Fort DuPont Historic District
Fort DuPont Aerial View 1927
|Location||Delaware City, Delaware|
|Area||350 acres (140 ha)|
|Architect||Army Corps of Engineers
Army Quartermaster Department
|Architectural style||Colonial Revival|
|NRHP reference #||99001275|
|Added to NRHP||1999|
Fort DuPont, named in honor of Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, is located between the original Delaware City and the modern Chesapeake and Delaware Canal on the original Reeden Point tract, which was granted to Henry Ward in 1675. In 2016, the acreage which is not in the state park system was annexed into Delaware City.
The first fortification built was the Ten Gun Battery, an auxiliary to nearby Fort Delaware during the American Civil War. The Twenty Gun Battery was constructed on the reservation during the 1870s followed by a mine control casemate in 1892. In 1897-1905, Endicott emplacements were constructed for long-range rifles, mortars, and rapid-fire guns. In 1922 the post became headquarters for the 1st Engineer Regiment, which garrisoned the post until 1941. During World War II, Fort DuPont served as a mobilization station for deploying units, and contained a prisoner-of-war camp for captured German soldiers and sailors. After the war, Fort DuPont was declared surplus and offered to the Department of Veterans Affairs for use as a veterans hospital. After they declined, the state bought the site at a 100 percent discount and adapted existing structures for reuse. In 1948, it officially opened as the Governor Walter W. Bacon Health Center. In 1992 a portion was re-designated as Fort DuPont State Park, which became Delaware's 13th state park. In 1999 the site was officially designated the Fort DuPont Historic District after it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district comprises Fort DuPont State Park and the Governor Bacon Health Center. The site is currently being redeveloped by the Fort DuPont Redevelopment and Preservation Corporation.
Ten Gun Battery, briefly called Fort Reynolds, was built from 1863 to 1864 on the property of 1st Lt. Clement Reeves of the 5th Delaware Volunteer Infantry. The first soldiers to garrison the post were from Capt. John Jay Young's Independent Battery G, Pittsburgh Heavy Artillery. Sgt. Bishop Crumrine of Young's Battery wrote, "This fortification is not properly a Fort but rather a water battery. Situated just across the river from Fort Delaware on the Delaware City side, it has five sides. The two longest sides being next to the river is a heavy breast work on which Six 10-inch and four 15-inch (Rodman) guns are mounted."
During the Spanish–American War and the following few years, major construction took place to upgrade the defense capabilities of the three forts defending the major ports along the Delaware River. Construction took place at Forts Mott, Delaware, and DuPont, in the form of Endicott Era batteries that mounted long-range rifles, mortars, and rapid-fire guns. These emplacements, although completed after the war, included Batteries Read and Gibson (8- and 12-inch rifled guns), Batteries Rodney and Best (12-inch mortars), and Batteries Elder and Ritchie (3- and 5-inch rapid-fire guns respectively). On July 22, 1899, Army General Orders, No. 134, official designated "the battery at Delaware City" as Fort DuPont, named in honor of Rear Adm. Samuel Francis Du Pont. During this time, according to the Fort DuPont Flashes, the post was garrisoned by members of the 4th U.S. Artillery under the command of Maj. Van Arsdale Andruss.
World War I
During World War I, Fort DuPont continued serving the role of coastal defense as well as training post for local draftees and deploying artillery units. Following the war, the long range guns in Batteries Read and Gibson were dismounted and shipped elsewhere. Units such as the 7th Trench Mortar Battalion used the site for basic and advanced training before heading to France in October 1918.
Following the Great World War, Fort DuPont transitioned as a quartermaster depot, and engineer post with the arrival of the First Engineers in May 1922. During this time, only Battery E, 7th Coast Artillery manned remaining artillery guns at Fort DuPont. On December 12, 1932, six sets of officer quarters were floated from Fort Mott in Pennsville, N.J. One set of quarters was floated over the year prior. From 1934 until 1936, Fort DuPont and the 1st Engineer Regiment were commanded by Col. Ulysses S. Grant III, the grandson of President Ulysses S. Grant.
World War II
During World War II Fort DuPont served as a mobilization station for deploying units. In 1941, the 1st Engineer Battalion following re-designation, departed for overseas service. At the war's start, the post was the headquarters for the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware, with garrison units including the 21st Coast Artillery, 261st Coast Artillery, and 122nd Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft). In 1942, headquarters for harbor defenses was transferred, along with artillery troops, to Fort Miles in Lewes, Delaware. Fort DuPont was disarmed by this time, as Fort Miles had superseded the previous defenses of the Delaware. Col. George Ruhlen was post commander from 1940 until 1944 and following retirement was succeeded by Col. Randolph Russell. In May 1944, the 1231st SCU prisoner-of-war camp was established using repurposed temporary buildings in the mobilization area. During the war, roughly 3,000 German POWs were housed at Fort DuPont. These POWs included members of the submarine U-858 that surrendered off the coast of Lewes, Delaware, in 1945. POWs worked as dishwashers, waiters, grocers, butchers, and other support roles on post as well as working on other local installations such as the New Castle Army Airfield. German POWs worked for civilian canneries, garbage companies and repaired sections of the boardwalk for the city of Rehoboth Beach. Following the war, effective December 31, 1945, Fort DuPont was placed "in the category of surplus" according to AG 602 (dated October 5, 1945) issued by the federal government.
