Posts Tagged ‘Fort’

Sullivan’s Island, S.C.
Visited: October 20, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 264 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Coastal defense fort that saw continuous military use for nearly two centuries, including major battles in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Red bricks replaced the namesakes of Fort Moultrie’s Palmetto Fort in the early 1800s. Low walls encircle a grass courtyard and a large unattractive black battery. It is hard to focus your eyes on the Fort’s interior when the Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter create your horizon. Fort Moultrie NM offers a wonderful vantage point to view the busy waterway and skyline of the grand old city. Its flags, cannons and planted palmettos help frame the competing blues of the Harbor and the bright Carolina sky.

Confederate cannons fired the first shots of the Civil War from Fort Moultrie onto Fort Sumter. Nevertheless, Moultrie remains shrouded in a cloak of historical anonymity while Sumter is etched indelibly in our American consciousness.

Fort Moultrie was also site of a vital June 28, 1776 Revolutionary War battle which less than a week before our nation declared its independence from Great Britain. British Naval forces led by Commodore Peter Parker attempted to take the key city of Charleston but were repelled by forces commanded by Colonel William Moultrie.

Morning CoffeeCROWDS (6/10)
We encountered a much larger crowd at Fort Moultrie than expected. Dozens moved in and out of the Fort’s quirky nooks and narrow passageways discovering the long history of a coastal fort.

You need a car to get to Fort Moultrie NM, so if you have come to Charleston on a cruise ship, you are out of luck. The Fort is located on the west end of Sullivan’s Island at the narrowest entry point into Charleston Harbor.

From both downtown Charleston and Interstate 26, take U.S. Route 17 North. You will cross the dramatic Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. Once you reach the mainland take Coleman Blvd. (S.C. Route 703). Three miles later, Coleman Blvd. will bend and become Ben Sawyer Blvd but remain S.C. 703. You will be crossing marshlands on your way to the Island. Once you reach Sullivan’s Island, turn right onto Middle Street and take it to its end. You are there! Do not worry; there are plenty of signs.

Fort Moultrie’s bookstore spreads itself thin across four wars and several ethnic and cultural topics. Books on the Gullah, Seminoles and the Underground Railroad sit next to stories, songbooks and cookbooks from the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, which share the shelves with a biography of the Swamp Fox, Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and a few paperbacks about the War of 1812 and the Spanish War.

While a few titles do stand out, like the Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution, or Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War, the store’s variety doesn’t allow for much depth in any of the subject areas. If Fort Moultrie’s bookstore were a basketball team, it would need a better sixth man.

Strength with MowingCOSTS (3/5)
The Fort costs $3 per adult or $5 per family. If you have the National Parks Pass, entry is free.

A charming septuagenarian South Carolinian examined our National Parks pass, shared some knowledge about Charleston’s unique architecture (“We were saved by our own poverty; people were too poor to knock down the old houses and build new.”) and alerted us to the next showing of the film. This was the most interaction we had with any Site staff. We vaguely recall a Ranger but this gentleman volunteer introduced us to the Site and directed us on our way.

It would have been nice to have a Ranger across the street at the actual Fort to answer questions as they arose.

Fort Moultrie’s Visitor Center houses a small set of exhibits, the bookstore and theatre where the Site’s introductory film plays every 30 minutes. What a film it is.

Filmed entirely on location, Fort Moultrie’s video is a one-man tour de force. An actor named Michael Longfield dons several period costumes, different facial hair variations and at least eight different accents to guide viewers through the history of the Palmetto Fort. The audience sees the Fort’s construction, two reconstructions and finally the closing of its gates as a military post through the eyes of a common soldier.

FUN (6/10)
We entered the Fort still smiling from Mr Longfield’s valiant linguistic efforts. Most of the Site is open for exploration. Several rooms within the battery are furnished as offices and radio control centers circa 1940, complete with pin-up calendars and board games to occupy bored privates.

There is a pathway circling the exterior of the Fort and leading down to a small beach. As appealing as this stroll sounds, do not exit the Fort without applying adequate amounts of bug spray. We were fine within the perimeter but mosquitoes swarmed as soon as we neared the water.

Coastal DefenseWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
Fort Moultrie NM is one of the most military-focused units in the National Park System, a noteworthy distinction given the innumerable battlefields and war-related historic sites. Fort Moultrie spotlights the role of the soldier in every American conflict from the Revolutionary War to World War II as well as the soldier’s role in peacetime. We even recall a Park volunteer saluting paying customers.

The storied events of Fort Moultrie’s history are even downplayed in favor of highlighting the life of the average soldiers who fought there. Fort Moultrie soldier-centric learning experience contrasts sharply to the historic overview offered at its sister site Fort Sumter. In addition, the view offered at Moultrie is the closest you can get to Fort Sumter without taking the ferry. It worked for the Confederate cannons; it can work for you.

TOTAL 46/80


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Charleston Harbor, S.C.
Visited: October 19, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 264 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Many FlagsWHAT IS IT?
Federal defense fort located in the middle of Charleston Harbor. On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops deluged the Fort with artillery fire, captured the Union soldiers and officially began the American Civil War.

