The History of Fort Adams
Part Five (1939 - Present)

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World War II Twilight Years Navy Days Restoration Efforts

World War Two (1939 - 1945)

American Defense Service, American Campaign and World War II Victory Medals
(Soldiers staioned at Fort Adams during the the Second World War would have been eligible for the above medals.)

With the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 the United States began to mobilize and modernize its defenses. The Endicott period batteries were obsolete by this time and replaced by 16 and 6 inch guns mounted in large bunkers located in Little Compton, Beavertail and Narragansett. The only guns remaining at Fort Adams, during the war were three 3-inch anti-aircraft guns (these were replaced later in the war by two 90mm guns on mobile mounts). However, the fort was retained as the headquarters of the Harbor Defenses of Narragansett Bay. In addition to the gun batteries, the defenses included mines covering the approaches to the bay as well as anti-submarine nets stretched across both the east and west passages. A thorough treatment of this subject is found in the book Defenses of Narragansett Bay in World War Two by Walter K. Schroder of Jamestown.

Unit Crest of the 243rd Coast Artillery Regiment.

On September 16th, 1940 the 243rd Coast Artillery Regiment of the Rhode Island National Guard was mobilized and sent to Fort Adams. The 243rd, commanded by Colonel Earl C. Webster, supplemented the 10th Coast Artillery Regiment in manning the harbor defenses in Narragansett Bay. In addition to Fort Adams, the Harbor Defenses of Narragansett Bay consisted of the Endicott period Fort Getty and Fort Wetherill in Jamestown and Kearney in Saunderstown as well as more modern installations at Fort Church in Little Compton, Fort Burnside in Jamestown and forts Varnum and Greene in Narragansett.

About 9:30 PM on July 14th, 1941 a cabin cruiser caught fire about 1/2 mile from the fort's officer's club. On board were Lieutenant George L. Booth of the Quartermaster Corps and Miss Marion Boyle of Newport.

Five soldiers from Fort Adams responded to their cries for help. They were Privates William Sharp, Henry Acker, Thomas Sheridan, Robert FitzHenry and Walter K. Wilberham of Battery G, 10th Coast Artillery.

The soldiers then swam out to the boat. Fearing an explosion, they but a life jacket on Miss Boyle and lowered her into the water. Privates Sharp and Acker towed her to shore. The other three soldiers stayed on the boat trying to extinguish the flames. While fighting the fire, Private Wilberham was severely injured and later died of his injuries.

The boat was towed to shore by mine yawls stationed at Fort Wetherill where the flames were finally extinguished. On June 10th, 1942 all four surviving soldiers were awarded the Soldiers Medal, the Army's highest award for non-combat heroism. Private Wilberham's widow accepted his medal. (Newport Daily News June 11th, 1942, pg. 4 and Providence Journal July 24th, 1941.)

As the war progressed, it became evident that there was little need for coastal defenses as neither the Germans nor the Japanese had the power to make a significant attack on the American mainland. As a result coastal defenses were gradually reduced with many personnel being reclassified for combat duty. By the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945 the Harbor Defenses of Narragansett Bay consisted only of four companies down from a peak strength of 18 companies in two regiments in late 1940.

On August 10th, 1943 over 100 women volunteers were sworn in as WACs. The officer administering the oath was LTC George A. Bates and the commander of the WACs was 1LT Martha McQuaid. (NDN, August 11th, 1943.)

The U-805, a Sister Ship of the U-853

As usual, Fort Adams was not attacked during the war. The closest combat action to the Fort was the sinking of the U-853 on May 6th, 1945 - shortly before Germany surrendered. Although Admiral Donitz had issued orders for all U-boats to return to base the U-853 either did not recieve them or her captain chose to ignore them. At 1740 on May 5th the U-853 sank the SS Black Point, an American merchant ship, off of Point Judith. The next day, the U-853 was intercepted by the Navy destroyer escort USS Atherton (DE-169) and the patrol frigate USS Moberly (PF-63) and sunk by depth charges. All 55 men of the submarine's crew will killed.

Twilight Years (1945 - 1952)

After the war Fort Adams, along with all other coastal defense fortifications, found itself a visage of a by gone era. In this brief interlude between the eras of coast defense guns and anti-aircraft missiles the concept of coast defense revolved around anti-aircraft guns. (Most of the Army's anti-aircraft units were formerly coast defense units.) While Fort Adams remained the headquarters post for Narragansett Bay Harbor Defenses (NBHD) with Forts Church, Burnside and Greene as subposts, it was realized that Fort Adams, along with all other coast defense installations, were no longer needed by the Army.

