Maine has an outstanding collection of historic forts, dating from the Colonial period through World War II. Some were built to defend Maine from attacks from the water. These battlements stand on Maine's 5,500 miles of coast or beside its deep-water rivers, the arteries linking the interior to the sea. Other forts rose as sentinels on the 611-mile border with Canada. Many historic forts remain. While all have stories to tell, some are especially worth a visit.
Forts Popham and Baldwin tip the Popham peninsula, south of Bath. Most impressive is Fort Popham, a massive, two-tiered semi-circle of granite. Although forts have stood on this site since Revolutionary times, the current one dates from 1862. A short walk away is Fort Baldwin, built between 1905 and 1912. It was garrisoned during World Wars I and II.
Fort William Henry - part of the Colonial Pemaquid Historic Site in New Harbor - is a reconstruction of a round stone tower built by the English in 1692 and destroyed four years later by the French and their Native American allies. Colonial Pemaquid also includes: a research library and archaeology lab in the nearby Fort House, a converted 18th-century farm house; a museum & visitors center exhibiting thousands of artifacts found during on-site archeological digs; an herb garden; and a historic graveyard. Guided tours can be arranged. During summer, the Friends of Colonial Pemaquid schedules numerous activities, including evening lantern walks.
Fort Knox, Maine's largest historic fort, is a masterpiece of military architecture and craftsmanship. Dating from 1844 - but never completed - Fort Knox guards the narrows of the Penobscot River at Bucksport. The massive fort was garrisoned during the Civil and Spanish-American wars. It never saw action. It does now, though, hosting events from reenactments to the extremely popular "Fright at the Fort" Halloween program.
Old Fort Western, in Augusta, is New England's oldest surviving wooden fort. Built in 1754 on the Kennebec River, it began as a fortified storehouse that supported Britain's trading efforts in Maine. Militia garrisoned the fort during the French and Indian War. in 1775, early in the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold brought his troops to the fort during their unsuccessful expedition to capture Quebec. Later, Fort Western fell into disrepair, but was restored in the 20th century. These days, costumed interpreters bring the fort to life.
Fort Halifax, in Winslow, was built to defend the fork of the Sebasticook and Kennebec rivers. Dating from 1754, it's the nation's oldest blockhouse. Raging flood waters swept it downstream in 1984. But more than three dozen original timbers were retrieved, allowing a meticulous restoration.
Some forts are good choices for family outings and picnics. Among these are Fort McClary, on a 27-acre headland in Kittery, which overlooks Portsmouth Harbor; Fort Edgecomb, on the banks of the Sheepscot River, with views of Wiscasset; and Fort O'Brien, in Machiasport, the site of the first naval battle of the American Revolution.