BEAUTY (7/10)
Fort Sumter is a pentagon-shaped redbrick fortification located at the narrowest entry point into Charleston Harbor. The Fort has been largely rebuilt since its major role in American History because non-stop shelling from 1861-65 destroyed its walls and interiors. The Fort, itself, is not particularly attractive especially when compared to the views it affords of the Harbor and old town Charleston.

This is where the Civil War began. Well, at least symbolically. Shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s election, in December of 1860, South Carolina became the first Southern state to secede from the Union. By March 1861, six more states had followed suit. Because they believed themselves to be a new country, the Confederates ordered Federal troops off the Forts within their boundaries.

Even though the American government refused to acknowledge this new nation, they still moved their troops out of most of these Forts. Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens (near Pensacola, Fla.) were the two exceptions. By April 12, three things had happened: 1) Lincoln took office; 2) the Federal troops ran out of supplies and 3) the fiery South Carolinians publicly demanded Sumter’s surrender.

When the Union Major Robert Anderson formally refused to leave, the siege began. Cannon fire rained onto the Fort and less than twelve hours later, Anderson surrendered and the War Between the States had begun. The Confederates held Fort Sumter under General Sherman captured Charleston in 1865.

We asked a Ranger, “How could the Rebels successfully defend Fort Sumter from 1863 to 1865 when the Union made easy work of the similar Fort Pulaski near Savannah.” She sheepishly replied, “Good question: Because they did not have to. Their successful blockade of Charleston Harbor made seizure of Fort Sumter unnecessary.” We added, “So why do the exhibits and the Ranger talks speak about the Fort as the last Confederate stronghold and a symbol of Southern resolve.” Her response was a smile; a spoken answer would have been too complicated.

CROWDS (3/10)
Every day, hundreds of people pile into the ferries that travel to Fort Sumter. The Civil War’s flash point is a major attraction in a major tourist town. The effect is an amusement park experience where most participants are unsure of what they are going to see! We actually overheard this on the ferryboat: “Who knew that historic stuff happened in Charleston?” Fort Sumter feels like a checkmark on the tourists’ Things to Do While Your Cruise Ship is Docked list rather than a pilgrimage to a near-sacred American history destination.

Escaping the Ranger TalkEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
We were approached by a very sunburned English man while walking the genteel streets of old town Charlestown. “Could you please point me towards Fort Sumter,” he asked. “You see that island Fort about five miles away?” Michael said while pointing, “That’s Fort Sumter.” “Oh,” he responded, “I am not making it today then, am I?”

Three ferries leave from Liberty Square/Aquarium throughout most of the year. Liberty Square borders the Cooper River, the Charleston peninsula’s eastern coast, and stands at the end of Calhoun Street. As for driving directions, look for signs to the Aquarium.

Charleston peninsula is all narrow one-way streets and few long-term non-parking garage options. We walked from our hotel. Most of the other visitors had walked from their cruise ship docked nearby.

A far more accessible ferry leaves from Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant. Patriot’s Point has ample free parking and only slightly less frequent service. Three boats leave during the summer, two during spring and fall and one during winter.

Civil War bookstores set a high standard because most overflow with hundreds of obscure tomes and kitschy knickknacks. Fort Sumter does not live up to this difficult scrutiny. You are not going to find a long lost Civil War text here. A few books, however, did catch our eye, including Dr. Seuss Goes to War, an eye-opening book that recounts the children’s book writer’s early career as an editorial cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine during World War II.

COSTS (1/5)
Fort Sumter stands in the middle of Charleston Harbor. You need to take a ferry. The boat’s 2005 rates were $13 per adult. If you take the Liberty Square ferry, you need to use a parking garage. Metered street parking is capped at two hours, the round trip to Fort Sumter lasts for two hours and 15 minutes. Coincidence?

The ferryboats dropped at least 100 fellow tourists and us off on the Island for one hour. During that period, one Ranger gave a 30-minute talk about the Fort. Once his talk finished, another Ranger appeared to answer questions and the lecturer disappeared.

For much of our visit, we fruitlessly tried to corner one of the Rangers. We had questions but so did countless other patrons. We were not able to isolate a Ranger until five minutes before departure. We left disappointed and wishing for more staffing at this highly visited marquee historic attraction.

Useless CannonsTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
The Fort Sumter Ranger talk and ferry boat narration are an elementary-school level Civil War refresher course. The teaching is aimed at the lowest common denominator; understandable when you see thousands of tour boat travelers every day but disappointing for history nerds like us. The good news is that the Rangers really know their stuff. The bad news is that you might have trouble getting you questions answered given the large crowds.

We enjoyed the Park’s two Museums, especially the one located in Liberty Square. The Liberty Square Museum approaches the events leading up to the events of April 1861, the South Carolinian mess of human rights, property rights and states rights. In another word: slavery. Be sure to take the time to read its intelligent but carefully worded displays, especially the Ambiguities of the Constitution exhibit.

