Fort Knox Guards the Passage of Clean Energy

A fort built to prevent enemy warships from passing up a Maine river in the 19th century now guards the passage of renewable energy — or at least pretends to.

The developing dawn illuminates Fort Knox on the Penobscot River in Maine on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Brian Swartz)

The War Department started constructing Fort Knox atop a strategic bluff along the Penobscot River in the 1840s. Located where the river narrows and bends 90 degrees in the town of Prospect, the bluff overlooks Verona Island and Bucksport along the river’s eastern shore. Sailing past the bluff in September 1814, a British naval expedition proceeded upriver and disembarked British troops who defeated the local militia in the so-called battle of Hampden. Occupying Bangor and Brewer, the British stole just about everything not tied down.

Maine later threatened to yank the British lion’s beard over the ill-mapped Aroostook County boundary with New Brunswick. To prevent a repeat of 1814, Congress appropriated funds to build a granite casemate fort on the bluff above the Penobscot Narrows. Construction began, and Fort Knox took solid shape, but the War Department never completed it.

Maine soldiers lightly garrisoned the fort during the Civil War; Connecticut national guardsmen camped there during the Spanish-American War. Becoming Fort Knox State Park in the 20th century, the site now includes the fort and the Penobscot Narrows Observatory, a three-floor overlook topping off one 460-foot (or so) tower supporting the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. It carries Route 1 high above the Penobscot.

In this photo taken at 5:35 a.m., Monday, July 8, Fort Knox (right) overlooks the Penobscot Narrows Bridge carrying Route 1 over the Penobscot River. (BS)

Meanwhile, farther east in Maine’s Washington County, Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va. is developing Downeast Wind, a network of 30 wind turbines that will produce 126 megawatts of renewable energy. The Danish-made wind turbines are arriving by ship at Searsport, about 12-13 miles west of Fort Knox.

On Monday, July 8, Apex Clean Energy started moving wind-turbine tower sections and blades from Searsport along Route 1 to Columbia, the Washington County town where several wind turbines will be erected. This marked the first time that such large wind-turbine parts have moved on Route 1 …

and all under the watchful eye of Fort Knox, where a 15-inch Rodman gun overlooking the river could provide fire support, if needed …

A truck tows a lengthy section of wind-turbine tower onto the Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Maine on Monday, July 8. (BS)

The day dawned beautiful, sunlit, warm, and sultry, and the Maine State Police-escorted oversized trucks rolled as scheduled. Fort Knox guarded the passage of renewable energy — and will do so until the last “turbine convoy” passes Down East in October. The convoys are moving most weekdays until then.

After being towed across the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, a 241.8-foot wind-turbine blade rolls along Route 1 into Bucksport, Maine on July 8. The truck’s cab blocks the view of Fort Knox across the Penobscot River. (BS)

3 Responses to Fort Knox Guards the Passage of Clean Energy

  1. Maine (or the Massachusetts appendage soon to be called Maine) was an enthusiastic participant in that “Trading with the Enemy” thing during the War of 1812. Eastport, somewhat West and upriver from Machias, couldn’t ship American goods fast enough. I can just imagine all the grumbling and literary fabrications of loyalty that poured out from many a Down East taproom when word floated out about the Treaty of Ghent. What Andrew Jackson would have done with them if he hadn’t been off rampaging through the Southeast can only be imagined…

  2. We lived in Maine for 12 years, in Orono and Belfast, locations that often took us across the new bridge. We also got to watch them take down the old bridge (a rusted out version that was declared a danger to the motoring public and cut down and hauled away on the same river now part of this new wind project. Your article rightly celebrates the beauty of the new bridge, but you did not mention that it has already become a favorite spot for “jumpers” (as in “ending it all” rather than bunji). The state is now in the process of funding new suicide barriers atop the bridge railings to discourage the practice. One of the most notorious leaps so far occurred early in the bridge’s life. A local minister-social worker-college chaplain-and general do-gooder plunged to his death after the community learned that he had been grooming and abusing young men for many years, and that the identity he had used since arriving in Maine was totally false. As for Fort Knox, it may not have been finished, but it seems pretty forbidding, nonetheless. And the view of the great tidal river is incredible. The gun positioned there that never had to be used likewise sends a pretty ominous messge to anyone intending to sail up the Penobscot and commit mischief. Mainers have long been known for answering the nation’s call to duty far out of proportion to their numbers. Thanks for a great piece on the state where my heart will reside even as I have moved on to other locations.

  3. I grew up near Fort Knox and my family and I picnicked there often, swarmed all over the walls, the Rodman gun, the spooky hollow walls, (echo), up and down the long flights of stone stairs from the fort proper to the outlying batteries. Its one of my favorite memories, and probably how I became interested in the Civil War.

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