Fort Independence Boston, Ma

History of Fort Independence



Front Entance of fort  Independence
Front Entrance

Fort Entrance

The Front Entrance picture above will remain the starting point for all Tours.

The Entrance to the Fort has two heavy doors and a sliding metal gate that could be used as a trap for any invading soldiers. On both sides of the entrance inside this trap, cuts were made in granite so soldiers could fire their guns at anyone trapped inside these now locked doors.

After you enter the main entrance and turn left, if you enter the first door of the Fort, this area was used as living spaces for some officers and their families. This upgraded work done during some of the Phase 2 renovations in 1976 can be seen below. The second room is a Model Room of some great donated models and pictures to the Castle Island Association.

Remodeled Quarters Next to Entrance

A picture of the Model room

Model of the First Fort – 1634

Parade Grounds

When the Fort was built, water wells were dug down to 94 feet below ground to get “clear drinking water” on the island.

The Parade Grounds for Rampart


Famous Loaf of Bread at Baker

During Phase 2 of the renovations in the 1970s, the bakery was restored to replicate its original conditions. The image above shows the existing and new brickwork, the original brick floor, a firebox, an ash door, and a vent damper to control oven temperature. The original floor has been chipped away by the moving of wood and ash over the years.

The bakery is where “bread of the best quality” was baked daily for over 500 men during the Civil War. The regular mess used goods from local gardens on the Island, and through purchases from the “market boats”; civilian crafts were allowed to use the pier to sell supplies to the garrison. In 1862, a U.S. Army private by the name of Ira S. Pettit wrote in his diary, “The young recruit speaks very highly of the bread baked at the Fort, but laments there was ‘no cake or pie.’” There were cows on the Island, but privates did not rank high enough to get milk from the cows for their coffee.

Taken from Castle Island and Fort Independence a book by William J. Reid


Ramp with Bedford Flag as the First Flag

This ramp is the only way wheeled vehicles can get to the ramparts. Arranged along the ramp are flags of various colonial militia units and those bearing a particular significance to the Fort.

The first flag is the Bedford Flag, the oldest militia flag in the U.S. It was the flag carried by the Bedford Minuteman, Nathaniel Page, to the Concord Bridge on April 19, 1775. The original Bedford Flag was designed for  Massachusetts Bay militia cavalry troops early in the colonial struggle for the continent, now called the “French and Indian Wars.”

Front IV

You are now on ramparts and will begin seeing the extensive view from the Fort of the surrounding area as we walk along this upper level. This front overlooks Pleasure Bay and Dorchester Harbor, with the Dorchester Heights monument in the background. If you continue to look left, you can see John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Dorchester Gas Tank, and Blue Hills Reservation.

To the right, you see a view of the Old North Church Tower and Bunker Hill monument.

On the inner wall, the story of the American flag is represented by the accession of flags from the early American flag to the transformation to our current 50-star flag.

Dorchester Gas tanks are sometimes called the Rainbow Swash. The rainbow design painted on the 140-foot-tall LNG tank is the world’s largest copyrighted work of art.

A brief history of Blue Hills: More than ten thousand years before the Europeans arrived, Native Americans made Blue Hills area their home here. The natives referred to themselves as Massachusett, or “people of the great hills”.

A view of Pleasure Bay, JFK Library, with Blue Hills in background

Front V

This front shows the flags of the six branches of the U.S. military: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and the new U.S. Space Force.

After the Armed Forces flags, a collection of individual flags of the 50 states is presented in the order in which they joined the Union.

U.S. Armed Forces Flags

Pictured below we have an 8″ Civil War siege gun with a range of 1200 yards in the middle of this front. About 50% of the fired shells would land within a 50-yard radius of the target. 

8″ Civil War Siege Gun

A new subcategory called Cannon and Mortor has been added, with more details of these guns during this period. Between the War of 1812 and our Civil War, weaponry advancement  in safety, accuracy, range, and explosiveness is explained.

Bastion A

A view from Bastion A with Nix Mate, Gallops Island, Lovells Island and Boston Lighthouse

To enter Bastion A, descend a short tunnel under the protective dirt bunker. This tunnel takes you from the inner rampart to the external battery. You will then see two-gun emplacements for two 15-inch Rodman coast defense cannons. The original cannons are gone, but one replica is mounted here to show the cannons’ range and line of sight.

This positioning of the guns gave the troops a sweeping view of the Inner Harbor Entrance to prevent any ships from entering it. Both guns had a perfect line of sight of any vessel coming straight down the main ship channel, and the cannon on the right side could also prevent ships from coming up between Spectacle Island and Thompson Island by sneaking around Long Island.

Up at the gun’s muzzle, you have a sweeping panoramic view from south to east: University of Massachusetts Boston, John F Kennedy Library, Blue Hills, Squantum, Thompson Island, the northern edge of Moon Island, and Spectacle Island.

15″ Rodman with Entrance to the interior walkway

Walkway Facing East

After leaving this first bastion (Bastion A), we head north along the iron walkway that overhangs the inner wall, considering that the soldiers had no such steel walkway or rail to prevent them from falling. This walkway was part of Phase 1 renovation back in the 1970s.

Here is where the presentation of the 50 state flags finally ends. Hawaii and Alaska were the last states to join the Union in 1959. We start with the flags of some of the territories of this country. You can look at the USGC for more details constituting the definitions of territories and commonwealths.

Walkway between Bastion A and Bastion B

Bastion B

Tunnel to Bastion B

Looking out towards the ocean and Outer Islands, you see the far end of Long Island; if you look closely here, you will see a lighthouse almost buried among trees. You can also see Nixes Mateconvicted pirates were hanged here. When looking across the old channel (the Narrows), you can see Boston Light (1716) in the distance; the light blinks every 10 seconds. Finally, looking to the left, you will see the MWRA Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant with large eggshells.

We then move to the mainland to Winthrop Highlands and East Boston. In the immediate foreground is Logan Airport, where the Governor’s, Apple, and Bird Islands used to be located.

A View from Bastion B looking down the inner harbor at USCG base, the mast of the USS Constitution, and Bunker Hill

Boston Inner Harbor and McKay Monument

In 1845, McKay built a shipyard in East Boston that made some of the fastest clipper ships in history for over 25 years. The clipper ship design featured a narrow vessel with a concave bow that rode over the waves without plowing through them. McKay’s ships always carried a generous sail plan to power the ship. The cargo capacity of the clippers was limited, but their speed made the vessels economically viable. The California Gold Rush and trade with China intensified this quest for speed and McKay delivered it with his innovative ships. Here is a link the Museum of Fine Arts with a  model and facts about his state-of-the-art ship, the  Flying Cloud.

Contributions to Civil War

During this period, a beehive of foundries and machine shops was located along Fort Point Channel; the most important was the South Boston Iron Works. This company had been forging cannons since the War of 1812; they went on a 7-day, 24-hour work spree during the Civil War. After being cast or forged, the cannons were loaded onto barges or sloops and taken to Castle Island for test firing. In assessing the Fort’s contribution to the Civil War, one can conclude that the most important activity was testing weaponry before sending it out to defend the Union.

Other Internal links for more enjoyable reading

For a video and images of the June 2022 USS Constitution turnaround;

For more details about the Castle island State Park;

For Gallery of internal images of the fort

Resources used for this Article:

Castle Island and Fort Independence book by William Reid

This book can found at Boston Public Library or puchased thru Castle Island Assocation