Most tourists seemed to skip the Museum altogether on their way from the ticket booth to the ferry queue. Do not be that person. The Museum provides a terrific and in-depth intro to the Civil War. Do not rely on the inane canned historical nuggets provided over the ferryboat’s antiquated audio system. The second Museum, located on Fort Sumter, examines the Fort’s role during the War.

FUN (5/10)
Island Park sites are difficult. Ferryboat rides are expensive and your time is always limited. We tend to spend multiple hours at forts and battlefields between the museums and Ranger talks. Fort Sumter does not allow you to learn at your own pace. Our visit felt very rushed. One hour was not enough. However, the one-hour Harbor cruise was nice; Charleston, S.C. is one of America’s most beautiful old cities and the views from the water are spectacular.

We loved our time in Charleston and Fort Sumter is its most essential tourist attraction. Oddly, though, it was the low point of our visit to the Holy City. The trip was more obligatory than fun. Sumter’s best learning opportunities are found at the landlocked Museum and experienced without the ferry ride. Time spent on the fort is time not spent on the old town streets, at the boutique shops and in the terrific restaurants. So should you go? Er, uh, ah, um, probably yes.

TOTAL 40/80

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near Gould, Ark.
Visited: August 29, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 240 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

They’re EverywhereWHAT IS IT?
Site of one of France’s earliest permanent New World settlements. For almost 200 years, from 1686 to 1863, the Arkansas Post was an important city but now nothing remains.

BEAUTY (5/10)
The Park is a murky peninsula, surrounded on its wide sides by the bayou, its tip pointing towards the Arkansas River. The sky shines a hazy grayish blue, reflecting the waters’ dark dingy tint. Trees grow in the water. Fields of lily pads float everywhere amidst lime green algae and yellow lotus flowers add an unseen color and a delicate beauty. Snowy Egrets fly above skulking alligators, multiple dragonfly species hover incessantly, mosquitoes swarm and yearling deer race through the ruins of an early Arkansas town.

It is hard to believe this abandoned bayou backwater could ever have been an important place, but for nearly two centuries, it was the center of European life in the Arkansas region. In 1686, the French built a fort, establishing a trading post and solidifying control of the Arkansas River. The River’s flooding, Chickasaw war parties and British raiders continually forced the fort to be moved.

In 1763, France cedes the region to the Spanish, who soon after establish a presence at Arkansas Post. British soldiers attack the Fort in 1783, during the American Revolution, because Spain has sided with the colonists. France regains the territory in 1800 and sells it to Thomas Jefferson as a part of the Louisiana Purchase. Arkansas Post becomes capital of the Arkansas Territory in 1819 and the Arkansas Gazette (still the State’s major newspaper) begins publication.

Six Flags Over ArkansasIn 1821, Little Rock becomes the capital, the paper moves and the population shrinks from 1830 to only 114. The town is all but dead. The penultimate nail comes in January 1863, during the Civil War, when Union gunboats destroy the Site’s newly built Fort and mercilessly shell the town. Nothing remains. Nature deals the final blow through erosion and the changing course of the Arkansas River. All that remains are alligators, deer, dragonflies, wild turkeys and lotus flowers.

CROWDS (6/10)
Just us. We wish we could have spotted some alligators. Maybe if the sky had not been overcast.

The N MEM is located in the bayou country of southeastern Arkansas, about 60 miles from Pine Bluff and 100 miles from Little Rock.

From Pine Bluff, take U.S. Route 65 southeast until the town of Gould. Wind your way through the back streets of this tiny town along Arkansas Route 212. Once you hit U.S. Rte. 165, turn north (left). In about 5 miles, turn east (right) onto Arkansas Rte. 169. Rte. 169 will lead you through the bayou and to the Park.

If you would prefer to stay on larger roads, continue on 65, past Gould, and to Dumas. From Dumas, take U.S. Rte. 165 for 15 miles until Ark. Rte. 169. Turn right and you will soon be there.

Bayou Country

The bookstore has a sparse, but well thought out and interesting selection of merchandise for sale. Jaw Harps, reprints of the two Harper’s Weekly’s that mention the Arkansas Post Civil War battle, reprints of the first issue of the Arkansas Gazette, a cute canned Alligator (stuffed animal in a can, not a meal) and ceramic mugs stamped with the fleur de lis. Cool books include an Arkansas traveler’s 1819 journal, a book on the Indian gun trade, Alan Taylor’s American Colonies and a history of the Arkansas Post written by a Park Service employee.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

One kind Ranger looked happy to see us; it was a dreary, rainy midweek day and few people were venturing to this bayou ghost town.

There are a few neat displays in the Museum and the film, while superficial and hokey, is watch-able. The Park holds no interesting secrets and no spellbinding historical revelations. The Site does an able job with its limited material. The Site provides a terrific bird checklist that even lists the specific areas of the Park to look for each bird.