After World War II
In 1948, the post reopened as the Governor Bacon Health Center operated by the Delaware Division of Health and Social Services. In 1992, a large portion was rededicated as Fort DuPont State Park. In 1976, the Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Scannell Armory (named in 1992) was built on the site of the former POW camp. In 1996, this armory became the home station for the 153rd Military Police Company, a unit in the Delaware Army National Guard. Fort DuPont was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. The Fort DuPont Historic District comprises roughly 350 acres and over 75 buildings, structures, and objects.
Restoration and preservation
During WWII, about 300 buildings and structures lined the streets of Fort DuPont. By 2011, less than 80 historic buildings and structures remain. In 1947, temporary mobilization barracks were torn down by the state prior to the opening of the health center. The mobilization hospital complex, recreation hall, and chapel were integrated into the health center's master plan. Today, only the chapel and one hospital building survive. The others have collapsed and were torn down. Most of the quarters on officers row were cannibalized and demolished by 1980. Sections of Fort DuPont are governed by six different state agencies, which often leads to confusion over who is responsible for maintaining specific roads, buildings, and structures. Since the health center downsized in the late 1970s, state funding is limited and doesn't allot for basic maintenance and care of the buildings. Houses built in the 1890s to 1900s are plagued by collapsed chimneys, damaged roofs, broken windows, rotting porches, and in desperate need of a simple coat of paint. The twenty-gun battery is barely visible in summer months due to reclamation by invasive species. According to the Natural Lands Trust, most buildings/structures are at a point where they can be stabilized but waiting any longer could prove detrimental. In 2011, the State of Delaware approved a $250,000 bond bill that will fund the creation of a master plan, which will focus on restoration, preservation, and adapting historic structures for modern use.
Resident curatorship program
Currently, Delaware State Parks offers a resident curatorship program, which is an "opportunity for a public/private partnership in which the curator (which may be a couple) donates their own resources—time and/or money—to the restoration of an historic property in exchange for a long-term no-rent agreement. Because the cost to the curator is often much more than $100,000, the term of the lease is typically for the life of the curator(s)". Almost a dozen historic properties on Fort DuPont are available for residency as part of this curatorship program. There are also several buildings/structures that are available under a similar program zoned for regular businesses and non-profit organizations. In 2006, the Fort Delaware Society became the first successful curator following the adaptive reuse of the quartermaster office (Building 113) on Staff Lane. Since then, the Delaware Military Heritage & Education Foundation has signed on with the program, pledging to restore the Post Exchange & gymnasium (Building 36) and a non-commissioned officer duplex (Building 91), both for use as part of the Delaware Military Museum. In 2007, the post movie theater's very existence was threatened by years of neglect. State funding was scarce, due to the economy, but enough money was allocated to provide the 398-seat theater with a new roof, drains and gutters, stabilized marque, and minor window repair. In 2007, The News Journal published an article citing the theater's availability in the curatorship program. Delaware State Parks' historian, Lee Jennings said it would be "the perfect place for the community to gather..." and watch plays, musicals, vintage films, as well as modern movies.
Although not part of the curatorship program, almost a dozen historic buildings are currently under adaptive reuse status. The Renewal Center (non-denominational) operates out of the post chapel (Building T-213), which was built in 1941. The center, which maintains and cares for the building, has a lease through the Delaware Division of Health and Social Services (DHSS).
The Delaware Wing of the Civil Air Patrol is headquartered out of the old post headquarters (Building 10) and has lease for the property through the Delaware Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). The double-company barracks (Building 49) and band barracks (Building 48) serve as the main hospital buildings for the Governor Bacon Health Center (DHSS) at Fort DuPont. In fact, several other historic structures still serve their original purpose, including the carpenter shop (Building 61) and other maintenance buildings, which are utilized by DHSS.
The Delaware Division of Purchasing operates a surplus warehouse in the original commissary (Building 43), and the state's fleet vehicles are housed and maintained in the original motor pool. In 2008, Delaware State Parks (part of DNREC) restored one of the brick duplexes (Building 90), which according to Lee Jennings, will eventually contain 1930s furnishings and serve as a location for public programming.
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