Doggin’ America’s Forts

The first thing European settlers did when they arrived on our shores was build a fort. From these crude wilderness earthworks and log blockhouses to the massive masonry fortifications of the 19th century, forts played an important role in American defense through World War II. Today forts have morphed into military bases that are cities in their own right. Many of the old forts remain wholly or partially intact, original or restored, and make unique canine hiking destinations with your dog.  

Fort Barton - Rhode Island.
The British occupation of Newport in December 1776 inspired the Tiverton Heights fortifications of July 1777. Its first commander, for whom the fort was subsequently named, was Lieutenant Colonel William Barton.

In just his first week of command, Barton successfully led a raiding party of 40 men across Mount Hope Bay to kidnap occupation commander General Richard Preston in his bedroom in Middletown. Barton was hailed as a hero and celebrated for his boldness. The Americans had received the morale boost they were longing for.

Later Fort Barton was the launching point for General John Sullivan’s invasion force during the muddled Battle of Rhode Island. In a bizarre postscript, William Barton was remanded to debtor’s prison for 14 years for refusing to pay a judgement on Vermont land he had purchased. When the Marquis de Lafayette, who coordinated the French naval forces in the Battle of Rhode Island, visited the United States in 1824 he discovered Barton in prison and paid the claim.

The centerpiece of the property is Sin and Flesh Brook, whose name derives from a grisly incident on March 28, 1676. Zoeth Howland, apparently a devout sort, was riding from Dartmouth to Newport to attend a Quaker meeting. He was following this very stream in Tiverton when he was ambushed by six Indians who killed Howland and left his corpse into the stream. When his body was discovered the brook got its name.

Sitting on the site of Fort Barton is a 30-foot observation tower that affords superb views of Mount Hope Bay and the Sakonnet River. Your dog can easily climb the wide steps and enjoy the westward views as well.

Fort Wetherill - Rhode Island.
For most of its time in American history these high granite bluffs looking down on the East Passage of Narraganett Bay has led a military life, albeit deactivated for the most part. Colonists built an earthern battery here and when it was known as Dumpling Rock the United States built Fort Dumpling in the early 1800s.

As coastal defenses ratcheted up around 1900 the fortifications were beefed up and the fort was renamed in honor of Captain Alexander Wetherill, a local infantryman killed in the Battle of San Juan during the Spanish American War.

During World War II the old fort saw its last active duty - as a training center. It closed in 1946; the guns hidden in the cliffs never used. In 1972 the State of Rhode Island acquired the property for a park.

The canine hiking at Fort Wetherill is mostly on narrow dirt trails out to rocky promontories overlooking the sea. What they lack in distance they more than make up for in aesthetic appeal. At land’s end the short hike is to the remains of the old battery.

The only marked trail is a Nature Trail but don’t get excited - it only goes up and down a small hill between parking lots. Don’t neglect it, however, for its views are riveting.

Fort Stanwix - New York.
Mohawk travelers and later English settlers could travel by canoe from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean if their transport could be picked up and carried across a short, level stretch of ground between the Mohawk River and the Wood Creek, near present day Rome. The British built Fort Stanwix on this spot in 1758 to replace three smaller forts that protected the Oneida Carryduring the early years of the French and Indian War. The fort, named for the builder brigadier General John Stanwix, never saw action and was abandoned when the British won Canada in 1763.

Fort Stanwix was garrisoned again during the American Revolution and became a prime objective of the British campaign of 1777. But despite a prolonged siege, the English never conquered Fort Stanwix. The British initiative to win the Upper Hudson Valley and split the Colonies failed, virtually assuring American independence. The palisade was manned until 1781 but never tested again.

A blockhouse was constructed at Fort Stanwix to store ammunition, but it disappeared sometime around 1815. By 1830 the fort was leveled. The Fort Stanwix National Monument now features a garrison reconstructed to its 1777 appearance inside a palisade fence. A self-guided tour takes your dog around the grounds. 

