In 1999, Cape Elizabeth celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fort Williams.

This website was devoted to those 100 years, and the celebration activities that took place.

This section is provided for historical interest.

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Town of Cape Elizabeth

Fort Williams Centennial

Men and one of the guns of the 240th Regiment, July 1932 (photo courtesy Joel Eastman)

FORT WILLIAMS, CAPE ELIZABETH, MAINE

BRIEF HISTORICAL CHRONOLOGY

The original 14-acre purchase in 1872 served to establish a sub-post to Fort Preble located at Spring Point. Over about 25 years, a total of 90 acres were purchased to develop a fortification at Portland Head. These formative years saw the first three batteries -- Sullivan, DeHart, and Hobart -- completed on April 16, 1898.

This fortification became known as Fort Williams on April 13, 1899, by order of Army Headquarters. General Order No. 17, Headquarters of the Army, Adjutant General's Office, Washington, D.C., read, in part: "... By direction of the President, the battery at Portland Head, Portland, Maine, shall hereafter be known and designated as Fort Williams, in honor of the late Brevet Major-General Seth Williams, Assistant Adjutant-General, United States Army ..."

1901 began a decade of building expansion at Fort Williams. The following buildings were constructed: officers' quarters, non-commissioned officers' quarters, enlisted barracks, hospital, gymnasium, post exchange, guard house, bakery, laundry, and fire station. By 1920 an underground, protected telephone switchboard and a disappearing searchlight, raised and lowered by a counterweight, were added to the Fort.

A balloon hangar and hydrogen generator house built in 1921 were later abandoned for a variety of reasons (i.e. wind, weather, cost).

During World War I, the fort was fully manned by artillery companies and National Guard troops. Anti-aircraft guns were added to the defenses during this time.

Fort Williams served as the headquarters of the Harbor Defenses of Portland During World War II. In January, 1950, Fort Williams' mission was officially changed from a harbor defense post to a logistical and administrative support installation for all military units and personnel in the State of Maine.

On Saturday, June 30, 1962, Fort Williams officially closed and was turned over to the General Services Administration to be sold. At a special town meeting on June 29, 1964, the residents of Cape Elizabeth voted to buy Fort Williams. Their offer of $200,000 was accepted and on December 1, 1964, the Town of Cape Elizabeth acquired Fort Williams.

After countless town meetings and many proposals ranging from a Coastal Science Park to low-income housing, the Town Council designated Fort Williams on July 23, 1979, as "Fort Williams Park." Since that time, Fort Williams Park has been host to many picnics, concerts and other events and has been enjoyed by countless thousands of visitors and Cape Elizabeth residents alike.


FORT WILLIAMS, MAINE
BRIEF HISTORICAL CHRONOLOGY

THE FORMATIVE YEARS: 1872-1899

The original 14-acre purchase in 1872 served to establish a subpost to Fort Preble which was located at Spring Point. Over a 25-year period a total of 75.5 acres were purchased to develop a fortification at Portland Head. These acquisitions began with a Congressional appropriation of $50,000 on June 10, 1872 for a battery. Despite an additional Congressional appropriation of $20,000 (Feb. 10, 1875), the battery was not completed nor were the intended 29 guns placed. The project was terminated in 1876 due to lack of funds.

Battery Sullivan. Named for Major General John Sullivan of the Continental Army. Completed in 1896. The first visible gun emplacement to be built.

Battery DeHart. Named for Captain Henry V. Dehart of the Fifth U.S. Artillery. Completed in 1897.

Battery Hobart. Named for First Lt. Henry A. Hobart of the U.S. Light Artillery. The final battery built during this initial stage. Completed April 16, 1898.

Feb. 18, 1898. A detachment from Battery E of the 2nd Regiment, U.S. Artillery, was assigned to the fortification at Portland Head.

Aug. 26, 1898. The newly placed guns were test fired with no report of damage to the lighthouse nor to surrounding homes.

April 13, 1899. General Order No. 17, Headquarters of the Army, Adjutant General's Office, Washington, D. C. read, in part, "... By direction of the President, the battery at Portland Head, Portland, Maine, shall hereafter be known and designated as Fort Williams, in honor of the late Brevet Major-General Seth Williams, Assistant Adjutant-General, United States Army ..."

THE ACTIVE YEARS: 1899-1962

1900. The Army acquired additional land for Fort Williams which included the Goddard Mansion.

1901. Start of a decade of building expansion at Fort Williams. The following buildings were constructed: officers' quarters, non-commissioned officers' quarters, enlisted barracks, hospital, gymnasium, post exchange, guard house, bakery, laundry, and fire station.

1903. Battery Blair, employing a pair of 12-inch disappearing guns, was completed.

Sept. 1903. The Portland Harbor forts participated in training exercises in which Fort Williams was "captured." Review of the training led to the building of the final two batteries: Garesche and Keys.

1906. Battery Garesche, containing two 6-inch disappearing guns, was completed.

1906. Battery Keyes, housing two 3-inch mine defense guns, was constructed to fortify the north side of Ship Cove.

1911. An administration building was erected to house the harbor defenses previously held at Fort Preble.

July 25, 1917. After the U.S. entered WWI, the Maine Coast Artillery companies were activated. The headquarters and three companies were stationed at Fort Williams.

