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Fort Adams

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1824–1857, Simon Bernard and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph G. Totten. Fort Adams Rd.
  • Fort Adams

Covering over 130 acres and commanding a defensive site recognized since the earliest settlement as a prime position to defend the East Passage and harbor, Fort Adams was constructed in the shape of a hollow, irregular pentagon, on the site of a smaller, late-eighteenth-century fort. The present fort, more than any other in the country, clearly illustrates the entire history of nineteenth-century American military engineering. The nearly five hundred cannon, many doubled in two levels of casemates overlooking the bay, made this not only a “modern” fort, built as part of the “third system,” or third form, of coastal forts erected by the Corps of Engineers, but one of the largest in the national coastal defense system. Its massive granite scarps, brick vaults, and shale and earthen walls, along with its auxiliary structures, visually dominate its peninsula site; but it is not just its monumental scale, more than 1,750 yards in perimeter, that makes Fort Adams unique. Some of its design elements, best seen today from the air, like the redoubts, bastions, and tenailles to the west, were meant to defend against overland attacks. This may be the only use of tenailles, outworks between sets of bastions, in fortification design in the United States. Primary entry into the parade ground surrounded by the casemated enceinte is through a towering, rusticated portal on the north framed by a rough segmental arch.

The Scottish stonemason Alexander McGregor, who later became a local builder and architect, immigrated along with dozens of other tradesmen to work on the fort in the 1820s. In effect, Fort Adams was a massive public works project, whose construction was an important element in Newport's economy in the nineteenth century. After its completion and until after World War II, the fort changed but remained an integral part of the coastal defense systems around the Narragansett Bay area. In 1873–1874, George Champlin Mason was commissioned to build the commanding officer's quarters, now called the Eisenhower Building; this wood-frame structure with mansard roof interrupted by a hipped central gable and ornamented with decorative struts, brackets, and porch work is visible to the left on a rise as you approach the fort. Later buildings, some of which still stand to the east of the fort, were built by the army in 1878–1879 for use as warehouses and shops. Other batteries, built later in the 1890s of reinforced concrete, stretch south of the fort along the bay side.

Ironically, despite its original innovative design and although hundreds of men were garrisoned there until the mid-twentieth century, Fort Adams never saw a shot fired in conflict, and today the peninsula on which it stands has been turned into a state park and sailing center.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Fort Adams", [Newport, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 579-580.

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