In November 1945 it was decided by Rhode Island Governor John O. Pastore and a group of citizens lead by philanthropist John Nicholas Brown to offer the fort to the United Nations organization as a site for its permanent home. The UN decided to make its headquarters in New York City and Fort Adams continued as a military installation. (A copy of the book containing this proposal is in the Brown University Library.)

After the war the fort's garrison was reduced to the point where disabled veterans from both world wars were employed as gate guards at the fort. (NDN, March 29th, 1946.)

In early April of 1947 Fort Adams, then under the command of Colonel Earl G. Metzger, hosted an Army Week which featured the area forts being opened to the public as well as displays of the the fort's 90mm, 40mm anti-aircraft guns, .30 and .50 caliber machine guns and 60 inch searchlights. Colonel Metzger also had a number of speaking engagements during the week highlighting the Army's contributions to the nation's history.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, April 13th, 1947 a fire broke out in the upstairs barracks on the southeast wall of the old fort. While the barracks was unoccupied - in fact, the open bay had been turned into a roller skating rink - it was adjacent to a storage area for surplus radar and radio equipment.

The blaze was noticed at 3:40 AM by a sailor standing watch on the destroyer tender U.S.S. Yosemite moored off of Goat Island. The ship radioed the Naval Training Station which telephoned Fort Adams. The fire was subdued by units of the Fort Adams, Naval Training Station and Newport Fire Departments as well as the 250 men in garrison at the Fort.

The result was that the southeast barracks was reduced to a burnt shell - never to be rebuilt. Fortunately, no one was injured in the fire but it symbolized that the fort had seen its best days. (Newport Mercury, April 18th, 1947; Newport Daily News, April 14th, 1947.)

Colonel Earl H. Metzger at his retirement review, August 30th, 1949

On August 30th, 1949 there was a retirement parade in honor of Colonel Metzger. Colonel Metzger was commissioned in 1912 and had served in both World Wars. His retirement marked the begining of the last days of Fort Adams. (Newport Mercury, September 2nd, 1949.)

Color Guard and Battery B, 243d Coast Artillery Battalion,
RI National Guard at Colonel Metzger's retirement review.

Colonel Metzger was succeeded as the fort's commander by Colonel Edward B. McCarthy. Colonel McCarthy oversaw preparations for the deactivation of Fort Adams. The Rhode Island General Assembly sent a protest to Congress but this was to no avail.

One April 7th, 1950 three launches assigned to Fort Adams myteriously burned with no cause or culprit being found. On April 15th Colonel McCarthy was reassigned as commander of Fort Devens, Massachusetts and the remaining garrison, under the command of Major B.H. Schimmell, proceeded to prepare the fort for deactivation. (Providence Journal, May 28th, 1950, Section 1, pg. 14.)

Fort Adams was finally closed as a coast defense installation in June of 1950 - the same month of the outbreak of the Korean War. This is symbolic of the fort's obsolessence. In the wars of the late 20th Century the United States homeland would not be threatened with attack.

Although the fort was officially deactivated as a coast artillery post at this time, the Army kept the 1112th Area Service Unit (ASU), also known as the Narragansett Bay Marine Repair Shop, at the fort to maintain boats and other equipment involved in anti-aircraft training in the Narragansett Bay area until June 30th, 1952. ("History of Fort Adams", Unpublished, 1112th ASU, 1952.)

Navy Days (1953 - 1965)

About a year later, Fort Adams was turned over to the Navy which used the old fortification as a storage facility and took over the plush officers quarters to the south of the main fort for use by senior officers stationed at the Naval War College. In the late 1950's the Navy built additional officers quarters in the area and the development is now known as Brenton Village. These quarters are still in use to this day. (Providence Journal, June 15th, 1951, pg. 16.)

On August 27th, 1956 Rear Admiral Ralph Earl, Jr., commanding officer of the Newport Navy Base, wrote the Newport City Council to inform them that the Navy was planning to tear down Fort Adams and using the stone and brick of the old fort to build a 2,500 foot breakwater at Coddington Cove. (A copy of this letter is in the Newport Historical Society library.) This plan led to a public outcry, led by the Newport Preservation Society, and the fort was saved from destruction. (See Newport Daily News, September 12th, 1956.)

The demolition crisis led to public interest in saving to fort. However, it would take some time before decisive action was taken.

President Eisenhower tees off his Newport vacation on August 30th, 1958.
Fort Adams was the home of President Dwight D. Eisenhower while he vacationed in Newport from September 4th through the 30th of 1958 and from August 29th through September 23rd in 1960. (President Eisenhower previously vacationed in Newport from September 4th through the 30th in 1957 as well, but stayed at the Newport Naval Base.)

While at Fort Adams Eisenhower lived in Quarters One, which had previously served as the fort's commanding officer's quarters. Ever since, Quarters One has been known as the Eisenhower House.