Crown Point - New York.
Save for an occasional short portage, it is almost possible to travel from Montreal to New York City by canoe, thanks in large part to those 100+miles of water passage through Lake Champlain. The most important of these portages was the two-mile land link between the southern tip of Lake Champlain and Lake George. Whoever controlled this portage controlled the vital highway through the heart of Colonial America. The French built the first fort here in 1758 and dealt the British Army one of its worst defeats ever in North America in defending it. The British returned a year later to overwhelm what they called Fort Ticonderoga. During the American Revolution the British and Americans tussled over Ticonderoga even as its stone walls were being plundered for local building material.

Your dog is also not allowed on Fort Ticonderoga grounds today but a bit further north you dog can explore the Crown Point State Historic Site. At Crown Point the lake narrows to only 400 yards and both the British and French constructed forts here. Ruins of both forts remain as they always have been. The area is practically devoid of trees affording long views of the lake from the ramparts and tops of tremendous earthworks. There is plenty of grass for your dog to romp on. An interpretive footpath of almost three miles leads around the forts and into the interior of two magnificent remains of Georgian-style stone barracks. 

Mount Independence - Vermont.
After the Americans overran a lightly manned Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775, they quickly moved to defend Ticonderoga’s weak northern exposure. Across Lake Champlain - only 1,300 yards at this point - General Philip Schuyler ordered the clearing of timber and the construction of a sister fort. The horseshoe-shaped battery, protected by steep cliffs, was named Mount Independence following the arrival of a copy of the Declaration of Independence on July 18, 1776. A floating bridge connected the fortified complex.

During 1777, Mount Independence was even better fortified than famous Ticonderoga. But even together the forts were no match for British invaders. On July 5 both posts were evacuated. British and German forces remained at Mount Independence until November, when they burned and destroyed the site after the British surrender at Saratoga.

Mount Independence remains an archaeological site with four interpretive trails winding through 400 acres of foundations and ruins. Among the ruins are a general hospital, barracks and a blockhouse. Your dog is welcome to explore this striking promontory on the shore of Lake Champlain.

Camp Hero - New York.
The federal government first established a base at the strategic tip of Long Island in 1929, naming the fort for Major General Andrew Hero, Jr., who was the Army’s Chief of Coast Artillery at the time. During World War II in 1942, with German U-boats menacing the East Coast, the installation was bulked up with seaplane hangars, barracks and docks and renamed Camp Hero.

All the buildings were built to look like an innocuous New England fishing village. Concrete bunkers had windows painted on them and base buildings sprouted ornamental roofs with fake dormers. The gymnasium was made to look like a church with a false steeple. At its peak, the camp housed 600 enlisted men and 37 officers.

In 1947 Camp Hero was deactivated but revived in the 1950s as a site for Antiaircraft Artillery training. The military left for good in 1978 and after an effort to turn Montauk Point into a resort destination was thwarted the land was bounced from the U.S. Department of the Interior to the State of New York, finally becoming a state park in 2002. 

There is plenty of unique wandering to be found for your your dog in old Camp Hero. The Paumanok Path begins (or ends) its journey across Long Island here. Part of your dog’s hiking day can follow part of the Old Montauk Highway that was the principle artery though the South Fork until the Montauk State Parkwaywas constructed. You can explore the buildings still standing in the military area. Bunkers and odd structures are seemingly around every turn.

Your dog will find elevation changes as the trails visit the top of fragile bluffs and work down to cobble beaches. Although much of the trails are broken macadam or sandy jeep roads you can also find traditional woods walking on paths like the Battery 113 Trail. Oh, and stick to the roads and trails - it is not impossible to stumble upon unexploded ordnance. The trails lead down to the Atlantic Ocean where the surf is often frisky enough to dissuade all but the most avid dog paddler.

The dominant man-made structure remaining in Camp Hero is a massive AN/FPS-35 long range radar used in the early 1960s. Only 12 of these radars, capable of picking up objects 200 miles away, were ever built. The antennas weighed 70 to 80 tons and were perched on concrete tower bases built 80 feet high. There were numerous bugs with the giant radars and all have been dismantled except for the one at Camp Hero. Boaters on Long Island Soundlobbied to save the installation since it was a better landmark during the day than the lighthouse next door. At least that’s the official story. Others believe the radar was used by the government in top-secret time travel experiments called the Montauk Project.

