Fort Delaware Society

Fort DuPont: A Brief History

Coast Artillery

The page last updated April 25, 2012

Prison Camp

 Return to Website Directory

Society E-Mail

Compiled by William G. Robelen, 4th©

Fort DuPont is situated on the western bank of the Delaware River just south of Delaware City. It was first established as part of the Coastal Defense system to provide protection for the cities and ship building sites of Wilmington, Chester and Philadelphia from enemy ships sailing up the river. Initially called Battery Point and often referred to as "the Fort opposite Fort Delaware" (on Pea Patch Island in the middle of the river), it was renamed Camp Reynolds in 1863 for General John Fulton Reynolds, a Union officer from Pennsylvania who was killed at Gettysburg. Before the bulk of modern fort construction started in 1898, the name was changed again, this time to Fort DuPont, honoring Delaware naval hero Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont, an 1841 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He had commanded the naval forces that gained possession of Port Royal Harbor in 1861 as well as the fleet of ironclads that attacked Fort Sumter in 1863. Fort DuPont is one of the few Army installations named for a Navy Officer.

During the Civil War, its ten-gun battery served as an auxiliary coastal defense battery to Fort Delaware, and along with the battery at Finns Point, (later named Fort Mott) in New Jersey, it was part of the "Three Forts" concept, which effectively defended this strategic point in the Delaware River from 1864 to 1921. In 1897, at the onset of the Spanish-American War, work began on three batteries of 3-inch guns. Fort Mott on the New Jersey shore across the river was built at this same time. Two years later, modern masonry fortifications of mortar and rifle batteries and new buildings were constructed at Fort DuPont, including a 12 bed hospital, post exchange, ordnance and quartermaster store­houses, stables, bake house and ten wood frame buildings for officers' quarters.

Another intense period of building activity took place from 1906 to 1915, creating the landscape and defining the area as it appears today. It then became the headquarters and station of the Middle Atlantic Coast Artillery District, joining Fort Delaware, Fort Mott (NJ) and Fort Saulisbury (DE).

The guns were removed in 1921, as the function of the Fort changed from coastal defense to its new role as the headquarters for the First Engineering Battalion, which it continued up to the beginning of World War II. Permanent brick buildings were constructed in the 1930s, and then in 1939 the First Engineers moved to another location.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s a great number of temporary structures were built to house troops in preparation for World War II. Fort DuPont's major new role was that of a large military training facility for U.S. Army Reserve units.

After Rommel's Afrika Corps was defeated in 1943, German and Italian POW s were sent to the United States, and temporary wooden barracks were built to house those assigned to Fort DuPont.

The Fort was decommissioned on December 31, 1945, and the following year, the military reservation and its 65 buildings were turned over to the State of Delaware. Two years later, the Division of Health and Social Services opened the Governor Bacon Health Center, utilizing the three-story brick barracks as the main hospital, while its medical staff occupied buildings formerly used for officers' quarters.

Today, these buildings are no longer occupied as residences, and the number of patients in the hospital has diminished. In 1992, a large portion of the property adjoining the Delaware River was turned over to the Division of Parks and Recreation to be developed as Fort DuPont State Park. Two years later an adjoining prop­erty of approximately 127 acres was annexed to become part of the State Park. It included a large masonry structure that was converted to a State Park Office and storage facility known as Grass Dale Center. The surrounding marshland is a paradise for bird­watchers.

Unfortunately, there is very little left to see of the defense fortifications that date back to the Spanish-American War. The 1896 concrete gun emplacements in their earthen berms still exist but have not yet been restored or interpreted. Likewise, the temporary wood structures that housed the POWs have fallen down. However, a tall sentry tower overlooking this area is still standing. Walking pathways have been cleared around the old rifle and mortar batteries, but it is advisable to contact the Fort DuPont State Park office (302) 834-7941 before using them.

The Fort Delaware Society, in addition to its Civil War library and archival collections, has an interesting collection of early Fort DuPont photographs as well as some W. W. II memorabilia, which may be seen by visiting its headquarters at Fort DuPont State Park. The phone number there is (302)-834-1630.

All text and photographs presented on this website are the property of the Fort Delaware Society unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the Fort Delaware Society.

For further information, contact the Webmaster Hugh Simmons.