The use of Fort Adams as the "Summer White House" was appropriate for a number of reasons. First, the President undoubtedly appreciated being at a former Army base - especially one featuring fantastic views of Narragansett Bay. Second, due to the fort's status as a military installation, relatively remote location and limited access, security was of minimal concern for the Secret Service. Finally, and probably most important, Fort Adams was only a short drive from the Newport Country Club where the President could indulge in his favorite recreation at his leisure.

President Eisenhower observes a simulated missile launch from the
U.S.S. Patrick Henry in Newport Harbor on July 25th, 1960.
(Fort Adams may be seen at the right of the photo.)

On July 25th, 1960, President Eisenhower witnessed the simulated launch of a Polaris missile from the recently commissioned U.S.S. Patrick Henry while aboard the presidential yacht Barbara Ann. He had ordered the submarine to Newport so he could personally take a tour it. (See Newport Daily News, July 25th, 1960, pg. 1.)

Restoration Efforts (1965 - Present)

Fort Adams from Southwest circa early 1960's.

On May 21st, 1965 the fortification complex and the adjacent waterfront property was given by the Navy to the state of Rhode Island for use as a state park. This cleared the way for efforts to have the fort restored and opened to the public. These efforts were led by Newport State Senator Eric A. O'D. Taylor, Senator Claiborne Pell, Antoinette Downing of the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission and philanthropist John Nicholas Brown among many others. This resulted in the State of Rhode Island creating the Fort Adams Foundation charged with the redevelopment of the fort in 1976. (Providence Journal, May 22nd, 1965, pg. 24.)

Around 1972 Fort Adams was chosen to be documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). The plans of the fort made by this effort will be invaluable in any restoration effort and are on file with the Rhode Island Histoic Preservation Commission and the National Archives. (Providence Journal, July 30th, 1972, pg. C10.)

Military Pagentry at Fort Adams circa mid-1970's.

In 1972 Mr. George Howarth was appointed as the fort's commandant and he oversaw daily operations which were hoped to have the fort redeveloped for the public benefit. On Monday September 4th, 1972 the fort was opened for tours for the first time since it was closed. About 2,000 people toured the fort that day. (Newport Daily News September 5th, 1972.)

This was the start of the fort being used as a major tourist attraction and events center until 1980. The Newport Jazz Festival began using Fort Adams as its venue as it does to this day.

One highlight was on July 6th, 1975 when the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra performed a concert inside the fort with the legendary Arthur Fieldler conducting.

In 1977 Fort Adams was declared by the Secretary of the Interior to be a National Historic Landmark which is the highest distinction a structure can have in the nation in relation to its historical and architectural significance. Fort Adams is one of fewer than 2,300 structures in the nation to have this designation.

In the summer of 1978 the movie "The Scarlet Letter" was filmed for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) at Fort Adams which highlighted the fort's potential as a film location.

In late 1978 the 1950's vintage Navy housing at Fort Adams was torn down. This was to make the land available for use as recreational space. The housing had been abandoned after the Navy pull out in 1973. (NDN, December 15th, 1978.)

In 1980 State Senator Eric Taylor died and the fort lost its biggest supporter in the state legislature. A number of other factors including budget shortfalls, concerns about safety and Mr. Howarth's reassignment led to the fort being closed to the public. For the next 13 years the fort would be mostly unused and fall victim to vandalism and natural decay.

On August 22nd and 23rd, 1981 the famous Newport Jazz Festival returned after several years of absence. Although festival promoter George Wein proposed Fort Adams as a site for the festival as early as 1963 it was not until the 1980's that this potential was realized. (Providence Bulletin, July 29th, 1963, pg. 1 and August 24th, 1981.)

Fort Adams viewed from the East circa the late 1970's.
(Image Courtesy of the Rhode Island Film Commission.)

In 1993 the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it was going to spend half a million dollars to remediate (i.e. clean up) the fort to make it accessible to the public. This led to renewed interest in the fort and the Fort Adams Foundation was revitalized under the leadership of Mr. Edwin Connelly of Jamestown, Colonel Frank Hale of the Newport Artillery Company and State Senator Theresa Paiva-Weed of Newport who served at the fort as a tourguide in the late 1970's.

The Army Corps remediation project was executed in the summer of 1994. It involved removing debris from the casemates, emplacing safty railings in hazardous areas and planting a "shubbery fence" to limit access to the fort's delapidated west wall. The effort coincideded with a State of Rhode Island initiative to install several ramps to improve the fort's handicapped accessibility. The end result was that Fort Adams could safely host visitors.

