There are more than a dozen historic stone forts and blockhouses in Maine, dating from the Colonial period to World War II. Some forts were built to defend Maine from attacks from the water. These battlements stand on the state'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. Your choices include:
Fort Popham and Fort Baldwin
Forts Popham and Baldwin sit at the tip of the Popham peninsula, south of Bath. Fort Popham is a massive, two-tiered, semi-circle of granite. Although forts have stood on this site since Revolutionary times, the current fort dates from 1862. You can visit Fort Popham from Memorial Day through Sept. 30. A short walk away, you'll find Fort Baldwin, built between 1905 and 1912. Troops were stationed here during World Wars I and II. You can visit Fort Baldwin year-round.
Fort William Henry
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. At the Colonial Pemaquid site, you can also visit: a research library and archaeology lab in the nearby Fort House, which is a converted 18th-century farmhouse; a museum and visitor's center exhibiting thousands of artifacts found during onsite archeological digs; an herb garden; and a historic graveyard. You can explore the site on your own or arrange for a guided tour. You can also participate in a number of summer activities, including evening lantern walks.
Fort Knox—Maine's largest historic fort—was begun in 1844, but never completed. The massive fort guards the narrows of the Penobscot River at Bucksport. Troops were stationed here during the Civil and Spanish-American wars. This fort never saw military action, but it now hosts events ranging from reenactments to the "Fright at the Fort" Halloween program, which raises funds to maintain the site.
Old Fort Western
Old Fort Western, in Augusta, is New England's oldest surviving wooden fort. Built in 1754 on the Kennebec River, this fort began as a fortified storehouse that supported Britain's trading efforts in Maine. Militia members were stationed at the fort during the French and Indian War. In 1775, early in the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold brought his troops to the fort during his unsuccessful expedition to capture Quebec. Later, Fort Western fell into disrepair, but was restored during the 20th century. Today, you can watch costumed interpreters bring the fort to life between Memorial Day and Columbus Day.
Fort Halifax, in Winslow, was built to defend the fork of the Sebasticook and Kennebec Rivers. The nation's oldest blockhouse, dating from 1754, is all that remains. Floodwaters swept the blockhouse downstream in 1987—but more than three-dozen original timbers were retrieved to build the restoration that stands on the site today. You can visit this site between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
If you'd like to plan a family picnic at a fort, your options include:
- Fort McClary, located on a 27-acre headland in Kittery, which overlooks Portsmouth Harbor. You can visit this fort between Memorial Day and Sept. 30.
- Fort Edgecomb, located on the banks of the Sheepscot River, with views of Wiscasset. You can visit this fort between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
- Fort O'Brien, in Machiasport, which is the site of the first naval battle of the American Revolution. You can visit this fort between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
- Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, home to Portland Headlight, Maine’s oldest lighthouse. You can visit this site year-round from sunrise to sunset.
For more information about Maine's forts, visit the website of Maine's Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF).