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Coast Artillery Garrison Buildings

Parade Ground of Fort Baker, HD San Francisco 2011. Left to right on the parade ground are the commanding officers quarters, the administration building, and a barracks, with three NCO quarters visable behind.

Parade Ground of Fort Baker, HD San Francisco 2011.
Left to right on the parade ground are the commanding officers quarters, the administration building, and a barracks, with three NCO quarters visable behind.

When the harbor defenses of the United States were modernized in 1890-1910, a new system of defensive works were created. Rather than the compact defenses of the early systems, the modern forts consisted of tactical and non-tactical structures spread over hundreds of acres of land. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers selected the locations, purchased additional land, sited, designed, and constructed the tactical structures, batteries, mine facilities, observation stations, plotting rooms and searchlight shelters. The Quartermaster Corps (up to 1941) sited, designed and constructed most of the non-tactical structures: barracks, officers quarters, administration buildings, storehouses, recreation buildings, and other structures. The quartermasters created a landscape plan to utilize the land efficiently while at the same time creating an aesthetically attractive post laid out in tradition patterns. The Quartermaster Corps used the same standard building plans and layouts at coast artillery forts as it did at cavalry, field artillery, and infantry forts, but it was usually more challenging to implement a traditional plan at the unique locations of coast artillery forts than it was at sites in the interior.

The center of the non-tactical area of a coast artillery fort was the parade ground. Officers quarters were sited on one side of the parade ground, while barracks were placed on the other, at a lower elevation, if possible. The administration building or harbor defense headquarters was given a prominent location on the parade ground, as were the commanding officers quarters, the flagpole, and bandstand. Non-commissioned officers quarters were located off of the parade ground proper, as was the post exchange, gymnasium, bowling alley, hospital, guardhouse, bakery, fire station, chapel, library, officers club, and theater. Many forts in isolated areas had cemeteries.

Most of the non-tactical structures at the forts constructed during the Endicott-Taft period were designed to be permanent structures. These wood-frame buildings were built on stone foundations with slate roofs, sided with local brick, clapboard, or stucco. The Quartermaster Corps architect office created standard plans for all types of buildings. Those designed at the turn-of-the-century, when most Coast Artillery forts were constructed, were of Colonial Revival style with elements of Queen Anne style in the officers quarters. As the century progressed, new styles were adopted, such as Italianate and Spanish Revival, and these styles were used when additional buildings were constructed. Store houses and pumping plants used more practical industrial or utilitarian styles.

The interiors of buildings were finished with wood floors, plaster walls with wood trim, and pressed metal ceilings. All structures where officers and men lived or worked had electricity, running water and flush toilets. Each barracks was designed to house a company or battery of 100 men and was self-contained with its own kitchen, dining room, day room, barber shop, and tailor shop. Sleeping quarters were on the second floor, while the lavatory and latrine were located in the basement in northern climates. In the south, separate lavatory and latrine buildings were sometimes built. Large forts had double barracks, two 100 man barracks built end-to-end, which functioned as two separate barracks. Forts which served as the headquarters post for a harbor defense usually had a band barracks. Officers quarters varied in size and elaborateness depending upon the rank of officer for whom the building was intended. The Commanding Officers Quarters was usually the largest and most elaborate of the officers quarters, and it was placed, if possible, on the highest and most prominent location on the parade ground. Other senior officers were assigned single quarters, while the majority of the quarters were double quarters for two families. Large forts had a Bachelor Officers Quarters with its own mess. Non-Commissioned Officers quarters were usually double sets.

Recreation was considered important by the Army at the turn-of-the-century. It was believed that it not only maintained physical fitness, but also promoted competitiveness which made the men more effective in combat. Although the parade ground was used as a general athletic field, tennis and handball courts, and baseball fields were also built in open areas of the fort. Every large fort was provided with a gymnasium and bowling alley.

There are several excellent modern era Coast Artillery garrison posts with extensive building collections around the US today. Those open to the public include:

Washington State Parks Fort Columbia: Left to right are the barracks, administration bulding, double officers quarters, and commanding officers quarters.

Washington State Parks Fort Columbia:
Left to right are the barracks, administration bulding, double officers quarters, and commanding officers quarters.

  • Washington State Parks — Fort Worden, near Port Townsend; Fort Flagler on the tip of Marrowsone Island (entrance to the Puget Sound) and Fort Columbia (north shore of the Columbia River east of Ilwaco)
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California: Fort Baker, Fort Barry, Fort Cronkhite (Marin Headlands) and Fort Winfield Scott (San Francisco Presidio Trust).
  • Gateway National Recreation Area Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook, NJ.

There are a few other largely intact posts that are either still in military hands (Fort Monroe, Hampton, VA; Fort Barrancas, Pensacola, FL; Fort Rosecrans, San Diego, CA; Fort Story, Virginia Beach, VA; Fort MacArthu, San Pedro, CA) or privately owned (Fort Levett & Fort McKinley near Portland, ME, and Fort Caswell, Oak Island, NC) that arrangements must be made to visit.

Fort Columbia Garrison Buildings

PDF Coast Artillery Post Garrison Buildings (revised October 2008)