Tag Archives: fort

Fort Sumter National Monument

Overview

Located at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, a group of defensive forts have gone through many permutations since the 1770s.  The most famous, the five-sided Fort Sumter was still unfinished (after 30 years of construction) when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States on December 20, 1860.  This led Major Robert Anderson to flee Fort Moultrie with 85 Union troops for Fort Sumter, which Confederates fired at on April 12, 1861, marking the first shot of the Civil War.  Fort Sumter is only accessible by ferry, but you can drive a car to the National Park Service (NPS) museum at Fort Moultrie, commemorated on the U.S. quarter-dollar coin minted in 2016.

Highlights

Museum, Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Fort Sumter was built upon a sandbar in Charleston Harbor, raised and leveled with 70,000 tons of granite brought down from New England.  A toll ferry takes visitors to the island from downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.   Dolphins, pelicans, and shore birds are commonly spotted on the 40-minute ferry ride to Fort Sumter.  Destroyed by the end of the Civil War, the fort today looks nothing like it did back then, having gone through multiple upgrades before it was deactivated in 1947.  At the site, the NPS displays cannons representing each era alongside interpretive signs.

Best Trail

A walk through Fort Moultrie explains its 170 years of military use before it became part of Fort Sumter National Monument in 1948.  Constructed on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, Fort Moultrie was not yet finished when a British attack was repelled on June 28, 1776 at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  After being destroyed during the Civil War, it saw new life during World War I with the placement of disappearing rifles and World War II with anti-aircraft guns. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Major Robert Anderson surrendered and lowered the U.S. flag on April 14, 1861, though there were no casualties during the bombardment.  After rifled cannons had reduced the fort’s walls to rubble, Major Anderson raised the exact same flag above Fort Sumter four years later to-the-date near the end of the Civil War. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fosu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person to visit Fort Moultrie (or America the Beautiful pass); charge for passenger ferry to Fort Sumter but no NPS fee

Road Conditions

Free parking at Fort Moultrie, but pay parking for the ferry from Liberty Square in downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Fort Pulaski National Monument (Georgia)

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site (South Carolina)

Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the famous Native American chief who died of scarlet fever as a prisoner at Fort Moutlrie in 1838?

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Rock Creek Park

Overview

We are used to National Monuments and National Historical Parks being listed among the 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system, but there are also 11 sites that fall under the category of “Other.”  One of these is Rock Creek Park, a 1,754-acre urban park in northwestern Washington, D.C. established in 1890.  It contains an equestrian center and 13 miles of bridle trails, as well as the Thompson Boat Center, which rents bicycles and a variety of non-motorized boats.  It also has the amenities you would typically associate with any park, like picnic areas, tennis courts, playgrounds, and an amphitheater offering free concerts and plays during the summer.

Highlights

Nature Center and Planetarium, Peirce Mill, Old Stone House, Fort Stevens

Must-Do Activity

Rock Creek Park contains the only planetarium in the entire NPS system, which is at the same location as the Nature Center.  The planetarium offers free astronomy programs and holds monthly stargazing programs between April and November.  The site of Civil War-era Fort Stevens is located east of the main park where interpretive information explains the July 1864 battle that took place there.  It was during a visit to the fort that Abraham Lincoln became the only sitting president to ever come under enemy fire during wartime.

Best Trail

There are 25 miles of trails within Rock Creek Park, plus they connect to parkland in bordering Maryland.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Peirce Mill was originally in operation from the 1820s to 1897, utilizing slave labor (until the Civil War) to run the flour mill, sawmill, distillery, and nursery.  The mill was renovated by the NPS in the 1930s to produce flour during World War II and remains open to visitors seasonally.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/rocr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, though some are closed on weekends and holidays for non-motorized users.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Fort Washington Park (Maryland)

Theodore Roosevelt Island (District of Columbia)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (District of Columbia)

Explore More – Rock Creek also flows through the fee-free National Zoological Park, which is managed by what institution?

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Overview

Established in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental U.S.  Its centerpiece is Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a four-sided stone fort dating back to 1672.  In 1702, the British army unsuccessfully besieged the Spanish fort for 50 days, but before they left they burned the entire city.  This explains why the oldest house in St. Augustine dates to this time period and why this charming coastal village is still laid out on a grid of narrow streets, as it was one of the first master-planned communities in America.

