Several forts were used to protect Narragansett Bay since the beginnings of colonial times in Rhode Island. After the Revolutionary War a new fort was built. An elaborate ceremony was held on the Fourth of July in 1799 to open this new fort and to christen it Fort Adams in honor of President John Adams. The fort was determined to be unsatisfactory in the 1820's and was completely leveled. It was then constructed to become a major seacoast fortification.
Fort Adams is a massive work with structural walls constructed of local shale and Maine granite. Within the Third System (the eastern seaboards system of defenses), only Fort Monroe at Newport News, Virginia, and Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas off Key West, Florida, are larger. Neither displays the sophisticated engineering features that make Fort Adams a showcase for the art of fortification. Features of Fort Adams that are uncommon or unique in United States military architecture include galleries under the ditches, counterscarp galleries, underground listening galleries tunneled under the glacis, and extensive outer defenses including the redoubt and tenailles, massive earth-filled, masonry cribs designed to protect the outer face of the fort's crown work from battering by a besieger's artillery.
The period following the Civil War saw revolutionary improvements in artillery, particularly in Europe. Smoothbore, muzzle loading guns of iron that used black powder were replaced by rifled, breech loading guns made of steel and firing smokeless powder. Annual reports of the United States chief of engineers in the early 1880s reflect the opinion that these new weapons had made American coast defenses, once the strongest in the world, obsolete. A West Point professor writing at the time noted that the forts had become, "not only weak, but absolutely more dangerous to the defenders than to the enemy." A hit from a modern ship's gun would have turned Fort Adam's granite walls into splinters as deadly as shrapnel.
In May of 1885, President Grover Cleveland appointed a board headed by his secretary of war, William Crowninshield Endicott. The board, which included civilians as well as military and naval officers, became known as the Endicott Board. The board issued a comprehensive report in January 1886 that recommended a coast defense system consisting of modern ordnance mounted in up-to-date concrete fortifications.
The Endicott Board recommended twenty-seven ports be protected under the new system. New York and Boston were first and third in order of priority. Narragansett Bay was number eleven. Because of this relatively low priority, construction was barely underway around Newport when the Spanish-American War broke out in April 1898.
After World War II, coastal defenses languished for a while in a state of limbo. When the threat shifted from enemy fleets to intercontinental ballistic missiles, the forts were closed and put to other uses. Most are parks, like Fort Adams, which is now part of a state park that includes athletic and sailing facilities and is a favorite place for picnics and other recreations.
Pictures and information were provided by Fort Adams Trust
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