Fort Popham

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Fort Popham and the Kennebec River

Fort Popham is a coastal defense fortification at the mouth of the Kennebec River in Phippsburg, Maine. It is located in sight of the short-lived Popham Colony and, like the colony, named for George Popham, the colony's leader. During the American Revolution a minor fortification stood on this site; in 1808 the federal government built a small battery to accommodate guns on field carriages on this location as part of the Second System of fortifications that guarded the coast.[1] These forts and batteries were built shortly after the passage of Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807, which prohibited all exports from the US as an attempt to exert pressure on Britain and France, which had been taking actions against US shipping. The embargo was deeply unpopular in New England and had severe economic effects there; the situation ultimately led to the War of 1812. It was felt that these forts were built as much to enforce the embargo as to defend the country, and they were derisively known as "embargo forts". The battery remained manned until 1815 and saw minor action during the War of 1812.

Construction of Fort Popham was authorized in 1857 but did not begin until 1861. The fort was built from granite blocks quarried on nearby Fox and Dix Islands. It had a 30-foot (9 m)-high wall facing the mouth of the Kennebec River and was built in a crescent shape, measuring approximately 500 feet (150 m) in circumference.

Fort Popham's armament consisted of 36 Rodman guns and some 10-inch Parrott rifles arranged in two tiers of vaulted casemates (construction stopped before the planned third tier was begun). One of the Rodman guns was donated to the town of Bowdoinham to remember its soldiers who died in the Civil War. The cannon is still there. A single 6.4-inch Parrott rifle sits near the fort grounds; it is listed as being at the fort in 1903.[2] The back side of Fort Popham was built with a low moated curtain containing a central gate and 20 musket ports.

In 1869, construction at Fort Popham stopped before the fortification was completed. The fort was garrisoned again after additional work was performed during the Spanish–American War and World War I. In 1899, shortly after the Spanish-American War, a single 8-inch M1888 gun was mounted near the fort on a converted Rodman carriage, joining four 15-inch Rodman guns; it was removed in 1910.[3][2] This was an emergency measure to provide modern guns at threatened locations until the numerous Endicott program forts could be completed. Under this program, construction of Fort Baldwin on the headland above Fort Popham began in 1905 with longer-range guns, which eventually rendered Fort Popham obsolete. During World War I, Forts Popham and Baldwin were garrisoned by about 200 men of the 13th and 29th Coast Artillery companies of the Coast Defenses of Portland.[4]

The fort, located two miles (3 km) from popular Popham Beach State Park, is open to the public as Fort Popham State Historic Site. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places as Fort Popham Memorial on October 1, 1969, reference number 69000012.


  1. ^ Wade, Arthur P. (2011). Artillerists and Engineers: The Beginnings of American Seacoast Fortifications, 1794-1815. CDSG Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-9748167-2-2. 
  2. ^ a b FortWiki article on Fort Popham
  3. ^ Berhow, Mark A., Ed. (2004). American Seacoast Defenses, A Reference Guide, Second Edition. CDSG Press. pp. 182–183, 202. ISBN 0-9748167-0-1. 
  4. ^ NRIS entry for Fort Baldwin

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

For this fort's role in Jefferson's embargo, see Smith, Joshua M. "Maine's Embargo Forts," Maine History, Vol. 44, No. 2 (April 2009), 143–154.

For this fort's role in the War of 1812, see Burrage, Rev. Henry S. "Captain John Wilson and Some Military Matters in the War of 1812." Collections and Proceedings of the Maine Historical Society, second series, 10 (1899), 403–429.

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