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The Forts of Midcoast Maine

Coming from the West, one of the things that surprised me about Maine was the number of forts you just stumble across. Often you’ll find a fort while looking for a lighthouse or some other tourist attraction.

While most people don’t associate Maine and war, it has been involved in the war of 1812, the Civil War and both World Wars. It was the War of 1812 – and the fact that Massachusetts did nothing to protect Maine – that eventually led to Maine statehood (once the Missouri compromise was reached). 2020 is the 200th anniversary of Maine’s statehood. Why not visit a fort on your next vacation to commemorate the date.

To make your trip easier, I’ve listed the forts in order from Portland northwards. As with our Lighthouse Tour, our hotel is an easy drive from all these locations.

The first two forts I’ve listed share their grounds with lighthouses. Forts and lighthouses are often at the same location because of visibility. The lighthouses need to be easily seen by all nearby ships and the forts need to easily see all nearby ships.

Fort Preble and Spring Point Light

Historic photo of Fort Preble with Fort Georges in the background
Historic photo of Fort Preble, Spring Point Light and Fort Georges

We stumbled across Fort Preble on our first visit to Portland. We were visiting Spring Point Light in Cape Elizabeth and there it was. The construction of Fort Preble was authorized in 1808 and it was originally built in the shape of a star. Apparently this was not the only star shaped fort as the Statue of Liberty is built upon the remains of a star shaped fort.

The star shaped fort that forms the base of the statue of liberty.
The star shaped fort that makes the base of the Statue of Liberty – photo from NPS

Fort Preble was manned during the War of 1812, the US Civil War and WWI. The fort was inactivated in 1950 when it was determined to be obsolete. It is now part of the Southern Maine Community College. From Fort Preble you get a great view of Fort Georges. If you look carefully you can see it in the water in the photo of Fort Preble. Fort Georges is located in Casco Bay. This fort was proposed following the War of 1812 but took years to obtain funding. It wasn’t completed until just after the end of the Civil War and was never actually manned because by that time modern explosives made Fort Georges obsolete.

Fort Williams Park and Portland Headlight

Fort Williams and Portland Headlight
Fort Williams looking out to Portland Headlight. Wikipedia

Just down the road from Fort Preble this fort was designed as extra support for Fort Preble. Construction started in 1906 and the fort was used for over 100 years through both WWI and WWII. The grounds are huge, encompassing 90 acres. When the property was sold to the town of Cape Elizabeth most of the structures were torn down but there are still a few buildings standing and many ruins including the Goddard Mansion.

Where a bustling fort once stood, there is now a lovely park. This is the same park where you access Portland Headlight. In addition to exploring the ruins of the fort you can also take a lovely walk along the cliff. From here you can see four lighthouses. To learn more about this see our post Lighthouse Lovers Trip through Midcoast Maine.

Fort Popham

This fort is located near Popham beach – also worth a visit. In fact you can walk along the beach all the way to Popham from the fort. It’s best to visit the fort early in the morning or late in the afternoon as the parking lot is small and fills up fast. The fort was made from blocks of granite and was built to protect all the boat traffic going up the Kennebec River. I especially love climbing up the granite spiral stair cases.

The crescent shape of Fort Popham with a glimpse of the ocean in the background.
The crescent shape of Fort Popham

Fort Edgecomb

Fort Edgecomb is a wooden hexagonal fort
Fort Edgecomb

Unlike all the previous forts listed here, this fort is made of wood. The octagonal fort was built in the 1800’s to protect what was once the bustling port of Wiscasset, This small town was once the busiest port in the US north of Boston – Wiscasset’s economy never recovered from the shipping embargo leading into the War of 1812. Fort Edgecomb was manned until 1818 and then used again during the Civil War. There are picnic tables scattered throughout the grounds and we find this a very peaceful place to rest after a busy day.

Old Fort Western

Old Fort Western across the river from Augusta's historic downtown
Old Fort Western in Augusta

Also made of wood, this fort is located in downtown Augusta. It’s a picturesque scene across the river from the historic downtown. I have to admit that this is the one fort on this list I haven’t been inside of, I’ve only walked around the outside. According to Maine Magazine “Fort Western was built in 1754 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony to protect the small, riverside community against raids from Canada at the beginning of the French and Indian War.” It was used as the mustering point for Benedict Arnold’s failed march on Quebec. Several people from towns surrounding our hotel took part in that march to Canada. Today, the fort runs educational programs during the year and is open to the public during the summer.

Fort Knox

Fort Knox in Maine
Fort Knox – photo from Maine.gov

Not to be confused with the more famous Fort Knox, this Fort is the most visited historic site in Maine. It’s worth the visit, especially since you drive right past it if you’re going to Acadia National Park on Route 1. The fort is huge, and mostly in tact. MDOT describes it as “one of the best-preserved military fortifications on the New England seacoast.” The fort was built because “During the country’s infancy, Maine was repeatedly involved in northeast border disputes with British Canada. In fact, the area between Castine and the rich lumber city of Bangor was invaded and occupied by the British during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Fort Knox was established in 1844 to protect the Penobscot River Valley against a possible future British naval incursion.” This is another fort that was never actually completed, although over $1 million was spent to build it.

Fort Knox is located on Route 1 near Bucksport and shares the parking lot with the Penobscot Narrows Bridge – itself worth a visit. Read more about it in our guide to Great Stops Between Wiscasset Woods and Acadia National Park. The fort is open from May 1 – October 31, from 9:00 – sunset.

Interested in exploring the forts of Midcoast Maine? Our hotel is located within an hours drive of all these forts with the exception of Fort Knox. Stay with us and enjoy exploring all the history Midcoast Maine has to offer.


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