Fort Adams State Park

An enormous granite, brick, and steel early 19th-century military fortification guarding the entrance to Narragansett Bay

About this Property

#Redevelopment

When we visited the fort in 2006, it was to view a sculpture installation by our friend Jen Raimondi. The fort was partially restored in the casement section. Since then, the grounds have been improved and designed to host many types of public events. Some of the rest of the fort have been restored or at least reinforced to last for the next hundred years.

#Current Events

Fort Adams is a valuable resource, and a National Landmark structure. This eighty-acre historical site stands ready to serve as an educational facility and a cultural center. It is a major historic attraction for our State’s tourism industry and helps educate the public, especially children, on American history, military culture, architecture, engineering and technology. Fort Adams is a masterpiece of coastal defense and an untapped jewel on Narragansett Bay.

The Fort Adams Trust was founded in 1994 as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and is charged by its articles of incorporation with directing and supporting the stabilization, restoration, maintenance, and operation of Fort Adams as a historic site; conducting educational, cultural, and interpretive programs and activities; generating revenues that will financially sustain the Trust’s programs; conducting fundraising activities to finance the stabilization, restoration and maintenance of the Fort during the short and long term; holding special events; operating a museum; employing a staff; maintaining a membership; and all other business consistent with the operation of an historic site. The Trust has prepared, with the help of past grants, a strategic master plan that encompasses these diverse requirements.

#History

Much, much history archived at the Fort Adams > Discover > Fort Adams History website.


From the National Register Nomination Form, 1970, by Richard B. Harrington

Fort Adams is situated on a north-easterly, thumb-like protuberance near the south-west end of Aquidneck Island; between it and the island of Jamestown runs the “east passage” into Newport harbour and Narragansett Bay. It received its name when certain fortifications on this site (which from earliest times had been employed for harbour defense) were completed and dedicated in 1799; it was named in honour of the second President of the United States. The 1799 fort was of robust brick construction set at “amazing” angles no doubt following a polygonal or star- shaped Vauban example. By the time of the War of 1812 this work had already fallen into serious decay and was not considered useful thereafter.

The fort as we see it now is mainly a product of the l820’s, with some inner and outer additions. Soon after 1820 congressional appropriations were made for construction of a new Fort Adams, to follow the plans and specifications of Colonel Joseph G. Totten. In 1820 work was commenced with, first, demolition of the 1799 brick fort and, next, construction both above and below ground of the present rugged granite structure. Vastly larger than its predecessors, it is a hollow pentagon, about 1200 by 1000 feet over-all, with a narrow “base” facing-roughly north, east and west sides splaying out towards the south, where the fourth and fifth sides form a point. At north-west, north-east and south-east angles are aggressively projecting bastions dominating the channel passage, Newport harbour and Brenton’s Cove.

The high granite walls have two casemate levels within, with their embrasures (now largely bricked-up) for directing artillery fire seawards and with their necessary corridors and stairs. Above runs a barbette or parapetted unroofed gallery, also for artillery use. A maze of under-ground tunnels was dug through rock; some leading to the water’s edge to provide exits in case the fort should suffer abandonment. Many of these latter passages are to-day under water and others have been sealed off for safety; but a few parts of the underground works can still be inspected. To the south of the main pentagon, but following the outline of the “V” there, are lower fortifications, embanked within, intended for land defense. Extending from the fort’s water-bordered areas and roadways are a number of wharfage and mooring facilities, one dating from the 1820’s, when it was used to unload the granite brought from Maine for construction and hauled into place by wagon, rope and pulley.

Entrance to the fort is through a large, rusticated, segmental north portal originally protected by a moat. Within the massive walls, a one- story range of granite runs along the east wall, projecting towards the parade-lawn and sweeping around a bastion angle with a surprisingly elegant convex curve. This range continues along the south side also, but there has surmounting brick additions etc… Construction is of dressed ashlar used in the simplest, most utilitarian, but handsome, manner. There is no applied ornament, no carving; yet recessed oblong panels let into the stonework over each opening give an understated adornment or at least a relief from monotony: this is surprising in its modest subtlety, somehow reminding one of Alexander Parris’s work in this country and of the quieter sophistications of the English Regency style.

The southerly granite range mentioned above has for long served as basement to one floor of brick barracks prefaced by covered galleries supported on cast-iron columns at parade-ground-front and served by cast-iron stairs at rear, within the landward defenses. The upper barracks structures and their chimnies survive, though mostly hollow through either fire or the collapse of roofs and floors. There are no other structures with the fort’s walls.

A few other buildings of early date were placed outside the great walls, and of these the most interesting survivor is the old granite guardhouse, in very austere Greek Revival style and most penitentiary in aspect. Outside the walls there are also more structures to east and north; these are brick auxiliary buildings, shed-like in form, constructed in the late XIX and early XX Centuries, but they bear witness to the long-continuing use and development of the fort. To the south of the landward fortifications were erected the commander’s residence (1873) and housing for officers and their families. This entire southern area stretching from the fort proper to Harrison Avenue is now a naval housing development and is not included in the state-owned park. The fort, and its masonry (with the exception of the fire-damaged barracks)is in sound condition and intact in form.

Significance

From Revolutionary War times onward the fort at Brenton Point has been not only a defender of Narragansett Bay, but a vital link in the east coast defense network. During the Civil War the fortification as we know it now played an important role in the continuing effectiveness of the Naval Academy. Throughout this period and up to the point at which the garrison was finally reduced, many officers of national distinction served there. The very fact that the fort was never called upon to perform its intended functions actively is testimony to its effectiveness. During the Spanish-American War there was a constant threat of Spanish landings in this area. That these never came about could possibly be related directly to the presence of Fort Adams. By World War II, Fort Adams, with its servant batteries, protected not only Narragansett Bay but the mouth of Long Island Sound as well. […]