Fort Preble

South Portland, Maine
Fort Preble was a military fort in South Portland, Maine that was built in 1808 and expanded on until 1906. It’s now open to the public.
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About This Location

Fort Preble was a military outpost that was constructed in South Portland, Maine. It was built in 1808 and gradually expanded on until 1906. From the War of 1812 to World War II, the fort remained operational. In 1950, the fort was made inactive. It is currently located on the Southern Maine Community College campus.

Establishing Fort Preble

Fort Preble, located in South Portland, Maine, has a rich history that dates back to its establishment in 1808. This military outpost, initially constructed as part of the First System of US defenses, played a vital role in the nation’s coastal defense strategy. Let’s explore the history and significance of Fort Preble.

The Fort’s Origins

The fort was named in honor of Commodore Edward Preble, a distinguished naval commander who led American forces during the Barbary Wars. Commodore Preble passed away in 1807 and was buried in Portland. The decision to build Fort Preble came from Henry Dearborn, then Secretary of War. His son, Henry A. S. Dearborn, a future general, oversaw the fort’s construction.

Fort Preble was designed as a star-shaped fortification, made of stone, brick, and sod. It was equipped with 14 powerful guns and served as a key component of coastal defense.

Fort Preble During the War of 1812

The War of 1812 saw Fort Preble play a significant role in guarding the coastal region. Various military units, including soldiers from the 21st, 33rd, and 34th Infantry Regiments, as well as US Volunteers and local militia during emergencies, were stationed at the fort. Notably, American soldiers returning from British captivity in Quebec, including Winfield Scott, were landed at Fort Preble, many of them in poor health.

Civil War and Beyond

During the American Civil War, Fort Preble served as the headquarters of the 17th US Infantry Regiment and a recruitment center. It was also a mobilization hub for volunteer units from Maine. The fort was involved in a significant event during the war when Confederate raiders sailed into Portland Harbor aboard the captured ship Archer in 1863.

The post-Civil War era saw extensive modifications to Fort Preble, including the addition of new granite casemates behind earthen parapets and heavy caliber gun emplacements.

20th Century and World Wars

Between 1896 and 1906, significant developments took place at Fort Preble as part of the Coast Defenses of Portland. The original star fort was demolished to make way for modern coastal defense batteries. Batteries Kearny and Chase, equipped with sixteen 12-inch mortars, were completed in 1901. Subsequent batteries, like Battery Rivardi and Battery Mason, followed with various guns.

During World War I, the fort was partially disarmed as part of a plan to send heavy artillery and railway guns to the Western Front. In 1924, the 8th Coast Artillery Regiment of the Regular Army was established at Fort Preble.

Fort Preble Today

Following World War II, forts like Fort Preble were considered obsolete, leading to its decommissioning in 1950. The land was subsequently sold to the State of Maine in 1952, and it eventually became the campus of the Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute, later renamed Southern Maine Community College.

Today, a small public park at Fort Preble allows visitors to explore the historic structures still standing. The park offers approximately 20 parking spots at the end of Fort Road, with free parking available. Doors to the coastal gun batteries are often open, providing a glimpse inside the fort’s history.

Standing at the grounds of the fort, visitors can imagine the countless men and women who were stationed there over the years, contributing to the nation’s coastal defense efforts. Additionally, the nearby Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, accessible via a breakwater, adds to the historical charm of the area, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts.

Location

Address: Bunker Lane, South Portland, Maine
Place GPS Coordinates: 43.649194, -70.225806
Parking GPS Coordinates: 43.649194, -70.225806
Parking Notes: There are about 20 parking spots located at the end of Fort Road. The fort is just a few hundred feet from the parking area. Parking is free.

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