At the beginning of the 20th Century, battleships wee pretty much the nuclear weapons of the day. They were the most fearsome, wide ranging, technologically advanced, and destructive weapons available to developed nations. Accordingly, many nations with significant coastlines or maritime trade developed sophisticated defenses again them. In the United States, the defense of our shorelines was the responsibility of the Coast Artillery, a combat arm of the US Army. The Coast Artillery operated a large number of emplacements that guarded key waterways and ports against any seaborne attack.
One of the key waterways on the Pacific Coast of the US is Puget Sound. Puget Sound is the body of water that Seattle lies upon. Access to the Sound by large ships is generally by way of Admiralty Inlet, which is the passage between Whidbey Island and the Olympic Peninsula.
Since this relatively narrow passage makes a great chokepoint, it was an easy choice to fortify it to protect Seattle. A series of three forts were constructed beginning in 1897- Fort Casey, Fort Flagler, and Fort Worden. These three forts formed a “Triangle of Death” for any naval force trying to pass into Puget Sound.
The primary anti-ship weapons at Fort Casey were seven 10-inch guns, mounted in three batteries. In addition, there was a four gun 6-inch battery, a two gun 5-inch battery, and two two-gun 3-inch batteries. Finally, there were two batteries of eight 12-inch mortars, for a total of 16.
(Detailed information about each battery is available at the above link. Click through for even more pictures)
Just about the time the fort was completed, the airplane started to come into its own as a military weapon. Airpower greatly reduced the need for coastal fortifications, both because enemy fleets could be engaged further from shore, and because coastal fortifications would be vulnerable to air attack. The fort was active from 1901 to 1919, then placed in caretaker status. It was reactivated in WWII, though many of its main weapons had been scrapped our transferred to the Philippines. After WWII, it was again placed in caretaker status, and in 1956, it was acquired by the state of Washington as a park.
I have fond memories of playing at the park in the mid-70s as a small child. With its guns, ladders, and maze of underground passages, it was a wonderful place to run amok. Surprisingly, the state has done little in the way of closing off some of the dangerous areas. More than one person has fallen to their death by stepping off the parapets or the towers. In the current age of liability, it is quite refreshing to see a historical sight that is still almost completely accessible and where the user is expected to watch out for himself.
Fort Worden, located across the inlet, is similar in design (though somewhat larger) and you’ve probably seen it before, since it was where “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1980) and “The Ring” (2002) were both filmed.
All three forts are now Washington State Parks, and are used for a variety of purposes. For instance, the former cantonment area of Ft. Casey (that’s the barracks to you and me) is now a conference and retreat center for Seattle Pacific University.
I ran down to the fort today to take pics, but mine didn’t come out as well as the ones at the link above. If you still want to see them, click here.
As an aside, the three forts aren’t the only Coast Artillery installations in the area. In 1942, the Army added Fort Ebey, about 10 miles north of Fort Casey, with two modern 6″ guns. In addition, in my tromping around the area in my youth, I came across several abandoned outposts, such as an observation post on the bluffs about 6 miles north of Ft. Ebey. It appeared to date from the original construction of Fort Casey. There’s also an abandoned two-gun battery on Goat Island off the eastern shore of the north end of Whidbey Island. I’d guess it was a 6″ battery. I’ve not been able to find a good reference to these outlying installations.