Big and bold, historic forts line the coast of Maine. Dating back to the first and second World Wars, and even the Civil War and Colonial days, these forts each have their own unique story. Crumbling walls of granite and stone still stand, watching over the harbors they once protected. While many of these forts were never attacked, they still hold stories, revealing bits and pieces of our history. From weathered wooden octagons to imposing rocky landmarks, here are a few of our favorite military structures.
01 Fort Edgecomb: Edgecomb
This octagonal fort, located on Davis Island off the coast of Edgecomb, was built in the early 1800s to protect the bustling port of Wiscasset. Although it never saw any action, the fort remained fully equipped during the war. Following its ownership by the federal government, Governor Percival Baxter purchased the fort in 1923 for $501. Today, the fort is maintained by the Friends of Fort Edgecomb, which plans events for visitors to climb inside the wooden structure and experience the 360-degree views from the top.
02 Fort Gorges: Portland
Situated on Hog Island Ledge, this large granite fort looms large on the Casco Bay horizon. Following the War of 1812, the structure was built to support neighboring forts, such as Fort Preble and Fort Scammel, and was last used to store submarine mines during World War II. Today, the fort is open to the public as a town park. Accessible by boat, it is the southernmost point of the Maine Island Trail. Guests are encouraged to explore the grounds but be wary of the many pigeons who have made the island their home.
03 Fort Knox: Prospect
Named after Major General Henry Knox, America’s first Secretary of War, this fort was constructed in 1844 to protect the valley of the Penobscot River against future British invasion. Although almost $1 million was spent overall, the fort was never actually completed. The fort is currently the most visited historic site in Maine. For those not afraid of heights, the top of the nearby Penobscot Narrows Observatory, home of the fastest elevator in Northern New England, offers stunning views overlooking the fort and river.
04 Fort McClary: Kittery
Constructed in multiple phases, Fort McClary was built to protect the harbor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Its most recognizable building, the hexagonal blockhouse, was added to the fortification sometime between 1844 and 1846. Because of the different time periods of building, the structures contain a combination of building materials, such as wood, granite, and stone. The stark white blockhouse still stands today atop a small hill way up the winding Piscataqua River, and is open for visiting throughout the year.
05 Fort Popham: Phippsburg
Built of quarried granite blocks from nearby islands, Fort Popham sits at the mouth of the Kennebec River and once protected access to Bath Harbor, located 16 miles upriver. Today, this expansive fort is most recognizable for its large, crescent-shaped structure that encases the peninsula. During summer months, visitors can make a day of visiting the fort and enjoy the fishing opportunities, spot wildlife, or sunbathe at nearby Popham Beach.
06 Fort Preble: South Portland
Now part of the Southern Maine Community College campus, Fort Preble was originally built to carry out the Embargo Act, which prevented merchants from trading with the British and French in 1807. Decommissioned in 1950, the fort is now open for the public to explore. One of the fort’s most impressive aspects is the large breakwater that continues from the fort to the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. Pack a picnic or take a leisurely walk while visiting, and make sure to stay for views of Portland’s skyline at night.
07 Fort Williams: Cape Elizabeth
Created as an auxiliary base for Fort Preble, Fort Williams was constructed in 1872. Sitting on over 90 acres, the fort was officially named in 1899 after President William McKinley. Through the centuries it has been used by National Guard troops, military personnel, and artillery companies. A few small corridors are still open for exploring, hidden among the old stone structures. Make sure to check out one of the park’s most beloved features, Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in Maine.
08 Old Fort Western: Augusta
Fort Western was built in 1754 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony to protect the small, riverside community against raids from Canada at the beginning of the French and Indian War. The fort was never attacked, and its main purpose was to serve as a supply depot for Fort Halifax. Most historians agree that
its commercial trading purposes outweighed its title as a military post. Today, the fort runs educational programs during the year and is open to the public during the summer.
09 Battery Steele: Peaks Island
Completed in 1942, this bunker was a part of the Peaks Island Military Reserve during World War II. The structure is mostly concrete and is easily accessible by foot, a leisurely walk from the ferry terminal. Murals, graffiti, and poetry cover the walls, while the outside is overgrown with grass and trees. A popular destination for artists, Battery Steele has hosted myriad small art festivals in the past and continues to attract creative types looking to display their art.