Recently, while visiting Whidbey Island, Washington, I had the opportunity to wander around Fort Casey State Park. If you were to approach this park from the water, you’d see nothing but a nice, green, well groomed hill, flanked by Admiralty Head Lighthouse. You’d have no idea that there was a well designed, sneaky little fort behind those hills.
By 1901, big guns were mounted on disappearing carriages. They’d only pop into view when they were about to fire. It’s quite a stealthy design, but one would assume that it would have only taken one battle for the world to know about it.
I got to wander around on the concrete batteries of this fort, taking in the spectacular views and thinking about how much money it must have taken to build the place. Because, yeah, that’s how my mind works. It turns out that the entire harbor defense system was finished in 1905, and cost 7.5 million dollars, which, adjusted for inflation, would be 218.5 million today. But I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Fort Casey began construction in 1897, to help guard the inlet to Puget Sound. That fort, along with Fort Worden at Port Townsend and Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, formed what was called a “triangle of fire”. If any enemy ships were to attempt to enter the sound, they’d have been very quickly destroyed.
The thing is, none of the three forts ever fired a single shot. When airplanes were invented in 1903, the face of warfare changed drastically, and these forts became obsolete. The guns were taken for use during World War I, but most were scrapped by World War II. The fort itself was used as a training facility until the end of World War II. Your tax dollars at work.
But, yeah, in 1955 Fort Casey was turned into a lovely 999 acre state park where you can camp and picnic and fly kites, so there’s that. You can also check out the lovely lighthouse, but on the day we were there, it was encased in scaffolding, and was most likely closed for the pandemic.
Before describing the other two forts (below), here are some photos that we took at Fort Casey:
I did not get a chance to visit Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, but it sounds beautiful, based on what I’m reading in Wikipedia. Again, it was quickly obsolete after its construction, but actually didn’t close down until 1953. It, too, was made a state park, in 1955. This one also has a lighthouse, but it’s not nearly as pretty, and it’s always closed to the public.
Fort Flagler state park has camping, boat launches, and historical buildings that can be rented out, as well as a museum. You’re welcome to wander its 1451 acres. I hope I have the opportunity to do so someday.
I did get to visit Fort Worden a day after I visited Fort Casey. This one is located on the edge of very developed and extremely charming Port Townsend, so the parks department was only able to grab up 433 acres in 1973. Before that, from 1957 to 1971, it was used as a juvenile detention facility, or, as some called it, “a diagnostic and treatment center for troubled youths.” I bet there are a lot of interesting and probably tragic stories from that period.
But before that, it was arguably the most active of the three forts. It was the headquarters of the Harbor Defense Command of Puget Sound. It was used as a training center during World War I, and many barracks were added to house the men. An observation balloon hangar was built there in the 1920’s, to the tune of $85,000 (or 1.1 million today). These observation balloons were used as aerial platforms for intelligence gathering and artillery spotting. It remained a military fort until 1953.
I instantly recognized Fort Worden when I visited, because the movie An Officer and a Gentleman was shot there. So I walked in the footsteps of Richard Gere. Woo hoo! The movie The Ring was shot there as well, it is claimed, but I just rewatched that movie and didn’t recognize a thing.
Again, we explored the concrete batteries, but were unable to visit the museum, the School of Woodworking, the Marine Science Center, or any of the restored quarters that are available for vacation rentals, because, you know, pandemic. I wasn’t even aware of the military cemetery until I started research for this blog post.
Two pictures of our visit to Fort Worden appear below. One is someone’s humorous idea of an art installation. It kind of gives me the willies. (All the other photos included my husband, and he prefers not to partake of my modest blog fame.)
If you’re ever in the area, these forts are definitely worth checking out!
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