Coast Artillery

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.

Puget Sound and Admiralty Inlet.

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)

Google Earth image of Ft. Casey

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.

9 thoughts on “Coast Artillery”

  1. Used to take the kids to fly kites at Fort Casey. On that big grass parade ground. The fort and the ferry landing were visible from our living room window on Wanamaker Road.

  2. I saw a family flying a kite there today, but didn’t get a chance to snap a pic. And I kicked myself in the ass, because I swore the next time I went there, I’d fly a kite. It’s just about the perfect spot.

    I just happened to drive down Wanamaker Road today as well.

  3. A most enjoyable set of photos. Thank you, sir, for a trip into our past!

  4. The house was on the left at the curve. Next door is a mobile on a garage/basement that Mr. and Mrs. Martin lived in. He used to take my boys out crabbing on occasion. Karen and Dale still live next door to the East as well as Roy and Beth. Our house number was 638.

  5. I love those old forts, and especially those disappearing carriages. What a cool idea. There’s a book out about the coastal fortifications of Maine. Deals with the Endicott plan and others.

    Up in Bucksport, there’s Fort Knox. Up until WWII, she still had her full compliment of muzzle-loading artillery. Massive 10″ Rodmans and Columbiads. When the war started up, some idiot fgured no one was ever going to need those guns and their iron carriages, so they dismounted them all and trucked them to a location to be cut up for scrap. Only then did they realize the difficulties and costs involved with cutting up guns that size. Rather than send them back and reinstall them, they parceled them out all over the state as monument guns. Bath, where I live, has two, both 8″ Columbiads.


  6. I have always thought Panama Mounts were pretty cool, too.
    Here in Mauston, WI, where I live, we have a big Dahlgren on the courthouse lawn.

  7. No one has ever died from falling anywhere at Fort Casey. Last year a man did fall from an upper un-railed area, but he had disregarded a sign telling people not to go there. He has since recovered.
    Please email me with documentation showing proof that people have fallen to their deaths at Forts Casey. Your article clearly states: “More than one person has fallen to their death by stepping off the parapets or the towers.” I, as well as the State Parks and Recreation Commission, would love to know more about these incidents, as these deaths have apparently gone unreported; which is impossible. I am calling B.S. on this part of the story.

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