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Fort Point, San Francisco
Fort Point history
Fort Point has a long and intriguing history. The story of this site dates all the way back to mid 18th century, when the San Francisco area was under Spanish flag. In order to secure the region against naval attacks, Spain fortified the strategically located northern point of the San Francisco peninsula. By the end of the 18th century, they had built the fort Castillo de San Joaquin; a defensive structure which housed around 10 cannons.
This fort was later abandoned when Mexico won independence from Spain and the Mexicans chose to move their army north, to Sonoma. A mistake some might say, as Mexico soon became drawn into a war with the United States. Quickly after the Mexican defeat and the US victory, gold was found in the region which triggered the Californian Gold Rush .
An important region
This caused rapid settlement of the area and it didn’t take long for the United States to recognize its commercial and strategic value. In order to fortify the position, several coastal defenses were planned – one of them at the site of the old ruinous Spanish fort. The Americans had already built a lighthouse at the site, but the gold rush and the need for improved defenses forced it to be demolished.
Construction of Fort Point
The construction of Fort Point started in 1853. The first part involved blasting the 27 meter high cliff down to a mere 4 meters. This was done to allow the fort’s cannons to hit enemy ships at the water-line. More than 200 workers - many unemployed miners - worked on the fort for eight long years, until it finally stood completed in 1861. The fort was the only one of its kind on the entire west coast and was declared a key point to the whole Pacific Coast.
American Civil War
Due to the outbreak of the American Civil War in the same year as the fort’s completion, many people believe it was built for this war specifically. But as noted before, it was in fact built to guard against French and Spanish ships that might be after California's newfound gold. It was only a coincidence that it finished in time for the Civil War. It did however serve the Union well during the civil war as a deterring factor, as no Confederate attack on San Francisco took place.
Lost its function
After the civil war, innovations within the field of artillery made large bulky forts like this one less effective. Due to this, the fort was abandoned and was only used sporadically for military purposes. One time was during the Second World War, when US soldiers were stationed at the fort to guard the minefields and the anti-submarine net that spanned the Golden Gate.
The fort and the bridge
When the plans for the Golden Gate Bridge started in the 1930ies, some called for the fort’s removal. However, the chief engineer clearly stated that the fort would be preserved for its historic significance. Instead of removing it, he redesigned the bridge and incorporated the fort in its construction, which in the end saved it from destruction.
Why visit Fort Point ?
Inside Fort Point, visitors can examine an array of historic cannons, see a number of historic exhibits and discover all about a soldiers life at the fort.
There is even a chance visitors get to test how it is to load a Napoleon 12 pounder cannon. It is also possible to enter the barbette level. From there, visitors can get an unparalleled view over the Golden Gate Strait and its magnificent bridge.
A significant site
Today, Fort Point is a US National Historic Site. The fort has been called “the pride of the Pacific,” “the Gibraltar of the West Coast,” and “one of the most perfect models of masonry in America.”
Though it today lies in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point was once the first thing that greeted visitors entering the San Francisco Bay. This great fort has been keeping a watching eye over the strait for more than 100 years. The brilliant Fort Point is perhaps one of the most underrated tourist attractions in San Francisco.
Although Fort Point never saw actual battle, it has had great significance due to its more or less flawless architecture and its military history.
Fort Point location
Fort Point is located in western United States, in San Francisco, California. The fort is situated at the southern side of the Golden Gate at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. For the exact location of Fort Point, check out the location map to the right!
Fort Point resources
Fort Point. (public domain).
Protecting the Golden Gate. (public domain).
Interactive location map. For a larger and more detailed map, check out our US map.
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