FortStark in Rockingham County in what is now the U.S. state of New Hampshire was a coastal fortification of the U.S. Army. The fort is located on a peninsula in northeast New Castle at the mouth of the Piscataqua River into the Atlantic Ocean. The ruins of the fort are now a State Historic Site.
Fort Stark was one of seven forts built to protect Portsmouth Harbor and Shipyard. The other six forts were Fort Washington, Fort Constitution, and Fort Dearborn in New Hampshire, and Fort Sullivan, Fort McClary, and Fort Foster in Maine. Fort Stark was never involved in any warlike actions.
The peninsula on which Fort Stark is located was formerly called Jerry’s Point. The peninsula overlooks the mouth of the Piscataqua River and Little Harbor.
The first fortification erected here in 1746 was a redoubt called Battery Cumberland, with nine 32-pounder cannon.
In early 1775, the British colonial administration of New Hampshire had the earthworks restored and equipped with eight guns. As early as May 1775, the New Hampshire militia removed the guns and used them to arm the new Forts Washington and Sullivan on the approach to the harbor off Portsmouth. In September 1775, the militia placed new guns at Jerry’s Point that they had captured in the storming of Fort William and Mary in December 1774. After 1778, the battery fell into disrepair.
In 1794 the battery was renewed and manned by a militia company during the British-American War of 1812. In 1815 the installation was abandoned again.
As early as the War of Secession, there were plans to build a new fort at Jerry’s Point. However, the plans were not implemented. It was not until 1872 that the federal government purchased the site and in 1873 began construction of a new fort, named Battery Stark, made of concrete and earthen ramparts and to be equipped with up to twelve 38.1 cm Rodman guns. For financial reasons, the installation was reduced eight guns during construction. The coastal fortifications were about two-thirds complete when construction was suddenly halted in 1876. Minor work continued in 1879 and 1885/86 before construction was finally halted. The protections intended for the fortress were probably never erected.
In 1887, a small Coast Guard station was built on the site. In 1898, U.S. Army pioneers constructed a breakwater and a larger dock. In 1908, the station was moved to Wood Island near Fort Foster.
Expansion at the beginning of the 20th century and World War I
After the Spanish-American War in 1898, coastal defense became a higher priority. In 1899, two 20.3-cm guns were provisionally placed on the concrete works of the unfinished fort, but they were dismantled by 1900. As part of the building program named after Secretary of War Endicott, construction of four new gun emplacements began that year. This involved the complete demolition of three of the completed emplacements of the old 1874 installation and the partial demolition of four. The new fort was equipped with two 30.5 cm guns, two 15.2 cm guns and four 7.6 cm guns. The fort was named for John Stark, commander of the New Hampshire militia in the War of Independence, in 1900 and placed under Fort Constitution in 1905. Beginning in 1907, various mining camps were added to the installation. The old Coast Guard station served as barracks, while fire control equipment, searchlights, and various other storage and workshop buildings completed the fort.
In 1915 additional barracks buildings were erected. During the First World War, the barrels of the 15.2 cm guns were dismantled in 1917, as they were intended for shipment to the Western Front in France. The tubes were not replaced after the end of the war and the mounts were finally dismantled in 1921. The mine bunkers and other equipment used to mine the harbor entrance were demolished, as this task had been transferred to Fort Constitution at the end of the World War. Some new fire control equipment was erected in their place. However, the fort’s crew was removed and the fort was maintained only by a caretaker.
Second World War
During the Second World War, the fortress was reactivated in 1941. The old barracks were replaced by new wooden buildings, plus a fire station, officers’ quarters, a guardhouse and numerous other buildings. A barrier net was strung between Fort Stark and Fort Foster for anti-submarine defense. The old Coast Guard station served as a signal tower from which signals were given to the Coast Guard guard boat when the net was to be opened or closed.
In 1942, the obsolete rapid-fire guns were dismantled. Fort Stark’s heavy artillery remained active until Fort Dearborn was completed in 1944, when it was also dismantled. New light guns were installed to defend against enemy boat attacks.
After the Second World War
In 1948, Fort Stark’s remaining guns were scrapped and the site was turned over to the U.S. Navy in 1950, which housed maintenance personnel there. Many of the old barracks buildings were demolished. In 1953, a Navy reserve unit moved into the former coastal fort and used it as a training area until 1980. In 1963, two 7.6 cm guns were placed on one of the old gun batteries as a memorial to the sinking of the nuclear submarine USS Thresher off Cape Cod. One of the guns is now in the Historic Site’s small museum.
In 1978, most of the site was turned over to the State of New Hampshire for the creation of a State Park, with the remaining 6,000 square feet following in 1983. With the exception of the former batteries and the armory, built in 1910, which served as the State Historic Site’s visitor center and museum, all remaining structures were demolished.
The former fort is now a four-acre State Historic Site. Admission to the grounds is free, and the site is open year-round during the day. There have been no permanent park staff since 1998, and the small museum is only open on Saturdays in the summer or by appointment. After destruction by vandalism, the interiors of the gun batteries have not been accessible since 2002.
- Internet presence of the State Historic Site
- History of Fort Stark
- Fort Stark in the Geographic Names Information System of the United States Geological Survey