Fort Knox State Historic Site

Location: Prospect, Maine

Webpage: Maine State Park

General Description: The Penobscot River is the longest river in Maine with a watershed that covers over 25% of the state and was a major commercial network for Bangor and the shipbuilding industry during the colonial period.  The British had a naval base in Halifax, Nova Scotia and in part to protect this naval base and to provide a refuge for loyalists, established New Ireland centered at Fort George, near Castine. The Penobscot Expedition of 1779, near the end of the Revolutionary War, was aimed at removing the British from Castine, but ended in disaster when 43 American ships had to be burned to prevent their capture.  This was the largest defeat of the Navy until Pearl Harbor and saw the court martial of Paul Revere who was in command of the 100 man artillery detachment.  Again during the War of 1812, the British looted Bangor and the surrounding area following the Battle of Hampden during the autumn of 1814 and once again laid claim to all of Maine east of the Penobscot River.  The inability of Massachusetts to protect the region led the citizens of Maine to seek statehood which was granted in 1820.  The Aroostook War of 1838-1839 over the boundary between New Brunswick and Maine again raised the Anti-British sentiments.  To protect American interests in the future, the Penobscot was included in the Third System of Coastal Forts and the construction of Fort Knox at the narrows of the Penobscot River.  Fort Knox was a large, expensive fort built with granite quarried at Mr. Waldo, five miles upriver, but funding was intermittent.  Construction began in 1844 but continued off and on until 1864 and was never fully completed.  Two batteries along the river were the first to be completed, each designed for 32 pound cannon along with hot-shot furnaces to heat the cannonballs so they would set wooden ships on fire. However, Fort Knox never received any cannons.  By 1853 the construction of the main fort foundations had begun and still there were no cannons.  By this time the iron-clad ships made the hot-shot furnaces obsolete and the introduction of the larger Rodman cannons during the Civil War meant these batteries had to be rebuilt to accommodate them.  Military activity at the fort occurred during the Civil War when 20-54 soldiers were garrisoned at the fort and during a month during the Spanish-American War when 575 troops from Connecticut manned the fort.  Fort Knox never saw any military action and never had its full complement of cannon.  However, the granite structure of the fort it stands today as an unaltered example of a mid-19th century coastal fort constructed by master craftsmen who combined functionality and style.



1) Partly because it was built with granite instead of brick and partly because it never saw action, Fort Knox stands today in perfect condition.  The state of Maine has invested a lot of money in its preservation and it shows.  This is by far the best example of a Third System Fort that we have seen along the Eastern coast.  Rather then being in a state of disrepair and neglect, Fort Knox had been extensively restored and protected.  They have been able to open up all of the rooms and casements, so it takes a couple of hours just to explore.


2) The visit begins with the Visitor Center and museum where they have a few exhibits giving the history of the fort and putting it into context.

3) For some reason that is not explained the Sallie Port is to the front of the fort overlooking the river.  I don’t understand this design, however, you get a great view of the granite front of the fort as you come around the side to the entrance.


4) They have a couple of cannon and howitzers mounted in the casements to give you a good sense of how they worked.

5) There are two spiral staircases that lead up to the top of the fort where additional cannon would be placed to give a two tier battery of cannon in addition to the cannon in the Battery A, B, C, and D located outside the main fort.  The sheer firepower would have been devastating if it ever got its full complement of cannon.


6) From inside the fort you can access the small protected openings for muskets all along the inner scarp of the fort looking out into the moat between the scarp and counter-scarp on three sides.  For some reason, along one side the floor was made too low to shoot out the openings, so granite platform with steps were constructed to create firing platforms at each opening.  It was also strange that the entire fort was built on a slope along the river, but this created a neat effect looking up the gallery along the inner scarp.


7) You can also access the counter-scarp by a short protected walkway through the moat.  I am not sure why they did not have a tunnel like we have seen at other forts to access the counter-scarp as this made for a vulnerable point in their defenses.

8) The officers quarters were completed, although it is not clear if they were ever actually used.  They have reconstructed the wooden floor and brick walls that would have created two floors of rooms within the fort.  The soldiers barracks were never completed inside the fort, although there was a number of vaults under the parade ground that were used for storage.


9) Once you finish inside the fort, you can take the underground access tunnel to Battery B.  This is a relatively long tunnel heading down the hillside to Battery B which is at the waterline.  It was strange that the entrance to the tunnel is outside the fort on the front side.  I would think this would make soldiers going to Battery B vulnerable to attack from the river.

10) Battery B is a series of cannon emplacements along the river with a hot-shot furnace.  I especially liked the brick hot-shot furnace both here and at Battery A, as they are the only completely intact furnaces I have seen.  You can easily see how they operated with the opening in the back to roll cannon balls down over the fire which was probably coal and the opening at the other end where the red-hot balls would be extracted to be taken to the waiting cannons.


11) Just below Battery B is the old wharf used to bring in the supplies and granite building blocks.  Extending from the wharf up to the fort is a long ramp that would have had rails on it to haul the carts up to the fort using a steam engine with a drum and endless chain to pull the carts up the hill.

12) Battery A is essentially the same as Battery B with more cannon emplacements along the river.  However, they have mounted a 15-inch Rodman cannon on an actual carriage so you can see how it was operated, which is another rare sight at these coastal forts.


13) Batteries C and D were set above A and B, respectively to provide a second tier of cannon although they would have held only 4 cannon each.

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