Fort Strong is a former U.S. Army Coast Artillery fort that occupied the northerly third of Long Island in Boston harbor. The modernization of the fort during the Endicott period of expansion in U.S. coast defense resulted in the installation of five 10-inch guns (in two batteries), two 4-inch guns, and 10 3-inch guns (two in each of five batteries). Before WW1, a large station for handling submarine mines and an anti-aircraft battery of 3-inch guns were also added to the fort's defenses. At its peak, before WW1, the fort was probably manned by over 1,000 soldiers. During WW2, two batteries of 3-inch guns (Basinger and Stevens) defended channel minefields, but the big guns and other 3-inch batteries (save for the AA guns) were decommissioned. Declared surplus in 1947, the fort was redeveloped in 2005-2009 for a children's summer camp. Formerly, it was also known as Long Island Military Reservation.
Endicott period batteries which were located here:
- Battery Hitchcock (1899–1939)
- Battery Ward (1899–1939)
- Battery Drum (1899–1917)
- Battery Smyth (1906–1921)
- Battery Stevens (1906–1946)
- Battery Taylor (1906–1942)
- Battery Basinger (1901–1947)
The fort had its antecedents in the pre-Civil War period and the Civil War itself. Until 1899, the fort was named the Long Island Military Reservation. From 1874 to 1876, the fort had a battery of 10 cannon, called the Long Island Head Battery, on the northeast tip of the raised northern portion of the island. Remains of this battery can still be found, concealed by heavy brush, about 100 ft. north of Battery Ward, the easternmost concrete battery on the tip of the island (see the map of the "Obsolete Battery" at right).
In 1893, as part of the Endicott Board's recommendations, construction began at the fort on a series of massive concrete gun batteries to defend the harbor approaches. A large barracks building for the soldiers and a series of quarters for officers and NCOs were also constructed, as well as structures for mining operations and support functions at the fort.
A quick look at the map will show how Fort Strong's central location made it so well suited for harbor defense. Its principal armament (the 10-inch guns) could engage any ship attempting to enter either the northern or southern approaches to the harbor, while its smaller rapid fire (3-inch) guns could fire directly over all approach channels and the mine fields that criss-crossed them.
Modern Gun Batteries
The major armament of Fort Strong were its two batteries of 10-inch guns. Originally, two of these guns were located in Battery Ward, the easternmost concrete fortifications on Long Island Head, and three more in Battery Hitchcock, immediately to its west. One of Hitchcock's guns was later removed and sent elsewhere. The construction of these batteries, begun in 1893, was completed in 1899. Electrically powered ammunition and powder hoists were added soon after, and by 1906, both batteries were fully functional.
With a maximum range of between 7 and 8 mi., these guns covered an arc from Revere to North Scituate, and could reach five miles or more out to sea from Long Island. The batteries were intended to engage medium and larger sized ships by indirect fire (directed by the fire control system).
Fort Strong also had four batteries of 3-inch rapid fire guns (M1902), with two guns each (or 8 guns in all). These guns were meant to engage faster moving targets by means of direct fire, and were sited to protect the mine fields that had been laid to block the harbor channels. They could deliver fire up to a range of 6.25 mi. Battery Stevens and Battery Smyth were located on the southeast side of the fort, looking out over the channel between Long Island and Hull. Battery Taylor was on the southwest side, looking out toward Spectacle Island, and Battery Basinger was located on the northern tip of the fort (just downslope from the 10-inch gun batteries), looking across toward Fort Dawes on Deer Island.
The first three of these batteries were located in classic Coast Artillery 3-inch gun emplacements, each with two raised gun platforms, one on either side of a large central casemated magazine. Battery Basinger, however, was squeezed into the narrow space above the sea wall, its gun platforms more like narrow tubs at the water's edge. This battery had a unique underground magazine with hand-operated chain hoists to serve ammunition to its two guns. All four of these batteries were completed between 1900 and 1906. In November 1921, Battery Smyth's two guns were moved to equip Battery Basinger. Later, the guns from Battery Taylor were moved to Fort Dawes on Deer Island. That left Batteries Basinger and Smyth as the only two that were operational through WW2.
Two other gun batteries were positioned at the fort. Battery Drum, part of the gun line on Long Island Head, mounted two 4.7-inch Armstrong guns on pedestal mounts. This battery, which was located at the extreme northwesterly end of the gun line, was completed in 1899, but its guns were declared outmoded and shipped away in 1917. Also, a two-gun battery of Model 1917-A2 3-in antiaircraft guns was constructed on the northwest side of the parade ground during 1917-18. In 1935, a third gun was added to this battery, which remained active through WW2.
Each of the 10-inch guns was supposed to be served by a full-strength complement of 43 enlisted men, so the five guns of the two batteries would have required a total of 215 crew. Manning the four 3-inch batteries (when all their guns were present) would have required roughly another 100 men. Add to this the mine and searchlight defenses, the maintenance and support functions of the fort, and its officer, and about 450 soldiers likely manned the fort, living in large barracks buildings and smaller houses that surrounded the parade ground.
The Mine Defenses
This property had been owned by the Long Island Hospital, and is now operated by The Boston Public Health Commission.
- The camp was designed to serve youth from the City of Boston and straddled the former parade ground of the fort. Building the camp involved demolition of almost all the wooden structures of the fort and raised the elevation of the former parade ground by several feet.
- Camp Wightman, a Civil War training camp, was located on the island in 1861. At the end of the Civil War, the government decided to keep Fort Strong which had been located in East Boston, and move it to Long Island. It was officially designated in 1867 as being located there. The name is said to be a dedication to Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong. See Snow, Edward Rowe, "Sailing Down Boston Bay", 1941. cf. p.24, Fort Strong on Long Island.
- Each shell weighed just over 600 lbs. and its propellant powder about 150 lbs., so these hoists were a great improvement over winching the ammunition up to the loading platforms by hand, using pulley-and-davit systems suspended from the rear of the platforms. See "The Service of Coast Artillery," Frank T. Hines and Franklin W. Ward, Goodenough & Woglom Co., New York, 1910. pp. 125-126.
- Map of Fort Strong, Long Island, Boston, 1905.
- Boston Harbor Islands factsheet on Long Island
- Long Island Head Light(house), Boston.