Fort Necessity - Pennsylvania.
In the early 1700s, as the English established themselves along the East Coast and the French set up trading routes between the Great Lakes and New Orleans, it became inevitable the two powers would tussle over the great lands of the Ohio Valley. In late 1753 a 21-year old George Washington led a expedition from Virginia to press English claims in the Ohio Valley.

The young emissary was rebuffed. But soon Washington came back in 1754, now as a newly commissioned lieutenant colonel. His orders were to build a road and help defend British fortifications. Events deteriorated and Washington rapidly constructed a small, circular palisade he named Fort Necessity. When a force of 600 French and 100 Indians fell upon the crude fort, Washington was forced to capitulate, the only time he would ever sur- render to an enemy in his career.

The confrontation at Fort Necessity was the opening battle in North America that would become the French and Indian War. It would end in the expulsion of French power from North America and India. 

George Washington called Great Meadows, as the area surrounding Fort Necessity was then known, as “a charming field for an encounter.” You will take away the same impression today as you hike the grounds with your dog - minus the musket fire, of course. The focal point of the battlefield tour is a reconstructed fort built in the exact location of Washington’s original stockade.

The interpretive trail traverses open meadows and light woods. Subsequent landowners grew fruit trees here that contribute to the park-like feel of one of America’s oldest battlefields. Part of this easy canine hike trips along traces of the Braddock Road that was first blazed in 1750 by Nemacolin, a Delaware Indian, and built by Washington’s expedition. The battlefield tour covers about one mile.

George Washington’s surrender did not deter the British quest for Fort Duquesne. The next year 60-year old Major General Edward Braddockassembled 2,400 men to march on the stronghold. Unschooled in - and unwilling to adapt to - wilderness fighting, Braddock’s men were routed and he himself mortally wounded.
Edward Braddock was buried in the middle of the road he built for his advance, just a mile from the ruins of Fort Necessity. His grave can be visited with a short trail today. Another historic hike to take with your dog off-park is through Jumonville Glen that retains the isolated feeling of wilderness that Colonel Washington
encountered when he skirmished the French and Indians here more than 250 years ago. This trail is a bit more challenging than its neighbors with dips and swirls into the ravine. 

Fort Mott - New Jersey.
Fort Mott was envisioned as part of a three-fort defense of Philadelphia that dangled across the Delaware River. Following the Civil War, work began on 11 gun emplacements but only two were completed when the fort was abandoned in 1876. In preparation for the Spanish-American War in 1896, Fort Mott, named to honor Major General Gershom Mott, a native of Bordentown, was completed and outfitted with three 10-inch and three 12-inch guns. The fort remained active until 1943, although during its last two decades the guns were dismantled and shipped elsewhere. In 1947 the State of New Jersey purchased Fort Mott as an historic site and opened the state park on June 24, 1951. 

Fort Mott features a self-guiding walking tour through the 19th century defensive position that enables your dog to ramble through the gun batteries and ammunition magazines and to clamber on top of the massive protective parapet. This concrete wall was built of concrete poured 35 feet thick with an additional 60 feet of earth piled in front. Landscaping made the fort look like a big hill from the Delaware River. In additon to this unique dog walk there is a groomed trail that winds through twelve-foot high swamp grasses to Finn’s Point National Cemetery, the final resting place for 2,436 Confederate soldiers who perished in a Civil War prisoner of war camp at Fort Delaware.

Fort DuPont - Delaware.
On the shore opposite Fort DelawareFort DuPont was actively garrisoned during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War; used as a training base in World War I; and detained German prisoners in World War II. It is named for Samuel Francis du Pont who, during the Civil War commanded a fleet of 77 vessels and 12,000 men to a critical Union victory in the Battle of Port Royal. It was the largest United States naval expeditionary force ever assembled up to that time.

