The Other Fort Knox, and a book giveaway
|Aerial view of Fort Knox in Maine, courtesy of Friends of Fort Knox|
|General Henry Knox|
Fort Knox in Prospect, Maine is the most visited national historic site in Maine, and with good reason. This fort was never attacked, which is good for us. It means we have one of the best-preserved original forts in the nation.
Like the Kentucky Fort Knox, the one in Maine is named for General Henry Knox. He was the first U.S. Secretary of War and served as Commander of Artillery in the American Revolution. The Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston,
Maine is well worth a visit, too.
The construction of Maine’s first granite fort was begun in 1844, overlooking the Penobscot River. It is positioned to guard a narrow channel through which all enemy ships going up the river would have to pass.
A stretch of the Penobscot between Bangor and Castine had seen some conflicts during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, and British naval forces controlled Penobscot Bay for a time. A fort in the area was planned as early as 1825, but was not built for two more decades.
|Painting of Fort Knox by Seth Eastman, done in the 1870s.|
The fort was approved when tension again arose with Britain, this time over the Maine-New Brunswick border. The U.S. did not want to see the city of Bangor and other resources along the Penobscot claimed by Britain again as a result of the border dispute.
Building the fort cost almost a million dollars. Congress appropriated money in pieces for the construction, which continued until 1869. The cannon batteries nearest the river were built first, and then the fort itself. The fort’s two levels and four batteries contain mounts for 135 cannons, although no more than sixty-four were actually installed.
|Inner courtyard; the squares on the ground are openings to underground powder magazines. photo by Leonard G. at English Wikipedia [CC SA 1.0]|
The granite in the fort was quarried at Mount Waldo, about five miles upriver. The huge blocks were carried by barge down the river to a wharf at the building site. The granite work and brickwork in the fort are examples of fine craftsmanship.
The main fort measures 252 by 146 feet. The two levels of the pentagonal fort contain mounts for 64 cannon. Four batteries cover four lines of defense outside the fort, with mounts for about 70 more cannon. The hot shot furnaces for the batteries are still in place.
|Rodman gun inside the fort. Photo by Leonard G.|
|Leonard G. at English Wikipedia [CC SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/sa/1.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons|
At one time, many more structures were on the fort grounds. An 1870 officer’s report lists officers’ quarters, men’s quarters, a blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, office, large barn, kitchen building and implement houses.
The fort was manned during the Civil War. Up to 117 Maine volunteers, some in training, were stationed there from 1863 to 1866. The fort was still under construction, and troops lived in temporary wooden buildings behind the fort.
|Arched gun placements inside the fort; Photo by Dickelbers (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
During the Spanish American war, it was again manned. About 575 troops from Connecticut were garrisoned here. They lived in large tents outside the main fort structure. During both these wars, no enemy ships appeared on the Penobscot River.
The garrison was reduced to one man, the "Keeper of the Fort," upon their departure at the end of the war. The keeper, Ordinance Sergeant Leopold Hegyi, lived alone at the fort for thirteen years, attending to the maintenance of the fort.
|The fort as seen from across the river. Photo by Magicpiano (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
On July 16, 1900, a local fisherman noticed that the flag was not flying over the fort. He went to investigate and found Sergeant Hegyi very ill and went to fetch a doctor. Hegyi died the next day, and he was buried in the Narrows Cemetery in Sandy Point, Maine.
Other military men took turns after that maintaining the fort for shorter periods. In 1923, the federal government declared the fort excess property and put its 125-acre grounds up for sale. The state of Maine bought it for $2,121. It is now a Maine state historic site and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
Fort Knox Historic Site makes a wonderful family outing. It is open 9 a.m. to sunset, May 1 to Oct. 31. Take flashlights and a picnic!
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Susan Page Davis is the author of more than sixty published novels. She’s always interested in the unusual happenings of the past. Her newest books include The Seafaring Women of the Vera B. and The Cowboy’s Bride Collection. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com .