FUN (3/10)
We would have had more fun of there were alligators. We cut our pleasant, but humid, walk around the Post Bayou Nature Trail short because the rain started to come down in droves. The thick trees were not going to provide a sturdy canopy for long. The old townsite was anticlimactic, consisting of only one or two ruins. The climate, ruins, scenery and colonial history reminded us of Georgia’s Fort Frederica NM. We did not have much fun there, either.

Photogenic ThreeWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10)
Only if you have a thing for French colonial history. We have heard good things about the newly opened White River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located about 30 miles to the north in St. Charles. The White River NWR is close to the Cache River, the place where some ornithologists believe they found the ivory-billed woodpecker, an elusive bird species thought to have gone extinct. We had our binoculars on and ears open at Arkansas Post but saw and heard nothing.

TOTAL 40/80

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near Tybee Island, Ga.
Visited: February 3, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 143 of 353
NPS Website

Bombarded WallsWHAT IS IT?
One of 30 coastal forts built after the War of 1812 to protect the United States from foreign naval invasion. Fort Pulaski saw its only action early in 1861, during the start of the Civil War.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The pentagonal Fort Pulaski has not changed much since its construction. Its estimated 25 million red bricks and 7 1/2-foot thick led many to believe the Fort was invincible. The exterior of the south and southeastern walls prove otherwise. Large indentations and some mortar shells remain from when the Union troops successfully bombarded and captured the Confederate stronghold.

The Site boasts that military history changed forever at Fort Pulaski. The Union army’s use of its new invention, the rifled cannon, allowed them to easily breach the thick walls after just 30 hours. The 30 forts of the Third Coastal Defense system were suddenly obsolete after facing just one collective attack.

After the Yankees secured Fort Pulaski, their commander, General Hunter declared its inner sanctum to be a free zone for local slaves. This move pre-empted the Emancipation Proclamation by seven months and came in defiance of Abraham Lincoln’s public order. Many of the freed slaves who made it to Fort Pulaski joined the Union Army and fought as the First South Carolina Colored Regiment.

Fort Pulaski NM is made even more interesting with its endless small stories skillfully told our Ranger tour guide, the video and the Museum. Baseball’s founder was stationed here and organized one of its first games inside the grounds. Union General Hunter was from the South and did not become an abolitionist until after the war began. Robert E. Lee, as a young Engineer, worked on the Fort’s design and later, just prior to the Battle, mistakenly believed that it could not be attacked from Tybee Island (where the Union was stationed). He did not know about the rifled cannon.

In a completely unrelated historical note, Fort Pulaski rests on the tiny Cockspur Island, the same Island where John Wesley, founder of Methodism, first landed in the United States in 1736. It is said that he preached in the same live oak forest.

Cold Bird CROWDS (6/10)
A Jacksonville native escaping the Super Bowl was the only other person on our tour of the Fort. Because the group was so intimate, the Ranger took us out of the rain and through some of the rooms not normally open to the public. An unexpected treat.

The Site is 15 miles due east along U.S. Route 80 from downtown Savannah, the city it was built to protect.

The usual Civil War tomes are here, but so are at least six titles specific to Fort Pulaski, a large selection dedicated to the African American experience and one illustrated book that had Gab glued to the spot until she read it cover to cover. Songs from the Underground Railroad were playing quietly in the background; the space was warm and nicely lit. One of us could have stayed here all day.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $3 per adult or free with the National Parks Pass.

We noticed more people in NPS uniforms than visitors. Hard to say how many were actually interpretive Rangers.

In the summer months, Rangers give five tours a day of the Fort. That number is pared down to two in the off-season. We wandered into the Fort for the 11:00 a.m. tour, braving the 40º temperatures and cold rain. At 11:05, we were still alone. A Ranger popped his head out of his office and asked if we had any questions.

Pulaski InteriorThe resulting 45-minute tour of the Fort was an unforeseen pleasure. He was not an interpretive Ranger and did not have a script memorized. Instead, he told us stories, showed us hidden places and answered many questions.

15 minutes after he had started, another Ranger (the scheduled tour guide) ran into the Fort and announced that the 11:00 tour was cancelled because of inclement weather. His proclamation seemed silly to all of us while we were learning about the Union and Confederate use of human shields at the Fort. We greatly appreciated the Fort Pulaski Ranger’s generosity, not to mention his teaching acumen. He did not have to help us but he did.

The newly redone introductory video is excellent. Go see it before you make your way into the Fort. The small museum is also a treat. Fascinatingly designed original flags hang from the rafters behind protective glass. Notable among them is the familiar coiled snake “Don’t Tread on Me” South Carolina flag and one showcasing a menacing eagle labeled “Federal Government” attacking a pristine woman labeled with the names of the Confederate States. The message reads, “Touch her if you dare”.

FUN (7/10)
A series of disappointing Sites made us wary of yet another coastal fort. Oh look, some earthworks, and how about that cannon? Fort Pulaski NM distinguished itself with a small but excellent museum, a video that aided rather than obstructed our understanding of the Site and a Ranger that went out of his way to ensure that the few visitors to the Site didn’t leave without a tour.