Fort DuPont State Park features the 1-mile River View Trail loop that begins a gently sloping canine hike in the marshland along the Delaware River and finishes in shaded woodlands. If you walk it backwards you have longer sustained views of the river and Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island. The grass trail takes you past several ruins of the military installation, camoflauged to river traffic. 

Fort Miles - Delaware.
Cape Henlopen has the distinction of being one of the first parks in America: in 1682 William Penn decreed that Cape Henlopen would be for “the usage of the citizens of Lewes and Sussex County.” The area had been Delaware’s first permanent settlement 50 years earlier by ill-fated Dutch colonists who were massacred by local Indians. Cape Henlopen’s strategic location at the mouth of the Delaware Bay led the United States Army to establish Fort Miles among the dunes in 1941. In 1964, the Department of Defense declared 543 acres on the cape as surplus property and the State of Delaware established Cape Henlopen State Park. Today the park boasts more than 5,000 acres, including four miles of pristine beaches where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is Delaware’s largest state park.

More than 10 miles of trails, including 6 miles along the Atlantic Ocean. The 3.1-mile paved Dune Overlook Trail is a must - and don’t skip the spur to the 80-foot Great Dune.

Remnants of Cape Henlopen’s military past remain nestled among the massive sand dunes. Bunkers and gun emplace-ments were camouflaged deep in the sand and concrete observation towers were built along the shoreline to bolster America’s coastal defenses during World War II. Lookouts scanned the Atlantic Ocean for German U-boats during World War II and although the fort’s huge guns were never fired in battle, a German submarine did surrender here after the war. 

Fort Howard - Maryland.
The British selected North Point, now part of Fort Howard Park and the southernmost point in Baltimore County, as the landing site for a 6-ship invasion force on September 12, 1814. In the pre-dawn hours 4700 British marines disembarked here to begin a 17-mile march on Baltimore. Later that day the Americans engaged the force in the Battle of North Point, slowing the invaders and triggering a demoralizing chain of events for the British that hastened the end of the War of 1812. The army returned to North Point in 1899 to build Fort Howard as the headquarters for the coastal defense of Baltimore. The fort was named for John Edgar Howard of the Maryland Continental Army who received one of only 14 medals awarded during the American Revolution for his heroism at the Battle of Cowpens. In subsequent years the fort was an infantry training center (under General Douglas MacArthur for a time) through the Vietnam War, when a mock Vietnamese village was constructed here. The base was turned over to Baltimore County for use as a park in 1973.  

The Endicott Trail is a paved walk through the “Bulldog at Baltimore’s Gate” that enables your dog to ramble through the gun batteries and ammunition magazines and to clamber on top of the earth-covered parapets that are camoflauged from the open water. Although a dummy hand grenade was found in the picnic area in 1988 it is unlikely your dog will sniff out any old ordnance here. A nature trail - bushwhacking may be required - leads to the marshy extremities of the shady 61-acre park. Another trail follows under a Ropes Course 20 feet up in the trees. Keep four feet on the ground here.  

Where else can your dog climb into an actual battery and scan the Patapsco River just like gunnery officers who once aimed guns over the water capable of accurately firing 1,000-pound projectiles eight miles?

Fort McHenry - Maryland.
Francis Scott Key was a 35-year old lawyer selected as an envoy to secure the release of American doctor William Beanes during the War of 1812. Sailing under a flag of truce, Key boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant. His mission was a success but Key was detained as the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, a star-shaped defender of Baltimore Harbor built in the late 1700s, began on the morning of September 13, 1814. After nearly two days of launching 1500 bombshells, the British abandoned their invasion. Properly inspired, amateur poet Key scribbled out the lines to “The Defence of Fort McHenry” on the back of an envelope. It became the “Star-Spangled Banner” when performed by a Baltimore actor a month later and was adopted as America’s national anthem on March 3, 1931. Two years later, Fort McHenry came under the direction of the National Park Service and today is the only area designated both a national moument and historic shrine.  

Fort McHenry rests on a 43-acre appendage of land in the mouth of Baltimore Harbor. There are large grassy open fields around the brick fort with plenty of room for romping for the dog. Cool breezes from the water and a grove of syacmore trees on the south side provide relief from the sun if needed. A concrete trail runs along all three sides of the seawall to create a loop of the park with plenty of opportunity to soak up historical monuments and shrines. A restored tidal wetland area keeps feeding and migratory birds arriving.  

Fort Washington - Maryland.
The first Fort Washington was completed here in 1809 and was the only defense of the nation’s capital until the Civil War. Occupying high ground overlooking the Potomac River, the fort was a formidable obstacle to any enemy contemplating a water assault on Washington. When it became obsolete and a defensive installation the post was used as an infantry training facility.

Now a 341-acre recreational park, you can take your dog for a hike through the assorted military structures (not allowed in the masonry fort itself - one of the few seacoast American forts still in its original form) and on trails that lead to views of the capital and the Virginia shore, as well as down to the Potomac itself. The Fort Washington lighthouse is located near the Potomac River on park property.  

Fort Raleigh - North Carolina.
England came late to the game of colonization in the New World. The Spanish were already entrenched in Florida and Mexico for sixty years before Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed to Newfoundland with the first English settlement parties. His efforts failed and he died in the effort but his half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh picked up his flagging venture.

The next wave of English came in 1585 on seven ships commanded by Raleigh’s cousin, Sir Richard Grenville. A party of 108 colonists was left on Roanoke Island, which they considered “a most pleasant and fertile ground.”

When supply ships returned in 1587 there was no trace of “The Cittie of Ralegh.” Attempts to locate the colonists were made until 1602 but they had disappeared without a trace. Maybe they were killed by local Indian tribes, maybe there were too many mercantile and scientific types in the colony and not enough tradesmen and farmers. To this day no one knows the true fate of the Lost Colony.

The canine hiking at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is along the superior Thomas Hariot Nature Trail. Hariot was a 25-year old astronomer and mathematician chosen as observer and chronicler for the initial voyage. He taught himself Algonquian and served as liaison between the colonists and the local Indians.

The well-groomed loop dips and rolls after starting out from the reconstructed fort. This hike is completely shaded and points out things the colonists could have done to survive on interpretive signs. It also includes quotes from Hariot’s notebooks. The route touches on Roanoke Sound where your dog can find a small sand beach and excellent dog paddling.

The doomed colonists’ small fort is the only structure whose site has been located exactly by archaeologists. After meticulous excavations the shelter was reconstructed from 1936 to 1948 using techniques that would have been known in 1585. Today you can hike your dog through this grassy parapet.

Fort Macon - North Carolina.
The need for the defense of Beaufort Inlet became apparent in the early dawn hours of 1747 when Spanish raiders sacked the town of Beaufort. It took another 50 years for a formal masonry fort to be completed on the tip of Bogue Banks but in 1825 it was washed away by a hurricane.

By 1826, behind the efforts of North Carolina Senator Nathaniel Macon, a new fort was underway. In the 1840s the critical task of keeping back the sea was assigned to a young Army engineer named Robert E. Lee.

At the start of the Civil War, North Carolina quickly took control of the fort but the garrison surrendered on April 26, 1862 to Generals John C. Parke and Ambrose Burnside after a land and sea bombardment. For the duration of the war Fort Macon served as a coaling station for Union navy ships.

After the war the seacoast brick fort was a federal prison for a time and was eventually abandoned following the Spanish-American War in 1903. The state purchased the property for one dollar in 1924 and it became North Caolina’s second state park.

The pentagonal Fort Macon was designed by Brigadier General Simon Bernardand built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the cost of $463,790. Twenty-six rooms or casements are enclosed by 54-inch thick outer walls of brick and stone. You can bring your dog into the inner court and examine the restored exhibits.

Formal hiking at Fort Macon State Park is reserved for the .4-mile Elliot Coues Nature Trail that runs through low-lying sand dunes between the Beaufort Inlet and the fort. But this is just an appetizer for your dog in the park.

The prime attraction for canine hikers here is the best dune-backed beach walking on the Crystal Coast. In addition to the wide sand at low tide your dog can explore the shallow waters and crannies around the jetty at the end of the island. And when your dog’s thoughts turn to cool grass you are welcome to wander among the ramparts of Fort Macon. Dogs are allowed throughout the park except in the bathouse or at the swimming area.

