Forgotten Fort Williams
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Fort Williams is a former United States Army fort in Cape Elizabeth, Maine which operated from 1872 to 1964. After its closure, it was redeveloped into Fort Williams Park.
A 14-acre purchase in 1872 served to establish a sub-post to Fort Preble located at Spring Point. This fortification became known as Fort Williams on April 13, 1899, by order of Army Headquarters (General Order No. 17, Headquarters of the Army, Adjutant General's Office, Washington, D.C.). It was named for Brevet Major General Seth Williams.
As built, the fort contained three batteries, each with two guns: Battery Sullivan, Battery DeHart and Battery Hobart, all built between 1896 and 1898. Three other 2-gun batteries were added later: Battery Blair, 12-inch disappearing guns (1903); Battery Garesche, 6-inch disappearing guns (1906); and Battery Keyes, 3-inch rapid-firing guns (1906), the latter to guard a minefield. Searchlights were also mounted at various batteries.
Between 1900 and 1911, most of Fort Williams' support buildings were constructed, including enlisted barracks, non-commissioned officers' quarters, commissioned officers' quarters (Officers' Row), hospital, gymnasium, post exchange, bakery, abattoir, commissary, laundry, chapel, fire station, Fort headquarters, and other buildings including garages and storage sheds. Infrastructure included an electrical substation, a bunkered telephone switchboard, and pumps and underground storage tanks for gasoline and fuel oil. Recreational facilities included a baseball diamond with concrete bleachers, and clubs (the officers' club utilized the already existing Goddard mansion, purchased by the government and added to the property).
During World War I, the fort was fully manned by artillery companies and National Guard troops. Anti-aircraft guns were added to the defenses during this time. Fort Williams served as the headquarters of the Harbor Defenses of Portland throughout World War II, during which time the last of the coastal artillery pieces were removed due to age and obsolescence. In January 1950, Fort Williams' mission was officially changed from a harbor defense post to a logistical and administrative support installation for all military units and personnel in the State of Maine.
On Saturday, June 30, 1962, Fort Williams officially closed and was turned over to the General Services Administration to be sold. The property was sold to the Town of Cape Elizabeth on December 1, 1964. Many of the fort's buildings were gradually torn down, though several structures remain, either intact or as preserved ruins. Most of the concrete bunkers and gun emplacements were backfilled, though one (Battery Keyes) survives intact. One of the two emplacements of Battery Blair was recently unearthed again, with its surfaces cleaned and painted and interpretive signage added; plans are being made to restore Blair's second emplacement in like manner.
April 25th, 2013
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