When it comes to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States are littered with coquina, stone, brick and dirt fortifications. For many, Fort McHenry, Fort Sumter and Castillo de San Marcos have become major tourist destinations, while other languished and deteriorated. For the most part a fortification stands in direct relationship to the era that it was built and can inadequately tell the history of the U.S. seacoast defenses. Maine’s Fort McClary, despite its size is equal to the task, providing a rich history of coastal fortifications from the early Republic to the end of World War II.
Fort McClary was built on Kittery Point at the mouth of the Piscataqua River to protect the northern approach to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and the nearby U.S. naval shipyard. Prior to the fort’s construction costal defenses were present at the site since the late 17th century. William Peppered, a local shipbuilder, oversaw the construction of a crude dirt and log fortification in 1689. A permanent battery of six guns was constructed in 1715 and given the name Fort William. Following the American Revolution, the site was transferred to the United States government in 1808 and the newly constructed fortification as named Fort McClary. Throughout the early 19th century, a number of structures were constructed at the site to include a blockhouse, rifleman’s houses, barracks and a magazine. Since its construction, the fort was manned during the War of 1812, American Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II.
Fort McClary may not have the grandeur of its southern cousins built during the same era like Fort Washington (Washington, DC) or carry the same gravitas as Fort McHenry (Baltimore) or Fort Sumter (Charleston), but it does punch above its weight in other aspects. The importance of the U.S. naval shipyard at Portsmouth has ensured the almost constant presence of fortifications at the site. In the site’s current state, Fort McClary presents elements from the Second and Third systems, the Endicott Board, and the World War I and II eras. This allows the visitor to view changes in military architecture and technology to counter improvements in naval technology and offensive fire power.
Kids will love exploring the caponiers at either end of the fort, playing on the granite slabs of the incomplete outer wall and climbing the circular stairs of the blockhouse. When open for the season, the blockhouse (built in 1844) features interpretive displays that provide a history of William Pepperell, an overview of the site throughout history, and the use of naval artillery. If a ranger is on hand, be sure to ask if you can handle one of the fort’s 12 lbs cannon balls. Fort McClary also participates in the Maine State Park’s passport program.
Know Before You Go: Most of the lower site is accessible via level paths, but the path to the blockhouse can be steep or requires climbing stairs. To order a Maine State Park passport, visit their website.
Location: The Fort is located off of Pepperrell Road in Kitty, Maine. Parking is provided but limited near the Fort. Overflow parking is available across the street, but care should be taken when crossing with children. .
Hours: Facilities are open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, from 10AM to sunset (unless otherwise posted). The site (but not the blockhouse) is open the remainder of the year, but is not staffed by a park official.
Admission: There is an honesty box at the entrance to the fort. The cost for adult entrance is $3/$4 (resident/non-resident) and $1 for children between the ages of 5 and 12.