Fort Fisher - North Carolina.
The largest earthwork fort in the Confederacy was constructed here to keep Wilmington open to blockade runners during the Civil War. Until July 1862, Fort Fisher was little more than several sand batteries mounting fewer than two dozen guns. Colonel William Lamb, working on designs created in Russia for the Crimean War, employed as many as 1,000 men, many of them slaves, to create one mile of sea defense and one-third of a mile of land defense.

The Union had long planned an assault on Fort Fisher but did not feel confident to do so until December 24, 1864. For two days the sand and earth fortifications absorbed Union shells and the force withdrew. On January 12 the fort was bombarded by land and sea and finally capitulated after six hours of fierce fighting. It was considered the greatest land-sea battle of the Civil War and helped seal the ultimate fate of the Confederacy.

Most canine hikers will bring their dogs to Fort Fisher for its seven miles of tail-friendly white sand beaches. Head south from the Visitor Center and you will discover nothing but open, dune-backed beach ahead of you.

But there are a couple of fun options here as well. The Basin Trail slips almost unnoticed from the south end of the parking lot into what appears to be a maritime forest. You twist through a maze of wax myrtles for only a few steps, however, before bursting into the open with nothing but a flat expanse of sand in every direction. Forging on, you cross a marsh and soon bring your dog to an old World War II bunker. Further on, your destination is a a platform overlooking The Basin a half-mile away.

On the north boundary of the park is the Fort Fisher State Recreation Areawhere you can hike among the formidable earthwork mounds that give a clear view of the Cape Fear River and the strategic importance of the site. A captured cannon and relics recovered from sunken blockade runners are among the tresures on display.

In 1955, 62-year old Robert Harrill left behind a wake of failed jobs and relationships in the Carolina mountains for a life of solace at the seashore. He came to settle in the old World War II bunker at Fort Fisher where he would live for 17 years. He was tabbed the “Fort Fisher Hermit” but he was far from alone. He welcomed all visitors and more than 100,000 made the pilgrimage over the years to listen to his philosophies of simple life. In 1969 the state of North Carolina called him the Tarheel State’s second largest tourist attraction behind the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina. Not that Robert Harrill ever lived truly alone - he often had a dog by his side.

Fort Moultrie - South Carolina.
In January 1776 Charlestonians began to defend their town by starting construction of a fort on Sullivan’s Island. Six months later the palmetto log-and-sand fortification showed only two walls facing the harbor and two incomplete walls exposed to Long Island to the rear. Meanwhile British amphibious forces were massing offshore.

Rather than sail by the meager American defenses into Charleston Sir Henry Clinton chose to destroy the unnamed fort. Nine powerful warships opened fire on the morning of June 28. The crude fort proved to be an ideal bastion, as the spongy palmetto wood received the cannon balls without splintering. The sand mortar absorbed what the palmetto could not. After nine hours the British fleet and its more than 200 guns was forced to retire. Charleston would remain unmolested for three more years.

The little fort was subsequently named for its commander, William Moultrie. After the Revolution Fort Moultrie was neglected, and by 1791 little remained. Under a nationwide system of seacoast fortifications, Fort Moultrie was rebuilt in 1798 and remained active until World War II. The fort stands today under the administration of the National Park Service as a unit of the Fort Sumter National Monument.

Dogs are welcome on the grounds but not inside the fort and not on the ferry to Fort Sumter or at Fort Sumter if arriving by private boat. Out on the grounds is the Cannon Walk with artillery pieces dating from the Civil War that tell the story of the evolution of seacoast defense weaponry during a period of rapid technological development. The maze of sand-and-grass paths that wander around Fort Moultrie and Battery Jasper make for an easy open-air exploration for your dog. The real hiking comes when you split a small dune and arrive on the beach at Sullivan’s Island. Here your dog can go off-leash much of the year and a couple of miles of sandy beach await. Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War rang out, is clearly seen in Charleston Harbor from the beach.