Fort Trumbull as constructed after 1839, painted by Seth Eastman under commission of the US Army in 1870.
New London, Connecticut
|NRHP Reference #||72001333|
|Added to NRHP||September 22, 1972|
The neighborhood of Fort Trumbull, consisting of about 20 single- and multi-family homes built in the early 20th Century, was demolished in the late 2000s as part of a plan for the economic development of New London. The plan was appealed in a lawsuit that reached the US Supreme Court in 2005, Kelo v. City of New London, which was won by the city. Although the site was to be redeveloped under a Municipal Development Plan or MDP, this has not occurred as of 2014. The desolate landscape of the Fort Trumbull area is considered by many to be a stark example of government overreach and inefficiency. 
The Fort Trumbull Municipal Development Plan (MDP), approved in 2000, was one of the largest redevelopment projects in the history of the City of New London. The MDP area encompassed approximately 35 acres of development project sites that range from one to seven acres in size, within a total project area of more than 80 acres. The Fort Trumbull District/MDP area is approximately one mile from New London’s Historic Downtown Waterfront District.
There were two catalysts for the Fort Trumbull Project: the 1996 U.S. Navy closure announcement for the 32-acre Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) facility at Fort Trumbull, and the 1997 announcement by Pfizer Inc. that they would be developing their Global Research and Development Headquarters on an abandoned 24-acre mill site adjacent to and immediately south of the Fort Trumbull area.
In spite of the city's legal victory, the MDP never got off the ground. The city's chosen redeveloper was not able to get financing for the project. Even though the city expended over eighty million dollars acquiring and demolishing homes, the area where the taken homes once stood remained vacant (as of 2015). In November, 2009, Pfizer announced that they instead were closing their facility adjacent to the site and moving those operations across the Thames River to their site in Groton. The New London campus was sold to General Dynamics in 2010, who have established design offices at the site. Today, New London Main Street, non-profit civic organization founded in 1998 devoted to the New London Historic Waterfront District, runs programs that promote the district's cultural and economic vitality and also campaigns for various initiatives to keep and enhance the district's streetscapes. All of the group's efforts are put toward the preservation of its neighborhood.
In 1775 Governor Jonathan Trumbull recommended the building of a fortification at the port of New London to protect the seat of the government of Connecticut. Built on a rocky point of land near the mouth of the Thames River on Long Island Sound, the fort was completed in 1777 and named for Governor Trumbull, who served from 1769 to 1784. In 1781 during the American Revolutionary War, the fort was attacked and captured by British forces under the command of Benedict Arnold.
On September 6, 1781 the infamous traitor Benedict Arnold, then serving as a brigadier general in the British Army, led a raid on Groton and New London, Connecticut. Two bodies of troops were landed on either side of the mouth of the Thames River and marched towards Fort Trumbull and Fort Griswold in Groton.
Fort Trumbull fell after little resistance but about 150 Connecticut militiamen made a gallant stand at Fort Griswold. The British were able to enter the fort and the militia commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Ledyard, offered Major Bromfield, the British commander on the scene, his sword as a token of surrender. According to contemporary accounts, the Bromfield then killed Ledyard with his own sword and the British proceeded to massacre the surviving defenders. Eighty five of the militiamen were killed and the others were either severely wounded, taken prisoner or managed to escape.
After the capture of both forts, the British proceed to burn New London and Groton and returned to their ships.
An account of the battle published in a Philadelphia newspaper follows -
- Extract of a letter from New London, dated Sept. 12.
Arnold had long promised to visit New London and the neighbouring towns on the sea shore, and the enemy having frequently appeared in sight of the harbour, the alarm guns fired on the present occasion were considered by the country around us the salutes of prizes or other vessels belonging to the port. He however arrived the 6th inst. about five o, and at seven o’ landed about 2500 men, half on each side of the river. At 8 o’ the militia mustered in parties of 8 or 10, and annoyed the enemy until about 100 of them came up and disputed their way to Fort Trumbull; their great superiority obliged our people to yield to them the possession of the fort. Col. Ledyard, with about 76 other brave fellows, retreated to the fort on Groton side, which they determined resolutely to defend. The next assault was upon this fort, where they were repulsed several times by a bravery unequalled, for about three hours. A flag was then sent, demanding a surrender of the fort, accompanies by a threat of giving no quarters in case of refusal. The commandant consulted with his brave garrison, who refused to submit. The action was then renewed, when the flag staff was unfortunately shot away; notwithstanding which the defence was gallantly continued until about five or six hundred of the enemy having forced the pickets had entered through the breach. At this time there were but four of the garrison killed, and it was thought prudent to submit, to preserve the lives of the remainder. The officer who at this time commanded the assailants, (Major Montgomery being killed) enquired who commanded the garrison? Colonel Ledyard informed him that he had had that honour, but was unfortunate in being obliged to surrender it, at the same time delivered up to him his sword, and asked for quarter for himself and people; to which the infamous villain replied, , ye rascals, I give you quarters,” and then plunged the sword into his body. The inhuman banditti, taking this as a signal, drove their bayonets up to the muzzles of their pieces into the breasts of all that were taken, except one or two who made their escape.
After massacring the living they insulted the dead, by actions too horrid to mention --- the bodies were arranged alongside of each other for the purpose, and, to shew contempt to Col. Ledyard, they singled out a Negroe to place next to him.
Never was there more distress in any place than there is here at present; there are 50 widows within 8 miles of Groton fort.
