Abandoned Military Fortress of New York

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The purpose of Fort Totten, in Queens, New York was to guard New York Harbor from the Confederates during the Civil War, but never faced enemy fire.

The Fort was to be built to protect the East River approach to New York Harbor, along with Fort Schuyler, which faces it from Throgs Neck

on the opposite side of the river entrance. It was later named in 1898 after Joseph Gilbert Totten.

Plans for the Fort Totten Water Battery at Willets Point were initially prepared by Captain Robert E Lee (yes, that Robert E Lee) in 1857 and purchased by the U.S. Government from the Willets family. After Congress appropriated $155,000, construction began on Fort Totten in 1862.

Construction on the battery employed 400 workers, each earning a wage of $3.00 per day. But soon after its completion, advances in fortification design made it obsolete as a defensive structure.

Ghostly images captured by photographers Ethan Pisz and Ezra Peace show the fortress, and its crumbling surroundings.

Today, stalactites hang from its archways, and a single replica cannon remains.

On the second floor bastion, a crater clings to a shell of rifle artillery shot through a small window during test firing in 1864. The damage inflicted was so extensive battlefield engineers abandoned the project altogether.
Behind its walls, winding tunnels lead the way to torpedo magazines and abandoned artillery rooms

Six batteries, built between 1885 and 1903 as a second line of defense, stand crippled and weather-beaten behind the battery. Uprooted trees are shouldered by much of the mortar structure, left after a century of hurricanes and tornadoes ripped through the area.

The land had last served as a U.S. Army Reserve post in 1974, after a century of housing army schools and artillery headquarters.

After nearly two decades of community lobbying efforts for a new Bayside area park, in 1987 New York City and Parks accepted the gift of ten acres of surplus Fort Totten land from the U.S. Department of Defense. The land officially closed as a base in 1995.

Attribution: Jennifer Madison

3 comments on “Abandoned Military Fortress of New York

  1. i love these history lessons! a colonel totten was lee’s superior officer when he was assigned to the army corp of engineers working on the mississippi around 1840. i guess this is the same totten who the fort was named after?

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