And how about that cannon? The artillery that rests in the corner of the south and southeast walls actually saw action during the 1862 siege. It looks worse for wear, but not as bad as the walls themselves. Fort Pulaski NM bears the scars of the innovations in weaponry that made the Civil War our first modern war.

Rainy DayWe enjoyed this outdoor site, even in the pouring rain. We did not intend to spend three hours here but we did.

Facilities and staffing at Fort Pulaski NM are superior to Fort Frederica NM and Fort Caroline N MEM. With its close proximity to Savannah, Fort Pulaski NM is an easy side trip and a good reason to explore the beaches of Tybee Island.

TOTAL 57/80

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St. Simons Island, Ga.
Visited: February 2, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 142 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Old City RuinsWHAT IS IT?
James Oglethorpe, leader and founder of the Georgia colony, began construction of Frederica Town in 1736. It was the southernmost outpost under British rule. Today, only the ruins remain.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Fort Frederica must have once been a beautiful little town with its wide streets, live oaks, orange trees, a tabby (oyster shell) fort and Georgia-style architecture red brick structures. Little remains of the town today except portions of the fort and the base of the old houses. Oglethorpe built Fort Frederica on a planned square grid of roads that the Park Service still marks with street signs. You need to use your imagination to transform the house shell ruins and overrun old streets into a vital English city.

James Oglethorpe settled Georgia, and Fort Frederica, with the “worthy poor”, or English citizens who had found themselves homeless or in debtor’s prison. Frederica was both a bustling town and the southernmost British defense line in the American colonies. Its primary purpose was military.

As we learned at the Castillo de San Marcos NM in St. Augustine, Oglethorpe launched many attacks from 1740 to 1743 on the Spanish colony from Fort Frederica, none of them successful. One of his sneak attacks was stymied at Fort Matanzas, an NPS site just south of St. Augustine. In turn, the Spanish invaded Georgia in 1742 but were repelled at Bloody Marsh, an adjunct section of the Park near the southern tip of St. Simons Island.

CROWDS (4/10)
We were the only visitors to Fort Frederica NM. The Visitor Center was stuffy; the watchful eye of the volunteer unwavering. Perhaps more visitors would have lightened the mood and made us less claustrophobic.

Costumed MichaelEASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
The Site is 12 miles from Interstate 95 and Brunswick, Georgia. Fort Frederica is located on St. Simons Island. The Island can only be reached via the E.J. Torras Causeway.

U.S. Route 17 leads to the bridge’s entrance. Route 17 is known by many names its short loop around Brunswick. They include Georgia Route 25, Glynn Avenue, the Ocean Highway, the Jekyll Island Road and the Darien Highway. Just follow signs to St. Simons Island.

St. Simons Island’s roads are narrow, crowded and have a low speed limit. They are also very well marked. Many signs point you on you way to Fort Frederica NM.

The 12 miles from the Interstate to the Fort could take as long as forty-five minutes to traverse.

Georgia is the one thing books at Fort Frederica have in common. This small store maintained by a local non-profit association offers journals and replicas of official documents from the colony’s early days. If those seem a little dry, pick up books describing Fort Mose, a Spanish fortification armed solely by escaped slaves or read social histories or Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia. St. Simons Island and the nearby town of Brunswick are settings for several titles, including Eugenia Price’s historical novels.

COSTS (3/5)
Entrance is $5 per vehicle.

No Rangers on duty. We are fortunate that, earlier that week, we had asked a Ranger at the Castillo de San Marcos NM about Fort Frederica’s place in the American story.

Invitation from John IrelandTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
We have the distinction of being two of the last people to view This is Frederica, an intriguing NPS video starring John Ireland. Remember the soap Santa Barbara? This Is Frederica is essentially a soap opera set among the ruins of the town of Frederica. Actors dressed in colonial garb sporting an array of accents go about their daily chores, interact and recount the history of the 18th-century town in buildings without walls or doors. This makes scenes with bickering neighbors and constables “knocking” on doors even funnier.

Yes, the 1965 film was horribly dated and difficult to follow. Yes, the narrative technique bordered on ridiculous, with Mr. Ireland switching from omniscient observer to active participant with no regard for chronology or linear narrative. We did not learn much, but my goodness the film was fun to watch.

We arrived just days before Fort Frederica NM would unveil their brand new video as part of a celebratory anniversary weekend. Will future visitors ever know This Is Frederica?

There is a small exhibit area in the Visitor Center. It pales in comparison to watching the ”uppity wives of the worthy poor” preen and gossip amid the ruins of Frederica. No Ranger-led activities are offered in the winter months.

Frederica GangFUN (5/10)
It is really impossible to explain how wonderful/horrible This Is Frederica was. Our guffaws echoed in the empty theatre. This film will probably reach mythical proportions in our minds before our trip is over.

The absence of regular Ranger-led activities makes it difficult to recommend this Site. Its historical significance is minimal; access is not as easy as it should be. With the lovely towns of Savannah, Georgia and St. Augustine, Florida so close in either direction, you might stop here en route between them. No need to go out of your way.

TOTAL 34/80

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Part of Timucuan Ecological and Historical PreserveJacksonville, Fla.
Visited: February 2, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 139 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Welcome to JacksonvilleWHAT IS IT?
Reconstructed 16th-century fort that marks the brief Protestant French (Huguenot) presence along the southern Atlantic coast.

BEAUTY (2/10)
We asked the Ranger at Castillo de San Marcos NM why did the French sail to St. Augustine instead of waiting for the Spanish from their reinforced fortress. His response, “Have you been to Fort Caroline yet? Then you’ll know” And we did. Even though Fort Caroline N MEM is a 1/3-sized reconstruction, its historical smallness and flimsy walls were apparent. It is not much of a fort, more like a triangular shaped enclosure with thin walls overlooking the wide, deep St. Johns River.

We arrived in Jacksonville on a dreary, cold, rainy day. Massive barges floated down the river while steam and smoke bellowed from the many factories. Had it not been for the million dollar houses on the River’s far side, the vista might have been mistaken for Industrial Revolution-era London. Who would build a house overlooking this disgusting river span? Maybe Charles Dickens.

In 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault sailed to the mouth of the St. Johns River hoping to find a suitable area to be a refuge for the persecuted Protestant French. Two years later the fort was built and a 200-person colony was established. The colony would double its size in under a year but saw its end by 1565 at the hands of the Spanish. See our Fort Matanzas review for more background.

In September of 1565 after receiving military reinforcements, the Huguenots launched a preemptive attack on the new Spanish colony of St. Augustine located 20 miles to the south. They picked the wrong month. Once out on the water, the weather changed rapidly and the French found themselves sailing into a hurricane. The violent winds tossed and wrecked their ships far to the south of St. Augustine.

The Spanish learned of the Huguenots terrible luck and sent soldiers to take the sparsely protected Fort Caroline. After swiftly reappropriating the fort and massacring some 250 settlers, the Spanish went looking for the accursed French. They found the exhausted Huguenots south of St. Augustine and slaughtered all but 16 of the 350. The French presence in the region was officially over.

Coastal ViewCROWDS (4/10)
This Site cannot handle crowds well. Not really a problem in our case because there was only one other couple there. Unbelievable since it was Super Bowl week, the biggest thing that has happened to Jacksonville since the Huguenots. Still, the museums ceilings are low and loudly echoed the couple’s conversation with the only person on duty, a talkative and opinionated volunteer. We could not concentrate enough to read the exhibits’ small print text.

Fort Caroline is 13 miles east of downtown Jacksonville. The road that hugs the St. Johns River from Florida 9A (Jacksonville’s beltway) to the Site is fittingly named Fort Caroline Road.

At least it’s unique. We haven’t seen a pine needle basket craft kit or a fluffy hand puppet in the shape of a clam at other Sites. If only you didn’t have to face the very chatty volunteer to get to the books, several of which are specific to Fort Caroline. Did we mention the clam puppet makes noises?

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

No Rangers, just one volunteer. She shocked us when she explained that the Park’s Ranger generally does not do a good job.

New FranceTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
There are no Ranger programs. We heard rumors that there are monthly living history reenactments. Hopefully they are not battle reenactments because they would not take long to finish. The newly refurbished Visitor Center museum is nice and provides a good introduction to the Timucuan Indians who inhabited the area for thousands of years before the Frenchmen’s fleeting inhabitation.

FUN (3/10)
The most fun the Site offered was a close-up view of a Carnival Cruise Line ship making its way into Jacksonville to provide much needed Super Bowl hotel rooms.

We cannot see much reason to travel to Fort Caroline N MEM. The fort’s story is told in depth elsewhere – by Rangers at Fort Matanzas NM – and the industrial scenery is dismal at best. The reconstructed fort offers no exploration possibilities. It is just an enclosed yard.

TOTAL 30/80

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south of St. Augustine, Fla.
Visited: February 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 137 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Nearing the FortWHAT IS IT?
A Spanish stone masonry fortification finished in 1742 whose purpose was to guard the mouth of the Matanzas River, a back door channel into the important colonial city, Saint Augustine.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Fort Matanzas stands on Rattlesnake Island, a small piece of land that bisects the mouth of the Matanzas River. The surrounding waters are much calmer than the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

The fort sits around estuarine marshlands and enjoys a typical Florida coastal feel. The building, itself, is very small. Only seven soldiers lived here at its most crowded. Five cannons point upstream from the deck-like perch. These soldiers lived in a narrow one-room deck level enclosure, while the officers lived directly above.

The Fort has a functional charm. There are no wasted bricks and no superfluous space.

The Spanish built Fort Matanzas because of its strategic defensive position. The Fort faced its first test in 1742, while it neared completion. James Oglethorpe, Governor of the British colony of Georgia, led 12 ships into the Inlet, in an effort to attack St. Augustine from the rear. Fort Matanzas’ cannons repelled the attack and never saw battle again.

As a fort, this Site has limited historical significance. However, nearly 200 years before Fort Matanzas’ construction, another more important historical event occurred on these lands; an event that solidified Spain’s 200-year colonial rule over Florida and ensured the safety of their trade routes.

In 1565, the Spanish looting of South America was in full swing. Boat after treasure-filled boat sailed from Cartagena, Columbia or Vera Cruz, Mexico on to the Spanish capital city, Havana, Cuba up the Gulf Stream and over to Spain. These treasure ships passed close to the shores of present-day Florida.

In 1564, Protestant French (Huguenots) built Fort Caroline near present-day Jacksonville and began to raid the Spanish galleons for their treasure. The devoutly Catholic Spanish resented the French infidels’ religious choice and their brazen theft. In August 1565, the Spanish founded the town of St. Augustine to subdue the French and protect their ships.

In September, after receiving reinforcements, the French decided to attack St. Augustine en masse leaving Fort Caroline virtual defenseless. Instead of a swift victory, their ships were caught in a hurricane that wrecked the boats and swept the men far south of the new Spanish city. The Spanish caught up with the Huguenots at the mouth of the soon-to-be named Matanzas River.

After the unarmed and exhausted French surrendered, the Spanish bound and then killed all but 16 of the 350 Huguenots. Matanzas is the Spanish word for slaughter. St. Augustine flourished and the French never again gained a foothold in this area of North America.

Soldiers’ QuartersCROWDS (5/10)
We shivered alongside more tourists than we had expected. Our layered clothing, wool hats and gloves spoke the same question: Didn’t we all leave the northern winter to avoid this?

The Site is located just a few miles east of Interstate 95 on the Florida A1A, 14 miles south of St. Augustine. A ferry to the Fort site departs from the Visitor Center hourly on the half hour. The ferry is free and reliable. We arrived on an unseasonably cold and windy day but unlike the violent Atlantic Ocean, the Matanzas River Inlet was calm. Wind whipped against our faces but the ride was short and sweet.

We would have appreciated a larger bookstore to browse as we waited for the next ferry. Space is tight, especially if more than one person is perusing the shelves. Titles like A Taste of St. Augustine and Famous Florida Recipes, although not directly related to the site, add flavor to the small selection. Books on famous Florida ship wrecks and the Spanish treasure fleets were more appropriate reading companions to a visit to Fort Matanzas. Samples of coquina, one of the materials used to build the Fort, are scattered around the little shop.

COSTS (5/5)
The Site, ferry ride and the tour of the Fort are all free.

We encountered a plethora of Rangers. Three Rangers and two volunteers accompanied our group on the ferry to the Fort site. No one could have any excuse for leaving the Site with an unanswered question.

All boat trips to Rattlesnake Island include a 25-minute long talk about the Fort. Because of the cold, the volunteer gave his entire talk in the long, narrow soldiers’ quarters. We were allowed to explore the other room, the deck and the roof when the talk ended. The lesson was informational and nice background to a tour of St. Augustine and its fort, the Castillo de San Marcos.

A tour of Fort Matanzas is an essential companion piece to a Fort Caroline NM visit. Fort Caroline NM has no Ranger talks and no interpretive panels. If you want an understanding of its historical role, you almost need to visit Fort Matanzas.

There are no Museum facilities at Fort Matanzas NM. If you arrive at 10:35 a.m., for example, you will have to deal with idle time. The short introductory video is dated and confusing and the mile long Nature Walk loop is under construction.

FUN (5/10)
We weren’t expecting a boat ride to be involved in our visit, which is what happens when you read a guidebook too quickly. The fact that it was free and left every 30 minutes warmed us to the idea. The Fort was charming; the ferry was fast.

A Ranger might have given a more extensive explanation of the events around the building and use of Fort Matanzas. But the volunteer who led our tour won us over with his Pittsburgh accent and the fact that he is the second person on our trip that recognized the B on Gab’s hat. Brownie points for that.

Overlooking the MarshWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10)
On a nice sunny day, we are sure the ferryboat trip to Fort Matanzas makes for a lovely day. However, it is not a big-ticket historical destination like nearby St. Augustine and the Fort is awful small. Our freezing bones are still screaming at us for leaving Miami. This Site is for history buffs and those eager to learn everything about Spanish colonial history. We are glad we traveled to Fort Matanzas NM prior to St. Augustine because it provided a good base of understanding for the intensive lesson the old city provides.

TOTAL 48/80

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St. Augustine, Fla.
Visited: February 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 138 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Protecting New SpainWHAT IS IT?
A massive stone masonry 17th-century Spanish fort built to protect the city of St. Augustine from British colonial invasion. The Castillo de San Marcos (St. Mark’s Castle) marked the northern-most settlement in Spain’s vast New World Empire.

BEAUTY (7/10)
We were immediately struck by the Castillo de San Marcos’ tremendous size. Four diamond-shaped bastions jut out from the corners of a square interior. A dry moat surrounds the light grey walls that were built with the fragile rock, coquina. In small quantities, coquina crumbles when handled, but when packed together, the rock withstands cannonballs by sucking them in upon impact.

From atop the Fort you can see the beautiful blue waters of Matanzas Bay, the subtle curves of the Three Lions Bridge and the Old City Gates of St. Augustine, the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States.

