Friends of Fort Knox
Frequently Asked Questions About Fort Knox
1. What was Maine like when Fort Knox was constructed?
2. Why was Fort Knox built and why was it built where it is?
3. What is Fort Knox built of and how was it constructed?
4. Who lived or manned the Fort?
5. What was it like to live in the Fort?
6. Was the Fort ever involved in any military action?
7. What kinds of weapons were at the Fort?
8. How did the Fort become a State Park?
Fort Knox is a wonderful venue and can be used to teach history, geography, science and technology.
Friends Of Fort Knox Fort Knox Questions
Prior to the construction of Fort Knox, Maine was sparsely settled but rich in natural resources. In the 1830s and 1840s, most of Maine's people lived along its rivers and coastline. The forests supplied much of the wealth and trade was important. Fishing provided many Maine residents with income and shipbuilding supported both trade and fishing industries. (See map of major cities, industry, and trade) The area in and around the Penobscot River and Penobscot Bay was important as a transportation route, gateway to the forests of the North, rich in fish, and home to many shipbuilding towns. This area of Maine was also important, as it was the boundary between the United States and English territory.
Before Fort Knox was built, this area of Maine had been attacked by the British on two different occasions. Both times, US forces were defeated and serious damage had been inflicted on the civilian population of the Penobscot. Revolutionary War (Penobscot Expedition) The first naval battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in Maine (Machias), Portland (then called Falmouth) had been shelled and destroyed by the British, and by 1779, they had attacked and captured Castine from the Americans. A sizable land and sea expedition was sent from Boston to remove the British but they met with a severe defeat. In fact, the US naval forces were chased all the way up the Penobscot River up to Bangor and destroyed. The British retained an influence over the region until after the war ended. During the War of 1812, the British returned to the Castine area and again controlled the Penobscot. After the war, many citizens from Bangor to Bucksport demanded that their government protect them in the event that war should come again. The United States government began a series of coastal fortifications as a way to improve defenses. The "narrows" where the Penobscot River splits around Verona Island and the high land located adjacent to the narrows and across from the town of Bucksport, seemed a good place to construct a protective fortification. Nevertheless, it was not until 1841 and war with Britain over Maine's border seemed possible that the Federal Government appropriated funds to begin construction. In 1843, monies were paid for the land where Fort Knox was eventually built. Actual construction of the Fort was begun in 1844.
Fort Knox was to be a casement masonry fortification constructed of the finest materials the area could provide. It was designed to be in the shape of a pentagon with artillery pieces protecting the fort's two "river" sides along with the rear wall. The high ground in the rear would also act as protection as well as providing a lookout post. As for construction materials, two miles to the west of the Fort's location is Mount Waldo in the town of Frankfort. This 1060-foot mountain is made up almost entirely of granite of various thickness. This provided some of the finest construction materials of any fortification built at that time. Over the course of the next 15 years, the fort took shape. Construction continued, in varying degrees, with the help of immigrant stonecutters. The granite was transported to the site, cut into the required shape, and lifted into place. The wok, particularly the two spiral staircases (see map of Fort interior) was some of the finest examples of stonecutting in the county. Many of the workmen continued to live in the area even after work was completed.
Although still under construction during the time of the Civil War, Fort Knox did serve as a training station for Union troops. In July of 1863, the first deployment of soldiers arrived at Fort Knox. These Maine volunteers were generally involved with either artillery or infantry training. Throughout the war, the total number of troops quartered at Fort Knox never exceeded 150 enlisted men and officers. As their training was completed, the men were usually assigned to active duty, being replaced by new recruits. This practice continued even after the war had ended but by 1866, the Fort had been turned over to the Corps of Engineers, who were to complete construction. Construction continued sporadically during the last half of the 1800s when America's shortest war, the Spanish-American War resulted in the Fort again being manned. Because of fear attack from the Spanish fleet, in June of 1898, a regiment of infantry volunteers from Connecticut was assigned to man Fort Knox. Although maximum numbers of men and officers did not exceed 600, there was considerable activity at the Fort. This activity was short lived as by the end of July 1898, all men had been ordered to return to Connecticut. When the last Connecticut volunteer had left Fort Knox, only one man remained. This was Ordnance Sergeant Leopold Hegyi. Sergeant Hegyi had been assigned "Keeper of the Fort" since 1887 and had the duty of making daily rounds, observing the condition of the Fort, and reporting to headquarters at Fort Preble in Portland. Approximately one year after the flurry of activity surrounding the Spanish-American War had ended; Sergeant Heygi died on July 17, 1900. Various men were assigned to oversee the Fort until 1923, when the Federal Government declared the Fort excess property and put it up for Sale.
First, the Fort was relatively cold and damp. Although constructed with furnaces for heating and cooking, rooms for quartering troops, which were located away from, these heating facilities were uncomfortable in cold weather. Soldiers stationed at Fort Knox never occupied the enlisted men's quarters, but resided in a temporary out building or tents (most likely by the current picnic area). Supplies for the Fort were generally supplied by local sources. In the short times that the Fort was manned, food and lumber/stone for construction came from the area in and around Bucksport. Ordnance (gunpowder, shells, and explosives) was provided by the military. When manned, the staff of the Fort provided for the needs of the soldiers. A carpenter's shop, blacksmith's shop, and stables were involved in the day to day activities at Fort Knox.
A simple answer: NO. The Fort had been manned and training of the troops ordered. In fact, the last major construction at the Fort, the "torpedo shed," (site of the present Visitor and Education Center) resulted in the Penobscot River being mined with torpedoes during the Spanish-American War. However, no shot was ever fired from Fort Knox against an enemy of the United States.
The main weapon of Fort Knox was the Rodman Cannon. The 10 & 15 inch (shown above), smooth bore cannons were located near the waterfront. The Rodman Cannon's cannon balls would be fired at the enemy ships passing the Fort, on the way up river to Bangor. There were various types of artillery pieces used for training at the Fort but generally, as the unit assigned finished its training, they took their artillery with them when they were reassigned. A complete listing of fortifications made by the Inspector General in August of 1897 included the following: 39 10" Rodman guns 3 15" Rodman guns 12 twenty-four lb. Flank defense guns There were also carriages (supports) for other artillery pieces. After the Spanish-American War ended, the Federal Government decided to give away many of the guns at Fort Knox. These obsolete weapons were used for decorations and memorials in many Maine towns.
8. How did Fort Knox become a State Park?
In the spring of 1923, the Federal Government in Washington, DC determined that the 125-acre parcel of land known as Fort Knox was excess property and authorized its sale. Then Maine Governor Percival P. Baxter contacted the Secretary of War (now know as Defense), indicating an interest in the property. The agreed price was $2121.00 and the Maine Legislature passed legislation appropriating the funds. On Dec. 4, 1923, the State of Maine assumed control of the Fort. In 1940, the property came under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Recreation Department. Over the years, the Fort has been host to millions of visitors. In the 1990s, the Fort was in decline and in need of repair, particularly its roof. Because of financial difficulties, the State of Maine could not assume the cost. It was at this time that a volunteer group known as the Friends of Fort Knox began work with the State to help repair the Fort. By 2000, the roof had been repaired, exterior lighting installed, and the former torpedo shed converted into a Visitor and Education Center. With new museum exhibits and an interactive website, the Fort will take on a new assignment of education. Knowledge of our nation's history and the appreciation of the craftsmanship of construction shown at the Fort should provide enjoyment for visitors in the years to come.