Battery Varnum

(3 reviewss)


Battery Varnum is an abandoned reinforced concrete coastal gun battery in present-day Fort Wetherill State Park in Jamestown, Rhode Island. It was constructed during the Endicott Period and originally equipped with two 12-inch M1888 guns mounted on M1892 Barbette carriages.

Battery Varnum Establishment

Masonry forts and smoothbore cannons were rendered obsolete by improvements in weapons made during the Civil War. In order to create a modern defense system, the US government launched the Endicott Board in 1885. The Endicott system was constructed between 1890 and 1910, and some of its components were still in use in 1945. Nowadays, this time period is known as the Endicott Period.

During the Endicott Period, the government examined the Harbor Defenses of Narragansett Bay and made a number of recommendations for improvements. The Army decided to officially establish Fort Wetherill in Jamestown, Rhode Island in the year 1900. There were dozens of structures built on Fort Wetherill including Battery Varnum.

Construction on Battery Varnum started in June 1898 and the structure was completed the following year in August 1899. On February 15, 1091, the battery was acquired by the Coast Artillery and put into service. The battery was equipped with two 12-inch M1888 guns mounted on M1892 Barbette carriages. There were two stories to this gun battery. The lower level housed two magazines which stored shells and powder. The upper level was where the two guns were mounted. In order to move shells from the magazine up to the guns, two front-loading Taylor-Raymond electric shell hoists were installed. They were on back order when the battery first went into service, so they were installed later in 1907.  

Battery Varnum was named after Major General James Mitchell Varnum. He was an American legislator, lawyer, general in the Continental Army, and a pioneer in the Ohio Country. Varnum went to Rhode Island College which would later become Brown University. He also lived in East Greenwich, Rhode Island for several years while practicing law. His leadership during the American Revolution began in Rhode Island.

World War 1 and 2

Large caliber coastal defense gun tubes were extensively removed for use in Europe as a result of the United States’ involvement in World War I. Several of the removed cannon and mortar tubes were taken to arsenals to be modified and mounted on mobile carriages. The majority of the dismantled cannon tubes were either remounted or left at the arsenals until they were required elsewhere, most never made it to Europe. Battery Varnum was not affected by the redistribution of guns during World War 1 or the 1920 disarmament program. 

During World War 2, Battery Varnum was not deemed necessary for use. It was ordered to be closed. Orders for salvaging the guns and carriages were received on May 27, 1943. After the guns and carriages were removed, the battery was abandoned.

What Remains Today

Today, the abandoned old battery is located in Fort Wetherill State Park which opened to the public in 1972. It is one of 7 gun batteries located in the park. Visitors are welcome to walk on top of the Battery Varnum and also within it. As of 2023, many of the doors are open and stairways allow people to explore all levels. This is an abandoned structure, so it is extremely important to be careful while exploring. The battery is mostly covered in graffiti.

Fort Wetherill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 16, 1972, and this listing includes Battery Varnum


  • Year Established: 1901
  • Years Used: 1901-1943
  • Year Abandoned: 1943
  • Original Function: Endicott Period coastal gun battery equipped with two 12-inch M1888 guns mounted on M1892 Barbette carriages
  • National Register of Historic Places: #72000021


  • Address: Fort Wetherill Road
  • Town: Jamestown
  • State: Rhode Island
  • GPS: Lat 41.4778 Lng -71.3585
  • Parking Notes: There are about two dozen free parking spots located right near the fort at the end of Fort Wetherill Road. Parking is free and additional parking can be found within the park.
  • Parking Directions: HERE
  • Location Directions: HERE

3 reviews for Battery Varnum

  1. Ben

    Cool spot!

    Image #1 from Ben
  2. Caroline

    Fun abandoned battery to check out – right near Fort Wetherill!

    Image #1 from Caroline
  3. Paul

    Doors are open as of 2023!

    Image #1 from Paul
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