1917. With the German Navy no longer considered a threat to the seacoast, Battery Garesche's two 6-inch buns were removed for use in Europe. The guns were never replaced.

1920. Recruitment of southern Maine residents into the Coast Artillery companies for the state National Guard resumed.

1921. An underground protected telephone switchboard and a disappearing searchlight which could be raised and lowered by a counterweight were added to the Fort.

1922. A regimental organization was formed as the First Coast Defense Command of the Maine National Guard, but it was redesignated the 240th Coast Artillery Regiment, Maine National Guard.

1923. The Fifth U.S. Infantry Regiment was assigned to Fort Williams.

1929. Batteries Hobart and Garesche were officially deactivated. The guns had already been removed years earlier.

1929. Battery Sullivan was decommissioned.

1933-1942. Fort Williams was the State district headquarters serving as the induction center for the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC).

1934. Battery DeHart was placed in reserve on reduced maintenance.

April 30, 1937. A fire completely destroyed the hospital annex along with most of the medical records.

1939. As the situation worsened in Europe, the 8th Coast Artillery Regiment recalled its scattered personnel between July and November.

Sept. 3, 1939. The Fifth Infantry, stationed at Fort Williams, was ordered to the Panama Canal Zone.

Sept. 1941. A joint Army-Navy Harbor Entrance Control Post was established at Fort Williams to assist friendly ships entering the harbor and to keep enemy ships out. The post had a searchlight for night observation as well as an "alert" firing battery at Battery Keyes.

Dec. 8, 1941. After the declaration of World War II, the guns at Battery Blair were test fired. The power from firing 14 shells blew out the ends of four garages built in front of the battery.

1942. The 240th Coast Artillery Regiment was assigned to the Fort.

1943. The obsolete disappearing guns were condemned and dismantled.

Fall, 1943. All the defense guns of Fort Williams were gone as the Fort began a transformation away from harbor defense to logistical and administrative duties.

Jan. 1950. The Fort's mission was changed from harbor defense to a logistical and administrative support installation for all the military units and personnel in the State of Maine.

June 1, 1950. The U.S. Army Military District relocated to the Fort (later to be redesignated the Maine Military District).

Jan. 1958. The Maine Military District was deactivated and replaced by the Maine Sector, XIII U.S. Army Corps, which supervised the training and organization of all U.S. Army Reserve units in Maine.

June 30, 1962. Fort Williams was officially closed and turned over to the General Services Administration to be sold.

THE TRANSITION YEARS: 1962-1979

June 29, 1964. Residents of Cape Elizabeth vote to buy Fort Williams.

Dec. 1, 1964. The GSA accepts the town's offer and Cape Elizabeth acquires Fort Williams for $200,000.

June, 1965. The Urban Renewal Authority is appointed to provide the vehicle under federal laws for the planning and development of the 90-acre Fort area with the assistance of federal funds.

1965. Cape Elizabeth Bicentennial is celebrated, with many events at Fort Williams.

March 3, 1970. The Citizens Advisory Committee votes 9-5 to recommend to the Town Council that the proposed urban renewal plan be rejected.

March 9, 1970. Town Council votes 4-3 not to adopt the development plan for Fort Williams as prepared by the Cape Urban Renewal Authority.

June 10, 1970. The Citizens Advisory Committee recommends that the Council delay any firm commitment on the use of Fort Williams until the comprehensive plan is completed.

Oct. 30, 1972. Town Council decides not to offer a lease to the Fort Williams Company for a 25-acre Science Park.

Oct. 10, 1973. Fort Williams Improvement Plan concept is approved. Burning of buildings shall be done by the fire department after all possible salvage. Demolition is to be done by the National Guard at their convenience.

May 28, 1975. Town offers Goddard Mansion to salvage. There are no bids.

Oct. 25, 1976. Town Council adopts statement of policy for Fort Williams. Shorefront and parade ground is permanently dedicated to use as open space. A Fort Williams Advisory Commission is recommended. Improvements of up to $40,000 per year are recommended.

Oct. 12, 1977. Fort Williams ordinance is adopted which prohibits parking in certain areas and restricts traffic flow to certain areas.

July 23, 1979. Town Council designates the Fort as "Fort Williams Park."

THE PARK YEARS: 1979-PRESENT

March 11, 1981. The interior of Goddard Mansion is gutted by fire set by the Cape Fire Dept.

May 11, 1981. Town Council appropriates $2000 to fill the basement of Goddard Mansion.

Feb. 12, 1985. A five-year plan of improvements is proposed by the Fort Williams Advisory Commission.

Nov. 19, 1988. The Fort Williams Advisory Commission rejects a proposed admission fee to Fort Williams Park.

Aug. 7, 1989. UNUM donates $10,000 for the development of a museum at the Portland Headlight Keepers' Quarters.

Dec. 11, 1989. The Fort Williams Trust Fund is established.

Aug. 12, 1991. The National Guard builds a new central parking lot. They also update the parade ground lot.

Mar. 11, 1993. The Town Council approves a "carry in, carry out" policy for the Park.

Aug. 1, 1998. The first annual Beach-to-Beacon 10K Race is held, with the finish line in Fort Williams Park.