Local HistoryThings to do

Pt 2 | Napatree Point’s Fort Mansfield and the Fatal Flaw

The Adventure

Today we’re going to hike out to Napatree Point Fort Mansfield to see what remains of the fort.

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In Part 1 of our series we covered the fort’s history and how the mimic War of 1907, coupled with the analysis of Colonel Parkhurst, signaled the end of Fort Mansfield.

Watch the video

The fort’s armament consisted of three gun batteries – which are the main battery and two secondary batteries. Main Battery Wooster, which had two 8-inch M1888 disappearing guns. Secondary Battery Crawford had two 5-inch M1897 guns on balanced pillar carriages, and secondary Battery Connell had two 5-inch M1900 guns on pedestal mounts.

Main Battery Wooster was named for David Wooster, a Revolutionary War general who died in the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut. Battery Crawford was named for Emmet Crawford, an Army officer killed pursuing Geronimo in 1886. Battery Connell was named for James W. Connell, an Army officer killed in the Philippine–American War.

In 1911, after losing the mock battle the Endicott Board decided to mothball the Fort. Only 10 years after it was built. All but 17 of its servicemen were transferred out, and finally in 1917, the guns were removed and the fort closed for good.

Fort Mansfield Napatree Point, Westerly, RI

After the military left

Chris Sisson told me,

when his father was a boy growing up in Watch Hill he and his friends would go out to the old fort and bowl in the bowling alley that was still there.

In 1926, the last of the wooden buildings were torn down leaving only the large concrete gun batteries that are still there today.

In 1926, the property was sold to a summer resort syndicate for $365,000. The developer proposed subdividing the point into 674 building lots. This horrified the Watch Hill community, and it organized to stop the development. In 1931 the syndicate didn’t make the mortgage payments and the land was foreclosed on by the Washington Trust Company.

Hurricane of ’38

During the years following the closure of the fort, summer cottages were built out along the old Fort Road. Unfortunately, the devastating Hurricane of 1938 washed all of them into the sea.

When the storm began there were 42 people still in some of the 39 summer cottages on Fort Road. Little did they realize that in a few short hours, 15 of them would be dead and 27 others would be thrown into the sea. Somehow they miraculously survived. When you walk out on Napatree bits and pieces of these houses are everywhere.

The hurricane separated Sandy Point at the end of Napatree from the rest of the point making it into an island. It also moved the whole point about a hundred yards inland destroying Fort Mansfield’s Battery Connell.

Looking out in the water off the Point’s south shore, the remains of Battery Connell can be seen among the waves.

Napatree Point is a conservation area stewarded jointly by the Watch Hill Conservancy and the Watch Hill Fire District. The 86 acre Napatree Point Conservation area is open to the public year round.

Today, the crumbling ruins of historic Fort Mansfield, which are gradually being eroded away by wind and wave, are the only reminders of the fort’s fatal flaw.

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  1. Great job Greg!! I can’t wait to take a visit and check it out thank you..

  2. I am always interested and intrigued by the history of places around our gem of a state with wonders galore. Living in Westerly is the best ! I have lived and worked all over the state during my lifetime and I’m still learning about the wonders and history of times past. Thank you so very much for sharing this and taking us on a journey into the past , with such an amazing story of yesteryear.

  3. Good job Greg. Thanks for letting me have a look! Tom

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