Guardian of the Bay

A Walk through History at Newport's Fort Adams

By Florence Chartier Frandsen

Standing guard over Narragansett Bay for over 200 years, Fort Adams watches silently as ships and boats pass by its fortified stone walls. Joined by the lighthouses dotting Newport and Jamestown, the Fort keeps a watchful eye over Newport’s Pell Bridge and Narragansett Bay, the city of Providence and all towns and cities along its shores. This fort played an important role in the development of American seacoast defenses.

 

 

The prominent feature of Fort Adams State Park, the Fort is open for visitors from May through October. Walking to the East Gate, from the parking lot, you pass the now refurbished Jailhouse. Visitors, long barred access to the Jailhouse, are now welcomed for tours, and a browse in the gift shop.

Formidable stone walls, earth works, and iron gates looming high above make an impressive defensive structure. Entering the largest coastal fortification in the United States, visitors are rewarded with amazing architectural and engineering craftsmanship. The gate opens to a high arched tunnel with a cobblestone and cut stone floor. It is cool here and you can feel the history, imagining soldiers laden with firearms and gear walking up this same incline in years past.

The short tunnel opens to a grass covered Parade Field of over 6 acres, surrounded by 19th century architecture that once was home to hundreds of soldiers. Today, there are events held here at the Fort by Revolutionary War and Civil War re-enactors, as well as some more modern displays of Military artillery and vehicles by members of our Armed Forces. Even Scout Camp-o-rees have been held here on this solemn ground.

To the right of the Parade Field stands a tall, proud flagpole from which a large version of Old Glory flies. Other than the grass, bushes and a few trees, the red, white and blue gives a flash of color against a monotone architecture. Nearby, a steep granite staircase, almost hidden in the wall, spirals skyward. The slanted steps tilt, adding a slight challenge to the climb. At the top of the wall, lays a panoramic view of the Fort, Narragansett Bay, and Newport Harbor. Sometimes it can be quite windy and chilly up there.

Back down on the Parade Field, a stroll around the grounds reveals the unique structure of some restored Casemates. Inside you can find an interesting Museum Exhibit by The Naval War College on “Defenses of Narragansett Bay”. Take a look at the cannon, and the view from its embrasure, or window, where it would be able to fire on enemy ships.

A walk out the gate of the North wall brings you outside of the Fort to the North Lawn where the Summer Solstice, the Newport Folk and JVC Jazz Festivals are held, along with other festivities during the season. There you will find breathtaking views of Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor. Give a friendly wave to the boats as they pass.

There are Listening Tunnels dug in around Fort Adams. A tour will take you through small narrow corridors. Some flashlights in the group are necessary to make your way through the pitch dark. This is not a tour for the claustrophobic, and adults should be careful not to bump your head. The stories of the men who manned these Listening Tunnels are intriguing and well worth the tour. This is separate from the regular Fort tour.

Along with the amazing history it has to offer, Fort Adams also has some modern amenities as well. Meeting rooms, sleeping quarters, soccer and rugby fields, or use of the North Lawn may be available for rental. Call well in advance to help avoid disappointment.

Fort Adams State Park is also a great place to see the fireworks for the 4th of July. Fireworks from other towns can be seen that night by looking up the bay. Later in the year, areas of the Fort are transformed into the Fortress of Nightmares as Halloween draws near.

Fort Adams Timeline

  • 1812 – Original fort
  • 1824 – Construction started
  • 1841 – First manned
  • 1861 – Briefly housed the US Naval Academy
  • 1941 – Staffing peaks at 3000 for harbor defense
  • 1953 – Army gave fort to Navy
  • 1958 & 1960 – Summer home for President Eisenhower
  • 1965 – Donated to state of Rhode Island
  • 1976 – Became a national historic landmark

Fort Adams State Park has other features that may also be of interest. As you come into Fort Adams State Park there is an attention-grabbing house on the hill to your left. This is The Eisenhower House where President Dwight D. Eisenhower stayed for a couple of summers, supposedly because it was close to the Newport Golf Course where he could quickly get in a little golf. Take a dip in the ocean at the small beach past the National Guard building. At the dock area fishing and boating may be available.

The water taxi and the Block Island Ferry Sloop Providence share the docks with Sail Newport, and Shake-A-Leg Newport, which was renamed Sail to Prevail. Sail to Prevail is an organization that helps people with disabilities to become more confident in their abilities through the use of sailing. The Museum of Yachting makes for an interesting stop. The Visitor Center offers tour information, snack bar and restrooms. Overall, it easy to spend more than a day exploring what Fort Adams State Park has to offer. Whether you bring a picnic lunch or grab a bite at the concessions, it can be a fun, interesting and educational adventure.

Visit Fort Adams online at www.fortadams.org.

 


About the author, Florence Chartier Frandsen: Florence Chartier Frandsen is a native Rhode Islander who loves the fact that we have distinct seasons. A creative person by nature, she likes trying new things. She has worked in computers for over 30 years, she also owns a home-based business as an Independent Creative Memories consultant. Her writing topics vary broadly as do her interests. Florence has been a resident of Newport for over 20 years. Originally from West Warwick, she moved to Newport after she was married and enjoys living here.

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