Jamestown, Rhode Island

Fort Wetherill State Park, on the southeastern tip of Conanicut Island in Jamestown, Rhode Island, features beaches, cliffs, and abandoned military structures.

Location Added By:

Tom Riley (GoXplr Account)

About This Location

History of Fort Wetherill State Park

Fort Wetherill State Park, situated on the southeastern tip of Conanicut Island in Jamestown, Rhode Island, covers 61.5 acres of land. It occupies a strategic position on the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, directly across from Fort Adams State Park. The site's history is rich, with roots dating back to the Revolutionary War. It was originally known as Dumpling Rock but later came to be named after Captain Alexander Macomb Wetherill, a native of Jamestown who lost his life during the Spanish–American War in the Battle of San Juan Hill.

Fort Dumpling

The area where Fort Wetherill State Park now stands was once home to Fort Dumpling, constructed as a defensive installation in 1798-1800. This fort was a round, Martell-style fortified tower, built to support Fort Adams in blocking enemy ships from entering Newport Harbor. However, Fort Dumpling never saw active use and, over time, became a stabilized ruin, serving as a target for gunners at Fort Adams. It retained its romantic allure, appearing in countless artworks and prints during the 19th century.

Regrettably, in 1898, Fort Dumpling was unceremoniously demolished to make way for more modern defenses. This decision was part of the broader efforts to modernize coastal defenses along the Atlantic seaboard, as directed by Congress in 1885.

Old Fort Dumpling in Jamestown, Rhode Island
"a1557" by Providence Public Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Endicott Period

Fort Wetherill saw significant development during the Endicott Period of Coastal Defenses. This period began in response to advancements in weaponry during the Civil War, rendering masonry forts and smoothbore cannons obsolete. The Endicott Board, convened in 1885 by the U.S. government, devised a new defense system incorporating modern weaponry to help secure the coast of the United States. Construction during the Endicott Period occurred between 1890 and 1910, with some structures remaining in use until 1945.

The fort expanded steadily during this period, with coastal gun batteries being constructed. These batteries featured separate platforms for two or three weapons, each surrounded by concrete walls 15 to 20 feet thick and further protected by sand and dirt parapets measuring 40 or more feet in thickness. The batteries blended with the natural terrain through careful landscaping. Below and adjacent to the gun platforms were offices, plotting rooms, communication equipment, and ammunition vaults equipped with mechanical hoists.

Construction of the first Endicott Period gun batteries at Fort Wetherill began in 1998. Two of the initial batteries were Battery Varnum and Battery Cooke, both located at the easternmost point of the fort. Subsequent construction in 1901-1903 included Battery Wheaton, Battery Walbach, Battery Dickenson, Battery Zook, and Battery Crittenden, all situated just west of the original two batteries.

In 1905-1906, a mine casemate was built, marking the beginning of a mine complex that expanded to include a Torpedo (mine) Storehouse and Cable Tank in 1909. Additional facilities, such as a torpedo Loading Room (LR) and a Service Dynamite Room, were added in 1912. In 1940, another mine storage building was constructed, with trolley tracks connecting the complex to the wharf in Fort Cove for mine transport.

World War I and World War II

During World War I, Fort Wetherill underwent significant expansion, featuring numerous temporary frame buildings, including barracks, mess halls, and support structures. These buildings, covered in tar paper, accommodated the wartime garrison. After the war, the fort returned to caretaker status, and the temporary buildings were sold to the public.

In preparation for World War II, Fort Wetherill once again experienced rapid growth, with the construction of numerous temporary buildings, including barracks, mess halls, and other facilities. Interestingly, the Olmsted Brothers served as landscape architects during the World War II development phase.

Post-World War II and State Park Transition

The U.S. Army abandoned Fort Wetherill in 1946 after World War II. Guns were removed, and by 1970, the land was classified as surplus by the Federal government. In 1972, the State of Rhode Island assumed ownership of the property. Over several years, the state turned the area into a world-class state park using new roads and paths to lead visitors to all the greatest spots. Also in 1972, Fort Wetherill was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This honor was announced on March 16, 1972 and it symbolize the importance of protecting and celebrating the history of the site. The reference number for the fort is 72000021.

Today, Fort Wetherill State Park offers visitors a unique blend of history, natural beauty, and recreational opportunities. Abandoned military structures, including gun batteries, bunkers, and tunnels, attract urban explorers, photographers, and historians. The park also provides a picturesque setting for picnicking, swimming, hiking, boating, fishing, and scuba diving, with several diving clubs utilizing the facilities year-round. "Moonrise Kingdom" beach, located within the park, is a notable attraction for visitors.

Visiting Fort Wetherill State Park

Fort Wetherill State Park is open to the public and offers free parking. The park's hours are from sunrise to sunset, and it features numerous parking spaces across several lots. However, parking can become congested during the summer, so visiting during the off-season is advisable for a quieter experience. The park provides amenities such as informational kiosks, picnic tables, benches, and portable restrooms. Events can also be held at the park, but a permit must be acquired. Visitors are welcome to bring leashed dogs, but caution is advised around the abandoned military structures due to uneven terrain and broken glass. To keep this state park great, be sure to carry out whatever you bring. There are plenty of trash cans, so be sure to use them and pick up after others if you feel so inclined.

Location Features

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3 Fort Wetherill Road, Jamestown, Rhode Island

GPS Coordinates:
41.479528, -71.366056
Directions to location:
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Directions to parking area:
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Parking Notes:
Parking at Fort Wetherill State Park is free. There are several dozen parking spots located close to the fort just off Fort Wetherill Road. Additional parking can be found near Moonrise Kingdom and further down the road.


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