Highlights

Historic fort, museum, cannon demonstrations

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) charges an admission fee to enter the fort, but you can watch the cannon-firing demonstrations atop its corner bastion for free from outside.  Costumed reenactors shout orders in Spanish before firing the big cannon.  There is only one entrance to the Castillo de San Marcos across a wide moat.  Your entrance fee also allows you to explore the powder magazines and interpretive displays inside the fort’s walls.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Castillo was renamed Fort Marion by the U.S. military in 1825, when the final changes were made to the coquina structure.  In 1924 it was named a National Monument along with nearby Fort Matanzas.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/casa/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but there is limited pay parking at the fort, which is especially an issue on busy weekends.

Camping

Anastasia State Park is located just south of St. Augustine, Florida with access to a nice beach.

Related Sites

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Explore More – Which nation controlled the fort during the American Revolution until its conclusion in 1783 (Hint: It was called Fort St. Mark at the time)?

Top 10 Forts at National Park Service Sites

There are 23 National Park Service (NPS) units with the name “Fort” in their title, not even including places like Yellowstone National Park, Gateway National Recreation Area, and our number one site on this list.  We hope you enjoy our ranking of our favorite forts (and check out all of our Top 10 lists).

10. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (Maryland)

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was written about this Baltimore site

9. Fort Pulaski National Monument (Georgia)

Protecting Savannah, this fort has an awesome moat around its perimeter

8. Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Costumed reenactors take you back in time on the Santa Fe Trail

7. Fort Sumter National Monument (South Carolina)

Two forts in one monument—one accessible by car and one by ferry

6. Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site (North Dakota-Montana)

Beautifully reconstructed fort near the confluence of two major rivers

5. Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Hudson’s Bay Company’s HQ on the Columbia River from 1825 to 1860

4. Fort Union National Monument (New Mexico)

Adobe walls are melting back into the New Mexico prairie

3. Fort Laramie National Historic Site (Wyoming)

Significant stop on the Oregon Trail and site of two important treaties

2. Fort Stanwix National Monument (New York)

An exact 1750s replica surrounded by the city of Rome, New York

…and finally our #1 fort at a National Park Service site:

1. Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Walking the archways in the golden hours is a great reason to spend the night on the island

Honorable Mentions

Fort Smith National Historic Site (Arkansas-Oklahoma)

Fascinating frontier history on the banks of the Arkansas River

Fort Davis National Historic Site (Texas)

The Davis Mountains provide a wonderful backdrop

Christiansted National Historic Site (U.S. Virgin Islands)

The Danish built this color-coordinated fort around 1749

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

This elaborate fort in St. Augustine, Florida was never surrendered

Fort Laramie National Historic Site

Overview

Fort Laramie National Historic Site in eastern Wyoming was originally founded in 1834 for its strategic location at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers.  Purchased by the U.S. military in 1849, it saw its share of history as a major military post on the Oregon Trail, Pony Express, and Cheyenne-Deadwood stage route. West of the fort, stop at Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site and Register Cliff where pioneers left their mark along the North Platte River.

Highlights

Museum, film, 1874 Cavalry Barracks, 1849 “Old Bedlam”

Must-Do Activity

Come for the free 4th of July festivities and explore the restored buildings encircling the parade grounds, in between watching demonstrations of cannon firing and oxen plowing.  The National Park Service (NPS) employees host a variety of old-fashioned activities for kids and adults, including a three-legged race for adults.  Grab a partner and join in the fun or simply watch from the sidelines with a cold sarsaparilla, cream soda, or birch beer in your hand.  You are sure to have a good, old-fashioned good time even if you head home before the fireworks.

Best Trail

Fort Laramie was never a condensed, palisaded fort, so walking to all 11 restored structures covers quite a bit of distance (like Fort Union in New Mexico).  You can also hike along the banks of the Laramie River where the Oregon National Historic Trail once led.

Instagram-worthy Photo

“Old Bedlam,” the former quarters of bachelor officers, dates to 1849 making it the oldest documented building in Wyoming.  The right side is now restored to appear as officers’ quarters and the left side to post headquarters in 1863 when Lt. Col. William O. Collins lived on the second floor with his wife.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fola/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

The town of Fort Laramie offers camping at its small municipal park, or head west to Guernsey State Park with its historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures.

Related Sites

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

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