lots of open spaces nearby to hike and explore – parks, protected wetlands and more. Recently, however I have discovered a jewel close to my home that makes me feel I am daytripping in a small town upstate. Recently been opened to the public it provides a lovely haven of quiet lush landscapes dotted with open meadows and fields. It also has a military history, beginning in the late 19th Century. It is called Fort Totten. a landmarked area on a 149 acres peninsula where the East River widens to become the Long Island Sound on the north shore at the head of Little Neck Bay. It was once an United States Army Installation.
Fort Totten’s construction began way back in 1862 as a defense of the East River leading into the New York harbor. It was to be matched with another fort, Fort Schuyler which was built on the opposite side of the River. Both were to be part of a number of forts that were to be used as a river defense system in the first year of the Civil War. An interesting fact – the initial design for Fort Totten was drawn up by none other than Robert E. Lee. Its name comes from the engineer who modified Lee’s design. It was never to see action as the construction was abandoned after the war. Only a few walls had been completed
With the advent of The US’s entry into World War I, the fort drew interest as a potential site for mobilization and training for heavy artillery and the training weapons were actually removed from the fort with the notion of sending them into the war’s Western Front fracas. Fort Totten had a number of various sized “ batteries.” A battery in military terms is a piece of artillery, mortars, rockets, etc that are grouped together. This provides optimum communication, command and control during battle. The artillery was housed in these areas:
Also included was a long tunnel that led to the waterside fortified structure of the fort:
During World War 2 Fort Totten was the headquarters for anti-aircraft as part of the Eastern Defense Command for the entire East Coast. During the Cold War era it was continued to be used as an air defense site and also housed several battalions. After the Vietnam War Fort Totten closed as a Regular Army installation and the only military presence left to this day is the Army Reserve.
Since 2005 most of Fort Totten has been redesigned into a public park, although areas have been divided up between the Fire Department, Coast Guard and Police Department as well as the US Army Reserve. More on the present day Fort Totten in my next post.
To whet your appetite, here is a photo of the granite gate posts that are the entrance way into For Totten Park from Little Bay Park. The tops of the posts have balls that were either buoys to identify where to place explosives or torpedo mines..
Here it is in 1904: