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Maryland's National Register Properties



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Fort Carroll
Inventory No.: BA-451
Date Listed: 4/14/2015
Location: In the Patapsco River, Sparrows Point, Baltimore County
Category: Structure
Period/Date of Construction: 1848-1921
Architect/Builder: General Joseph Gilbert Totten, Chief Engineer, U.S. Army
Description: Fort Carroll occupies a 3.45-acre artificial island in the middle of the Patapsco River, just south of Baltimore, Maryland. Hexagonal in plan, the exterior is constructed of large granite blocks with interior spaces defined by brick masonry and concrete infill. Each side/face is 246 feet long. There is a capped pipe, 2" in diameter, driven in the ground that marks the center of the Fort and served as a bench mark for a significant amount of the dredging work. Over the years the pipe has become magnetized. The physical location of the Fort is near mid-channel in the Patapsco River in Maryland at Sollers Point Flats, approximately 4.5 miles from Ft. McHenry and seven to eight miles from the center of Baltimore. There is a deep channel that passes the fort between the fort and Hawkins Point that is only a mile distant. The artificial island was constructed with the aid of a diving bell in 1848. Huge piles were driven into water 12 to 15 feet deep and a wooden grillage placed on top. The grillage was then covered with massive stones and mud fill from the bed of the river. The walls are faced with granite and filled with concrete. Construction involved a scow, a pile driver, a lighter, a huge crane, a machine designed for sawing off the foundation piles at uniform depth, a dredge for leveling the shoal, workshops, a storehouse, and the aforementioned diving bell. The dredge and special saw were operated by the steam engine of the pile driver. Preparatory wharves (coffer dams) were built around the fort during the construction period. Piles were driven for a sea wall. The original design of Fort Carroll was very much the same kind as Fort Sumter in the Charleston, SC harbor. The fort was constructed with an artesian well in the center of the fort, supplying water fit for use in case of emergency. In 1853 a light house was built on the ramparts to aid navigation into Baltimore Harbor. In 1898 a new light house was built which is still evident today, although it was automated in 1920 and ceased operations before 1945. The original design called for Fort Carroll to be armed with some 225 cannon on three levels. However, in April 1861 at the start of the Civil War, the walls of the fort were still less than the planned height of 30 feet. Five gun plants were available for placement but only two were armed. Despite the lack of situational readiness the Army still placed 30 cannon at the fort and manned it through the Civil War. Due to torrential rains in 1864 that flooded the fort's magazines, the Army was forced to move all the powder and ammunition to Fort McHenry. While Fort McHenry was in the charge of Colonel Craighill after 1871, the superior authorities had decided not to build the Fort higher in masonry. During this period, Col. Craighill was also engaged in deepening and widening the ship channel from which a large amount of earth and sand was being removed. Col. Craighill proposed to the Chief of Engineers of the Army at that time to cover the masonry walls with the excess dredging material to a proper thickness, converting the fort into an earthwork and preparing it to receive a battery of the heaviest guns on the top. However, Congress was not willing to fund defense projects at that time. When the United States entered in to the Spanish American war in 1898, the Army again manned the Fort's batteries, which were by then completely obsolete. The Army therefore commenced the construction of modern concrete gun emplacements following the designs of the Endicott Board. The walls were raised and an earthwork rampart was built to accommodate the two 12" mounted disappearing guns. The Army created three batteries: Battery Towson (two 12" barbette disappearing carriage guns), Battery Heart (two 5" balanced pedestal-mounted guns), and Battery Augustin (two 3" balanced pedestal-mount guns). The new batteries were ready by September 1900--well after the end of the war. The batteries were named on March 30, 1903. Upon construction of t Significance: The fort's design is attributed to then-Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee. It was named for Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was considered at the time by General William P. Craighill "that there was never a finer piece of engineering work of its kind." In addition, a lighthouse was built on the ramparts in 1853-4 to aid navigation into Baltimore Harbor. The original lighthouse was replaced in 1898. The light was automated in 1920 and deactivated in 1945. The government abandoned the fort as a military post in 1921, and the island was declared excess property in 1923. At that time the War Department took no immediate steps to sell the land. In May 1958, a Baltimore attorney purchased the island but development plans never materialized. The fort now is available for redevelopment in cooperation with owners of the property.
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