August 6, 2016: Fort Andrews, a private tour of Boston’s WWI-era harbor defenses
This summer, join us for a historical island getaway. In the years between the Civil War and the early Cold War, Boston Harbor was ringed with ever more elaborate coastal defenses, the size and complexity of which peaked during World War I. The chain of forts surrounding Boston Harbor protected not only the city itself, but the shipyards at South Boston, Hingham, and Quincy, as well as other vital defense assets.
Some of the coastal forts have been repurposed for civilian uses, while others have completely deteriorated. Fort Andrews, located on Peddocks Island, is a unique exception. It housed mortars and gun emplacements during the World Wars and was home to a large contingent of Italian POWs. After missiles and aircraft made coastal forts obsolete in the postwar years, Fort Andrews was decommissioned and largely abandoned. Its structures decayed and trees grew through its fortifications. For a while, the island was closed to the public due to safety concerns.
The land for Fort Andrews (88 acres) was acquired by the government in 1898. … The first of Ft. Andrews’ gun emplacements to be completed, Battery Rice in 1901, was to have mounted two 5-inch guns, but it appears these may have never installed. Instead, eight 12-inch mortars were delivered to the two pits of Battery Whitman, and another eight to Battery Cushing. Battery McCook received two 6-inch guns, and two more 3-inch guns were installed at Battery Bumpus, next to McCook on its east. The gun batteries were on the high bluff looking out northerly across the harbor approaches, and had an average elevation of approximately 105 ft. above the channel.
The mortars, with a range of about 8 miles, commanded an arc that stretched from Revere in the north down to Cohasset in the south, extending well out to sea. These weapons could send 1,000-pound armor-piercing shells plummeting down on the lightly armored decks of any ships attempting to attack Boston and its neighbors. However, the mortars were decommissioned in December, 1942, and only the 3-inch and 6-inch guns were part of the WW2 harbor defenses.
In its heyday during the ‘teens and 1920s, Fort Andrews had about 30 permanent buildings, including a huge combined PX and gym, a regal Administration Building, four colonaded brick barracks lining the northern edge of the parade ground, a massive storehouse at the northwest extent of the fort, a stable (which could house a dozen animals), a 50-bed hospital (75 beds by WW2), a guard house that offered accomodations for 50, its own fire station, and a wide assortment of quarters for NCOs and officers on the road that curves above the parade ground. On top of the hills to the east (100 ft.) and west (120 ft.) were several fire control structures (one with its own dormitory) and even one of the first military radio stations.
In WW2, the fort served as a training and and processing center for troops heading overseas to Europe, and temporary barracks and tents were scattered in the area north of the PX. Then in 1944, over 1,000 Italian POWs were moved into a tent city at Fort Andrews. (coastdefense.com)
After a concerted effort by the DCR to remove the most dangerous structures and stabilize those that remained, the island re-opened to visitors in 2013. Today it is served by inter-island ferries and offers family campsites, while many historic structures are maintained in a frozen state of semi-collapse.
The National Park Service has offered to take us on a unique, Ranger-led historical tour of the island and the remains of Fort Andrews.
Saturday, August 6, 2016. We will meet on the island at 2pm. Please consult the summer ferry schedule to plan your trip.
Fort Andrews is located on Peddocks Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands. We will meet in front of the welcome center near the ferry dock on Peddocks Island.
Important: In order to attend this tour, you must make arrangements to get to Peddocks Island. Ferries are available from Boston’s Long Wharf, the Hingham Shipyard, and Pemberton Point in Hull, each of which offers an option to arrive on Peddocks by 2pm. Review the ferry schedule (PDF version) to pick the option that works for you, and note that reserved tickets are strongly recommended.
- From Boston: 12:00pm ferry to Georges Island, transfer to 1:45pm ferry to Peddocks (1 hour layover)
- From Hingham: 1:00pm ferry to Georges Island, transfer to 1:45pm ferry to Peddocks (15 minute layover)
- From Hull: 1:15pm ferry to Georges Island, transfer to 1:45pm ferry to Peddocks (20 minute layover)
(There are also earlier ferries available, if you’d like to allow more time to explore Peddocks Island or Fort Warren on Georges Island on your own.)
Please note: While there are bathrooms and bubblahs (water fountains) at the welcome center, there are no other amenities on Peddocks Island. We suggest packing a picnic to enjoy on the ferry, or on Georges Island during your layover. There is a large picnic shelter and food concession near the ferry dock on Georges Island.
Ferries that depart from Long Wharf are steps from the Aquarium Blue Line stop.
Other than the cost of ferry tickets, there is no charge for this tour. Please register below so we know how many people to expect.