The treacherous waters of the Golden Gate have claimed dozens of ships and hundreds of lives. Beginning in 1852, the United States Government funded the construction of a chain of 59 lighthouses along the California coast. The Fort Point light was one of 13 serving San Francisco Bay. The first Fort Point light was built and destroyed in 1853. Army engineers blasted away the bluff on which it stood to allow for the construction of Fort Point. A second lighthouse, built near the water in 1855, was removed to permit seaway construction. Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert S. Williamson, designed this third Fort Point light, finished in 1864. In 1934, the U.S. Lighthouse Service keepers extinquished the Fort Point light for the last time due to the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.
"There is nothing here to see. There is the ocean and the sand and the guns and the soldiers. That is all. It grows monotonous. Always the ocean and the sand and the guns and the soldiers. As for the ships, one grows tired of them, too. I have my family and my pleasures." Keeper James Ranking, ca. 1915
James Rankin Keeper of the Fort Point light, 1878 to 1919.
The level is called the "baretter tier". Cannon mounted 'en barbette" have carriages which permit soldiers to fire them over a parapet (or wall). The parapet here is 7 feet 2 inches thick. Fort Point's barbette cannon could sink any wooden ship entering the Golden Gate. No enemy vessel ever tried to pass the guns of Fort Point.
"From the barbette, some shell practice was had, the target being on the opposite shore, at Lime Point. But the fuses proved imperfect, the shells exploded almost immediately upon starting on their journey. This of course will be at once remedied." San Francisco Call, July 14, 1864 newspaper reporter Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
The Spanish recognized the strategic importance of the "Point" in 1776 when selecting the location of the Presidio of San Francisco. In 1794, they built the Castillo de San Joaquin and armed it with bronze and iron cannon.
In 1853, the United States Army blastedaway theh bluff where the Castillo de San Joaquin stood in order to build a modern fortification closer to sea level-the fort at Fort Point.
When at Fort Point, you have to venture to the top floor. You will some beautiful views of the bay and the bridge. There are many hazards, so please be careful while walking around. There are iron stairs and some spiral concrete stairs. I just cannot imagine how harsh the weather must have been for the soldiers stationed here and the danger working around amunition and mother nature. The sea is mighty and should always be respected. Still the views here are absolutely fantastic!!
On the second floor was reserved for the Privies, officer's mess, officer's quarters, and hospital. Today it is an extension to the history of the fort. Many photographs of those brave men and women who maintain the Golden Gate Bridge, plus some other wonderful displays and exhibits.
"Captain Rodman, desirous of discussing the question and meeting his [senior officer] objections, inquired 'Why not?' The Army and Navy Journal 1877
In 1844, a large gun burst aboard the warship Princeton during a firing demonstration. The explosion killed the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy.
Thomas J. Rodman, as a young Army ordnance officer, struggle against the conventional thinking of his seniors to improve the safety of iron cannon. In 1844-1845, Rodman designed an iron casting method that cooled the hot iron from the inside to the outside. Rodman also modified the shape of his cannon to equalize the effect of pressures generated when firing. The weapons cast with these methods were very strong and, as far as is known, never burst. Cannon cast by these methods are called "Rodmans".
In 1867, the U.S. Army installed forty 10 inch Rodman cannon in the first and second tier casemates of Fort Point. In 1893, soldiers fired a 17 gun salute to honor Vice President Adlai R. Stevenson during his visit to San Francisco. This may have been the last time Fort Point's Rodman Cannon were fired. The last Rodman were removed from Fort Point in 1900.
The Rodman cannon displayed here never stood guard at Fort Point. It was obtained in 1974 from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
The Army mounted twenty one cannon here on the barbette tier. Soldiers could aim the cannon to defend against attack from land or sea.
"Yesterday, Queen Emma and suite, of the Hawaiin Islands...visited fortifications of the harbor....The excursionists landed at the wharf and walked to Fort Point, which was thoroughly inspected, the superb band of the Second Artillery discoursing exquisite music. After the inspection the company witnessed some shell practice from the barbette battery, the target being the foot of Lime Point. The firing was exquisite - all being line shots, and one shell exploded on the east edge of the target." Alta California October 4, 1866
Armed sentinels on the barbette tier guarded the fort and maintained a constant watch on ships entering the Golden Gate.
By 1863, Fort Point Cannons could sink any wooden ship the came within two miles of its cannon.
In 1793-1794 the Spanish and Native Americans from nearby missions built the Castillo de San Joaquin here to defend the entrance into San Francisco Bay. San Martin, already over 100 years old, was one of the cannon mounted in the Castillo.
Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821. California became a province of Mexico. In 1835, Mexican authorities moved the Presidio garrison to Sonoma and virtually abandon the Castillo de San Joaguin.
At the begiining of the Mexican War in 1846, Brevet Captain John Charles Fremont, Kit Carson, and 12 other men captured the deserted Castillo de San Joaquin and its cannon. San Martin became a prize of war. In 1848, California became United States territory.
The Castillo was destroyed in 1853 when U.S. Army engineers blasted away the rocky bluff to build Fort Point near sea level.
The first ship to enter San Francisco Bay, the San Carlos (Captain Ayala), dropped anchor off this point August 5, 1775. Lieutenant-Colonel Don Juan Bautista de Anza planted the cross on Cantil Blanco (White Cliff) March 28, 1776. The first fortification, Castillo de San Joaquín, was completed December 8, 1794 by José Joaquín de Arrillaga, sixth Governor of California. In 1853 United States Army engineers cut down the cliff and built Fort Point, renamed Fort Winfield Scott in 1882. This fort, a partial replica of Fort Sumter, is the only brick fort west of the Mississippi, its seawall has stood undamaged for over a hundred years.
This tablet placed by San Francisco Chapters, Daughters of the American Revolution 1955. (Marker Number 82.)
You have to take the time to explore the whole fort. We did from first floor to the roof. What amazing views and so many interesting aspects to this historical building.
Fort Point was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1853. The new structure had three tiers of casemates (vaulted rooms housing cannon), seven-foot thick walls, and a barbette tier on the roof with additional guns and a sod covering to absorb the impact of enemy cannon fire. While more than thirty such forts existed on the east coast, Fort Point was the only one of its kind on the Pacific.
With the 1861 outbreak of the Civil War, the Army mounted the first fifty-five guns at Fort Point. By October 1861, there were sixty-nine guns in and around the fort, consisting of 24, 32, and 42-pounders, as well as 8 and 10-inch Columbiads. During the Civil War, as many as five hundred men from the 3rd U.S. Artillery, the 9th U.S. Infantry, and the 8th California Volunteer Infantry were garrisoned at Fort Point. Stationed several thousand miles from the major theaters of combat, the men spent their days in a routine of drills, artillery practice, inspections, sentry duty, and maintenance chores. Enlisted men bunked twenty-four to a casemate on the third tier; officers had single or double quarters on the floor below. To supplement coal fuel, soldiers gathered driftwood from the shore for fuel. Fort Point never fired its guns in defense during the Civil War.
After the war, the Army installed powerful 10-inch Rodman guns in the lower casemates; these could fire a 128-pound shot more than two miles. At its greatest strength, the fort mounted 102 cannon.
Advances in artillery during the Civil War demonstrated that brick forts similar to Fort Point—including Fort Sumter in South Carolina and Fort Pulaski in Georgia—were easily breached by rifled artillery. Soon after the war, the army reworked its coastal defense strategy and, in 1870, some of the fort's cannon were moved to East Battery. Though no longer considered the guardian of the bay, Fort Point nevertheless remained important to the army. Among other uses, Fort Point held a machine and welding shop after its closure.https://www.nps.gov/prsf/learn/historyculture/fort-point.htm
After the Civil War, Fort Point was used intermittently as an army barracks. The pre-Civil War cannons, so valuable when they were originally installed, became obsolete and were eventually removed. During World War II, the Army remodeled Fort Point for use as a detention barracks, though the building was never ultimately used for that purpose. During the 1920s, the property was used by the Presidio for housing unmarried officers and different military trade schools.
The first floor was the privies, storage rooms, jail, and powder magazines. You'll find a wonderful museum with educational displays that starts with the Spanish Era, Early San Franscico, and the Civil War. It has some beautiful and interesting artifacts.
Fort Point is interestingly located right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Fort Point was built by the U.S. army around 1853, shortly before the American Civil War. Its purpose was to defend San Francisco Bay against hostile enemy warships.
It is free to enter the fort. It has some old cannons and a few items of historical interest, but a lot of its appeal is its location - right under one of the most famous bridges in the world.
Fort Point, built between 1853-1861, is a massive masonry fortress guarding the Golden Gate, the entrance to San Francisco Bay and, via the inland rivers, to the heart of California and its goldfields. At the time the fort was built, this was by far the most important part of all US territory on the Pacific and economically and strategically vital. The fort is the only one of its kind west of the Mississippi.