Photo Essay: Fort Whitman

Discussion in 'All Things Boats & Boating' started by cthippo, Dec 13, 2010.

  1. cthippo
    Joined: Sep 2010
    Posts: 780
    Likes: 39, Points: 28, Legacy Rep: 465
    Location: Bellingham WA

    cthippo Senior Member

    Since people liked the first photo essay, here's another one.

    I love to explore, to wander, to discover new things, even if only new to me.

    Unfortunately in this day and age "exploring" usually means "pay us to look at an exhibit from behind a fence where you can't possibly get hurt and sue us". It's become harder and harder, especially in an urban environment, to find places where you can just wander around and look at things and try to figure out how they work, or did work once upon a time. Objects built for function often have a form that is beautiful, but getting anywhere close to see, much less photograph, it is nearly impossible. To find such places you often have to really go the extra mile, and sometimes that mile is a nautical one.

    One of my favorite places to go began with a reference on a sign. I was visiting one of the WW2 Coast Artillery batteries on Puget Sound and they had a map of the forts that made up the defensive system. Most of them I had been to, but there was a reference to a Fort Whitman on an island south of La Conner. Now, I've been to La Conner and never heard of an old Coast Defense fort there, so I was dubious. A couple of months later I visited the Coast Artillery Museum at Fort Worden in Port Townsend WA and asked them about it. They said they had heard of it, but no one from the museum had ever been there and if I went to please send pictures. Google maps showed nothing on the island but trees, but the Nautical charts did show the fort as being on the island somewhere. It was time to see for myself.

    [​IMG]
    Hardly the most interesting picture, but this is where the journey began


    It was an hour's drive and another hour's paddle to get out to Goat Island, and another half an hour trying to find a place to land on the rocky shores. Much of the island is small beaches that back up to vertical cliffs. On the back side I finally found a piece of rock that was low enough to get out of the boat on and to hike inland from there. It took a while to break trail across the island while still wearing a wetsuit but eventually I picked up a barely discernible trail and followed it along the cliffs. Quite without warning the forest opened up reveal a massive concrete structure covered in moss. I had found Fort Whitman.

    [​IMG]
    My first view of the fort

    Once upon a time the fort was armed with four 10" disappearing rifles and while the guns were long gone, the huge concrete emplacements where they were mounted, as well as the shell and powder rooms and sighting bunkers with their foot thick walls were still in place. The concrete powerhouse was still standing, but no other structures remain. The scale of the place is incredible, a continuous concrete structure with four huge circular pits where the guns were once mounted that stretches for over 100 yards. Thousands of cubic yards of steel reinforced concrete were poured to make the fort as nearly impervious to shellfire as possible.

    [​IMG]
    #1 gun emplacement

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    #2 gun emplacement

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    # 3 from ground level showing the entrance to the shell room. A fire control post is visible at left at the top of the stairs. The shallow square insets in the wall were telephone boxes

    Here I was, alone on a deserted island with a forgotten fortress to explore. The only way to get there was the way I had come, by sea in a small boat, and even if people knew of this place's existence, most could never get there. Here was someplace where I was truly free to explore, without fences and warning signs and people to tell me it wasn't safe to be here. This was an experience I could never have in the safe, secure and protected world we usually occupy, and that is why I work so hard to visit these places.

    [​IMG]
    Outside of the bunker between #2 (left) and #3 guns showing the fire control station

    [​IMG]
    North wall of #3. The rooms between each emplacement are connected underground

    [​IMG]
    "Heaven". Inside the connecting tunnels between nos. 2 and 3.

    [​IMG]
    A corroded light fixture at the fort.

    [​IMG]
    Stairway to the parapet of #1. The large steel ring visible near the top of the stairs was an anchor point for cables when moving the gun

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    Decaying wiring at #1 Emplacement

    [​IMG]
    Outside the powerhouse

    [​IMG]
    Inside the powerhouse
     
  2. mreoe4sure
    Joined: Jul 2009
    Posts: 26
    Likes: 3, Points: 3, Legacy Rep: 32
    Location: trustafarian land

    mreoe4sure who me

    Did you do any more exploring? Was there any mortar pits farther back in the forest. Almost all forts at the turn of the century had both type of guns Fort stevens , fort casey fort worden etc, They were for close in where the 10 inch disappearing guns were for miles away, the three forts at fort casey fort worden and the third were for triangle firing to guard the sound from invasion, the fort you were at was to guard deception pass. Next time look for mortar pits, I believe they were 12 inch mortars, If you already looked maybe this fort did not have any.. Steve
     
  3. cthippo
    Joined: Sep 2010
    Posts: 780
    Likes: 39, Points: 28, Legacy Rep: 465
    Location: Bellingham WA

    cthippo Senior Member

    I didn't see any, and from what little information I've been able to gather I don't believe there were any. Ft. Whitman may have been from one of the later construction programs by which time mortars had passed out of style. If you come across anything suggesting where they might be on the island I'd be happy to look for them.
     
  4. CoastalFortsNW
    Joined: Dec 2010
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    Location: Warrenton, OR

    CoastalFortsNW New Member

    I do some Fort exploring and have a facebook group for forts here in the pacific northwest.

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=91156456530

    Coastal Artillery Forts of the Pacific Northwest.

    Please feel free to join and if you wish post your pics and the essay too. I think it was very good.

    Thanks
    Robert
     
  5. cthippo
    Joined: Sep 2010
    Posts: 780
    Likes: 39, Points: 28, Legacy Rep: 465
    Location: Bellingham WA

    cthippo Senior Member

    Hey Robert,

    I'm not on Facebook, but feel free to copy and paste the photo essay to your site. You can email me at <my screen name> @yahoo.com if you would like more.

    I know the Coast Artillery Museum did a trip out there earlier this year, but it's still pretty unknown.
     
  6. CoastalFortsNW
    Joined: Dec 2010
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    Location: Warrenton, OR

    CoastalFortsNW New Member

    We are planning a march trip ip that way to go to Ebey and Casey. Quick question for you, do you know of any boat rentals in the area to get to Ft Whitman?

    Also that was the only gun battery there, after some checking and a bit of a delay.
     

  7. cthippo
    Joined: Sep 2010
    Posts: 780
    Likes: 39, Points: 28, Legacy Rep: 465
    Location: Bellingham WA

    cthippo Senior Member

    Unfortunately I don't, but LaConner is a tourist town, so doubtless there is someone who does rentals or charters. Also look in Anacortes. Let me know if you find someplace good to rent, I'd like to take a couple of people out there, but can't fit them in my 9'6" kayak!

    Do you guys know where to land and how to find the trail?
     
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