In May of 1995 Fort Adams was reopened for tours and public events during the summer months. The fort's potential as a major events center was demonstrated on May 18th, 1997 when a crowd estimated at 8,000 turned out for the first annual Fort Adams Adventure Day. Other major events in recent years have included the Jazz, Folk and Irish music festivals.

In 1997 Fort Adams was designated a Landmark at Risk by the National Park Service.

President Clinton Addressing the Crowd at Fort Adams
Photo c.Newport Daily News
On Thursday, December 3rd, 1998 President Clinton gave a speech at Fort Adams to announce new federal water quality regulations. (Text of President Clinton's Speech.) He flew away from the main parking lot in the "Marine One" helicopter, making him the first President since Dwight Eisenhower to visit Fort Adams and use helicopter as a means of transportation to leave the area. (Newport Daily News, December 4th, 1998.)

On July 4th, 1999 Fort Adams celebrated its 200th Anniversary with an open house at the fort. Special guests included retired senator Claiborne Pell and Congressman Patrick Kennedy. United States Senator Jack Reed was the keynote speaker. A 21-gun salute was fired by members of the Newport Artillery Company and the Rhode Island National Guard.

In October of 1999 Colonel Anthony Palermo, USMC (Retired) was hired as the executive director of the Fort Adams Trust. In the spring of 2000, Mary Beth Smith was hired as Director of Operations.

On May 13th, 2000, Opening Day of the 2000 tourism season, Fort Adams was rededicated as a National Historic Landmark and Colonel Frank Hale, RIM was proclaimed by Governor Lincoln Almond as the Honorary Commandant of Fort Adams. The day was complimented by a large display of historic military vehicles and a number of re-enactors in uniforms representing different eras in the fort's history.

On May 21st, 2001 Fort Adams was the site of the dedication of the Rhode Island State Quarter. (Newport Daily News, May 22nd, 2001.)

Today, Fort Adams is open for tours from May through October but is in great need of maintenance and repair. Funds are being raised to stabilize the fort from further deterioration and restore it to its former grandeur. Restoration work is expected to begin in the year 2001.

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Special Subjects

The following webpages have been prepared to provide additional information on their subjects -

The Artillery of Fort Adams

Living Quarters at Fort Adams

Related Websites

Official Website of the Fort Adams Trust

Artillery at Fort Adams Features links to images of the artillery which armed the fort.

Additional History of Fort Adams from the Rhode Island Division of Parks and Recreation. This anonymous history, although poorly organized and proof read, contains many interesting details relating to the design and construction of Fort Adams.

David Mann's Fort Adams Website Contains many contemporary images of Fort Adams and much useful information. Highly recommended.

Center for Fort Preservation and Tourism Contains many links of interest for serious fort enthusiasts.

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Recommended Reading

Note - A listing in this section does not mean that a book is either in print or even easy to find. It does mean that this author has familiarized himself with the book to the extent necessary to recommend the book as being highly informative and interesting as relating to its subject matter.

Fort Adams and the Defenses of Narrgansett Bay by Theodore L. Gatchel; Newport History, Summer 1995; Newport Historical Society, Newport RI, 1995. Excellent overview of the history of the coast defenses of Narragansett Bay from Colonial times through the Second World War.

Defenses of Narragansett Bay in World War II by Walter K. Schroder, 1980. Contains detailed information about the subject. Only book to focus exclusively on Rhode Island's defenses in World War Two.

Seacoast Fortifications of the United States by Emmanuel R. Lewis. Naval Institute Press, 1969. The best single volume reference for people beginning to study American coast defense forts.

Fortifications of Narragansett Bay by George Washington Cullum. Published in 1884 this pamphlet is the only attempt at a history of Rhode Island fortifications up to that time. Contains plans of the forts in question.

Roundshot and Rammers by Harold L. Peterson. Stackpole Books, 1969. Contains general information about artillery prior to the American Civil War.

The Big Guns by Edwin Olmstead, Wayne E. Stark and Spencer E. Tucker is the most comprehensive book ever written about heavy artillery of the Civl War.

Army Engineers in New England by the New England District of the Army Corps of Engineers, Boston, 1975.

American Forts - an Architectural Appreciation by Willard B. Robinson.

The Battle of Stonington by James Tertius DeKay. Note - this book, while not related to Fort Adams, provides a detailed account of one of the few coast artillery battles fought in New England. It's historic detail and gripping narrative make it well worth the readers time.

Forgotten Summers - The Story of Citizens' Military Training Camps, 1921-1940; Donald M. Kington, Two Decades Publishing, 1995. Focuses on a forgotten dimension of American military history.

Heitman's Register Lists the dates of rank and regimental assignments of all Regular Army officers from 1789 - 1903.

Encyclopedia Britanica 11th Edition article on Fortification and Siegecraft

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Unofficial Fort Adams Trust Homepage