Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point is a masonry seacoast fortification located on the southern side of the Golden Gate at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. It is also the geographic name of the promontory upon which the fort and the southern approach of the Golden Gate Bridge were constructed.[3]

Fort in California
Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate Bridge

Fort Point

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Fort Point

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Fort Point

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Fort Point

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Nearest city San Francisco, California, USA


Area 29 acres (12 ha)
Established 16 October 1970
Visitors 1,682,041 (in 2005)
Governing body National Park Service
Website Fort Point National Historic Site
Fort Point

Fort Winfield Scott
Near San Francisco, California in United States
Type Harbor defense installation
Site information
Owner United States Army
Controlled by 6th Air Defense Artillery Regiment
Site history
Built 1861 (1861)
Fate Decommission 1970
Official name Castillo De San Joaquín[1]
Reference no. 82
Designated 10/16/1970
Reference no. 70000146[2]

The fort was completed just before the American Civil War by the United States Army, to defend San Francisco Bay against hostile warships. The fort is now protected as Fort Point National Historic Site, a United States National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service as a unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is now popular as a tourist viewing point of the Golden Gate Bridge directly alongside it.

. . . Fort Point National Historic Site . . .

In 1769 Spain occupied the San Francisco area and by 1776 had established the area’s first European settlement, with a mission and a presidio. To protect against encroachment by the British and Russians, Spain selected Punta del Cantil Blanco, a promontory with a high white cliff (cantil blanco) located at the narrowest part of the bay’s entrance,[4] to construct a fortification. The Castillo de San Joaquin was constructed in 1794, subordinate to the nearby Presidio de San Francisco. It was an adobe structure housing nine to thirteen cannons.[5]

Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, gaining control of the region and the fort, but in 1835 the Mexican army moved to Sonoma leaving the castillo’s adobe walls to crumble in the wind and rain. On July 1, 1846, after the Mexican–American War broke out between Mexico and the United States, U.S. forces, including Captain John Charles Fremont, Kit Carson and a band of 10 followers, captured and occupied the empty castillo and spiked (disabled) the cannons.

Sometime during the Spanish and Mexican eras, the Punta del Cantil Blanco came to be known as the “Punta del Castillo” (“Castle Point”),[6] which was carried over into the era of U.S. sovereignty, in rough translation, as “Fort Point”.

Following the United States’ victory in 1848, California was annexed by the U.S. and became a state in 1850. The gold rush of 1849 had caused rapid settlement of the area, which was recognized as commercially and strategically valuable to the United States. Military officials soon recommended a series of fortifications to secure San Francisco Bay. Coastal defenses were built at Alcatraz Island, Fort Mason, and Fort Point.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began work on Fort Point in 1853. Plans specified that the lowest tier of artillery be as close as possible to water level so cannonballs could ricochet across the water’s surface to hit enemy ships at the water-line.[7] Workers blasted the 90-foot (27 m) cliff down to 15 feet (4.6 m) above sea level. The structure featured seven-foot-thick walls and multi-tiered casemated construction typical of Third System forts. It was sited to defend the maximum amount of harbor area. While there were more than 30 such forts on the East Coast, Fort Point was the only one on the West Coast. In 1854 Inspector General Joseph K. Mansfield declared “this point as the key to the whole Pacific Coast…and it should receive untiring exertions”.

A crew of 200, many unemployed miners, labored for eight years on the fort. In 1861, with war looming, the army mounted the fort’s first cannon. Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, commander of the Department of the Pacific, prepared Bay Area defenses and ordered in the first troops to the fort. Kentucky-born Johnston then resigned his commission to join the Confederate Army; he was killed at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.

  • Fort Point in 1934, Golden Gate Bridge under construction
  • View from under bridge.
  • A general view of the northwest wall, in relation to the Fort Point arch of the golden gate bridge.
  • A view toward the southwest corner of the interior, showing the octagonal wooden structure atop the southwest circular staircase.

. . . Fort Point National Historic Site . . .

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