Before their departure, which was in the evening of the same day they landed, they burnt all the shipping that could not get up Norwich river, among which were several rich prizes lately arrived, with their cargoes, some of which were stored and the rest on board the vessels – about 40 sail, all on fire, were floating up and down the stream. The prize brig Hope, laden with provisions, happily escaped the general conflagration, altho'the fire from the shore several times caught the awning which covered her quarter deck, and went out --- several vessels in full blaze passed within two and three feet of her; ten lay within forty yards, and consumed to the wateredge, but Providence directed she should escape, and a very fortunate one it was, as there was no other supply of provisions in town. ... – The Pennsylvania Gazette, September 26, 1781
Under the second system of US fortifications circa 1809, the fort was redesigned and rebuilt to meet changing military needs. First a redoubt was built at the site to react to threat of British attack. Secretary of War Henry Dearborn's report on fortifications for December 1811 describes the fort as "an irregular enclosed work of masonry and sod, mounting 18 heavy guns [with] a brick barracks for one company...". The present fortification replaced the older fort, and was built between 1839 and 1852 as a five-sided, four-bastion coastal defense fort. The new fort could accommodate 42 guns, plus 10 additional guns in two flanking batteries outside the fort. The new fort was built under the supervision of Army engineer George Washington Cullum, who later served as superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
During the Civil War, Fort Trumbull served as an organizational center for Union troops and headquarters for the 14th US Infantry Regiment. Here, troops were recruited and trained before being sent to war. Fort Trumbull was briefly commanded by John F. Reynolds who rose to rank of major general and was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.
From 1863 to 1879 Ordnance Sergeant Mark Wentworth Smith was assigned to Fort Trumbull and served as the caretaker of Fort Griswold, which was an un-garrisoned subpost of Fort Trumbull. Among other duties, he maintained a vegetable garden to help feed the soldiers at Fort Trumbull. Smith was born in New Hampshire in 1803 and joined the Army in the 1820s. He was wounded in action at the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican War. For unknown reasons, he was allowed to serve on active duty in the Army until his death in 1879 at the age of 76. He was, possibly, the oldest enlisted man to serve on active duty in the United States Army in the 19th Century. (Army Air Forces Master Sergeant John W. Westervelt served on active duty during World War II until he was retired at age 77 in 1945. )
After the Civil War Fort Trumbull was improved by having more modern artillery pieces installed. In the early 1900s several more modern Endicott era fortifications were built to defend Long Island Sound. Fort Trumbull served as the headquarters of these forts until it was given to the Revenue Cutter Service (later renamed the Coast Guard) in 1910 for use as the Revenue Cutter Academy which was renamed the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1915. The Coast Guard Academy moved to its current location in New London in 1932.
Fort Trumbull served as the Merchant Marine Officers Training School from 1939–1946 and trained most of the Merchant Marine officers who served during the Second World War. One of the Merchant Marine officers trained at Fort Trumbull was actor Jack Lord who is best known for playing Steve McGarrett on the popular TV series Hawaii Five-O in the 1960s and 70s.
During World War II Fort Trumbull hosted an office of Columbia University's Division of War Research, which developed passive sonar systems. By 1946 this was consolidated with Harvard University's Underwater Sound Laboratory at Fort Trumbull. A result of this work was that from 1946 to 1970 Fort Trumbull was the location for the Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory, which developed sonar and related systems for US Navy submarines. In 1970 the Sound Laboratory was merged with the Naval Underwater Systems Center in Newport, Rhode Island. Work continued at both locations until the facility at Fort Trumbull was closed in 1996.
After a redevelopment period lasting several years, Fort Trumbull was finally opened as a state park in the year 2000.
Today, the fort serves as a state park and tourist attraction. It is used as a site for concerts and other special events. There is a museum about the fort in the former officers' quarters.
- Jacoby, Jeff, "Eminent disaster: Homeowners in Connecticut town were dispossessed for nothing," The Boston Globe, March 12, 2014
- Allen, Charlotte (Feb 10, 2014). "‘Kelo’ Revisited". Weekly Standard. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
- Somin, Ilya The story behind Kelo v. City of New London – how an obscure takings case got to the Supreme Court and shocked the nation. The Washington Post, May 29, 2015.
- "Pfizer and Kelo's Ghost Town". The Wall Street Journal. November 11, 2009. p. A20.
Pfizer bugs out, long after the land grab.
- "A 'wrong turn': From giddy optimism to stunning disappointment". The Day. November 11, 2009.
- "Fort Trumbull, Connecticut (1775)". United States Army Center of Military History. March 15, 2010. Retrieved June 16, 2010.
- Lossing, Benson (1868). The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812. Harper & Brothers, Publishers. p. 697.
- Wade, p. 243
- Weaver, pp. 102-103
- Heaton, Dan, TSgt, "Heritage Series: Historic Re-enlistment: Oldest Man in Uniform Served at Selfridge", 127th Wing, Air National Guard website, 13 February 2013
- Fort Trumbull History Site
- Sherman, Charles H. and Butler, John L., Transducers and Arrays for Underwater Sound, pp.7-8, Springer, 2007, ISBN 0-387-32940-4.
- 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.
- Weaver II, John R. (2001). A Legacy in Brick and Stone: American Coastal Defense Forts of the Third System, 1816-1867. McLean, VA: Redoubt Press. ISBN 1-57510-069-X.
- The History of Fort Trumbull by John Duchesneau
- Adapted from US Senate website, product of the US Government
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