Few American cities have as rich a history as St. Augustine, Florida. The Spanish founded the city in 1565 and it served as the capital of the Province of Florida for over 200 years. St. Augustine protected the Spanish trade routes and the flow of goods along the Gulf Stream and back to Spain. The city was Spain’s northernmost outpost in the New World.

Its frontier location necessitated the building of a great fort. Castillo de San Marcos began construction in 1672. In its lifetime, the Fort faced numerous attacks and sieges from the English. St. Augustine was burned a dozen times but the Spanish never lost the city due to the strength of the Castillo de San Marcos.

The Fort plays the starring role in stories told at other nearby National Park Sites: Fort Matanzas NM, Fort Caroline N MEM and to some extent Fort Frederica NM. St. Augustine was the center of life in the part of the world for nearly two centuries, Castillo de San Marcos was its protector.

CROWDS (7/10)
There were gobs and gobs of people at the Site even though, later that day, the narrow streets of St. Augustine did not seem crowded. Our guided tour included over 40 people who gravitated pre-tour to the Ranger while he answered one of our many questions. The large crowds did not hinder our visit; there are so many things to see.

On the RoofEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The Site is located along the coast in the middle of old St. Augustine. It is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. You can’t miss it. There are approximately 30 free parking spaces on Site but they fill up quickly. You can also park across the street in the St. Augustine Visitor Center lot. We stayed downtown at a nearby hotel and walked everywhere.

Miniature metal soldiers guard the door. Reproductions of colonial and old world maps line the walls. If you are looking for tiny replicas of cannons or ammunition, you can find them here too. The bookstore and Castillo de San Marcos had plenty of books arranged by topic and souvenirs with a Spanish colonial bent. There was no need to supplement the offerings with Jamestown glassware and pottery. Pretty, but why not let the beauty of St. Augustine shine? In general, a great store.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $6 per person or free with a National Parks Pass. Your ticket is good for an entire week, which is helpful given the Fort’s many nooks and crevices that beg for exploration.

Jacksonville could learn from its southern neighbor. St. Augustine was well prepared and doubly staffed for any Super Bowl crowd that might find its way here. Castillo de San Marcos NM had volunteers around every corner, as well as regular Ranger talks. We accidentally began the 3 p.m. talk early when a crowd gathered to hear one Ranger answer our barrage of questions we had been collecting since Fort Matanzas. The Ranger happily obliged.

The Park Service provides a 26-station self-guided walking trail through the fort’s extensive rooms and roofs. Many of these rooms also include exhibits that further detail their role. The amount of information is overwhelming.

Ranger-led talks are given hourly in the fort’s inner courtyard. The Ranger was near obsessive in his knowledge of Napoleonic warfare, the U.S. coastal defense system and colonial firearms. He was a welcome help in our attempt to understand and interrelate the five National Park Service forts along the Atlantic coast from Savannah, Georgia to St. Augustine. He helped cut through much of the confusion in ways that exhibit panels and timelines just do not.

On the weekends, the Rangers dress up in period costume and shoot cannons into the water four times a day. The Park Service offers many other interactive tours on site including a monthly torchlight tour, bird walks and reenactments.

FUN (8/10)
We arrived in St. Augustine late afternoon and were immediately drawn to the Castillo. Its size and elevation gave us a perfect vantage point to scope out the city and decide where we wanted to go next. Positioned on the waterfront at the end of a river walk, the Castillo caught the final rays of the sun that had finally decided to come out. We warmed ourselves on the bastions before ducking into the chilly hallways to check out the numerous displays.

The Ranger that led our talk kindly kept us in the sunny corner or the courtyard. Our knowledgeable guide spent equal time explaining the whys and whens of the French and Spanish incursions and dismissing the Hollywood versions of coastal battles. He conceded that Master and Commander was historically accurate with regards to warfare and it was one of the few movies to get it right.

He went on to explain that in the past, the Park Service caved in to the historical inaccuracies of Hollywood. An Errol Flynn movie featured a fort that looked just like Castillo de San Marcos except that its moat was filled with water. 600 pounds (yes pounds!) of mail found its way to the Park Service, demanding that the San Marcos moat be hydrated.

Historians knew that the St. Augustine fort had a dry moat, but did not have the final say. Their word was heeded in the early 90’s when the moat was finally drained. The requested water had led to serious structural damage. The fort had weathered 500 years, twelve British sieges and millions of tourists but was most damaged by an Errol Flynn movie.

We’re suckers for trivia.

Beautiful St. AugustineWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
The town of St. Augustine still seems more like a Spanish colonial outpost than an American town. Both the Park Service Rangers and the period costumed employees of the Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum do a terrific job at perpetuating this feel. We loved the town’s Avenida de San Marcos, a pedestrian-only promenade, and its eclectic array of good restaurants. Comparable only to Williamsburg, Virginia, St. Augustine is a wonderful historical vacation spot. The stellar Castillo de San Marcos NM is large part of the town’s attractiveness.

TOTAL 61/80

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