Had I been a soldier in the early 1900’s, I would have begged to be stationed at Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, about 30 miles north of Seattle. This idyllic island (I will try not to keep repeating that adjective), one of the longest in the contiguous United States, features rolling countryside, tall Douglas fir trees, snow capped mountains on the horizon in several directions, and scenic views of brilliant blue water with bald eagles overhead. Do I exaggerate? Not really. I did see the eagles. But, apparently the weather when I visited recently was rare perfection, far from the norm. The residents were giddy with delight.
The remains of Fort Casey, today preserved in a state park, stand overlooking the entrance of Puget Sound on the western side of the island. It is one of three forts built to provide a triangle of fire and guard the Sound. I’ll admit that forts tend to bring out the boy in me, and well, this one worked its magic. The sun glinted off of the 10 inch “disappearing guns,” a hallmark of the fort in its glory days. So-called because they appeared long enough to fire and then moved out of sight, the guns could fire shells more than ten miles.
Four hundred troops were based at the fort when it opened in 1901, two years before the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk. In part the military’s increasing use of airplanes brought the fort’s demise – air power made the big guns obsolete and the facility vulnerable to air attack. The fort outlived its usefulness rather quickly and is well preserved because it never came under attack.
During World War I the guns and mortars were removed and sent to the military theater in Europe. The fort was placed on inactive status by 1935 and decommissioned. Any metal left when World War II began was melted for reuse. When the fort became a state park in the 1950s, two 10-inch guns similar to the fort’s original guns were located in the Philippines and relocated to the fort, along with two 3-inch rapid fire guns.
Exploring the gun batteries and looking out at the sweeping views of Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca with the Olympic Mountains on the distant horizon, I tried to imagine life at the fort. There are ladders, tunnels, buried bunkers, and big guns – what’s not to like? This was the place to be if you were a soldier.
Sadly, the interpretive signage was severely lacking. I had many more questions than answers.
So my friend and I were left to explore and rely on our imaginations to create the shouts and laughter and deafening roar of the guns firing practice rounds into the water.
An added bonus is nearby Admiralty Head Lighthouse, used from 1903-1922. It sits just north of the fort in another area of the park. The current building replaced the original lighthouse built in the mid-19th century, one of the earliest lighthouses in the northwest region of the United States.
Posts about other forts:
San Juan, Puerto Rico https://historyplaces.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/the-forts-of-san-juan/
A Florida fort https://historyplaces.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/a-florida-fort/
A Civil War fort https://historyplaces.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/civil-war-christmas-at-fort-ward/
Tim, I’m right there with you when it comes to forts. They nurtured my history geek spirit as much as just about anything. I used to maintain a Pinterest board of photos of me with cannons because of the sheer multitude of photos I took next to them as a kid. (I quit maintaining it when I weared of Pinterest btw…)