Sackets Harbor Forts

Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site

Sackets Harbor Battlefield SHS official website
Sackets Harbor Battlefield Alliance

Sackets Harbor, a small, sleepy fishing village founded in 1804, soon became a major military and naval center on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. A military presence was first established here in 1809 to enforce the 1808 Embargo Act directed against trade with Canada. The First Battle of Sackets Harbor occured in June 1812, when five British warships engaged the U.S. Brig Oneida and shore batteries manned by a company of U.S. Infantry. The British were repulsed. Soon after, a ring of defenses was erected to protect the town and the newly established U.S. Naval Shipyard on Navy Point. Fort Tompkins (blockhouse and earthworks with 20 guns) was the first built in 1812, located adjacent to the shipyard. The Smith (Basswood) Cantonment (palisaded barracks complex with four blockhouses) was the garrison area for the troops. Officers were quartered in homes in the town. The blockhouse of Fort Virginia (16 guns) and the earthwork of Fort Volunteer were also constructed by 1813. The British attacked again in May 1813, landing troops on nearby Horse Island and marching east towards the town. The Americans sensed defeat and proceeded to burn all military and naval stores, then retreated to the fallback position of Fort Volunteer (site of the later Madison Barracks). However, the British could not overcome the entrenched Americans, and retreated in defeat. Soon afterwards, the town's defenses were strengthened again, with the addition of Fort Kentucky (palisaded earthworks), Fort Chauncey (stone tower), Fort Stark (earthworks), and a ring of earthworks connecting them with Forts Virginia and Volunteer. Fort Volunteer was rebuilt and renamed Fort Pike. The Pike Cantonment was built adjacent to Fort Pike as another garrison post for the troops. The town was not attacked again.

By war's end, eleven warships were built at the shipyard. Madison Barracks was constructed beginning in 1816 near Fort Pike to provide a permanent military presence on Lake Ontario (see separate page). The shipyard was transformed into the U.S. Naval Station in 1848 after renewed tensions with Canada. After 1874, the shipyard was abandoned, but the naval station continued with minimal activity until 1954, known as the New York State Naval Militia Training Center after 1915. Madison Barracks continued in operation until 1947, transferring all operations to Fort Drum near Watertown, established in 1908 as Pine Camp, later known as Camp Drum.

The Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Park encompases the Naval Station site, the Fort Tompkins site, the remnants of Fort Kentucky, and portions of the May 1813 battlefield. Traces of Fort Pike still remain at Madison Barracks. All other military works no longer exist. The site of the former Navy Yard on Navy Point is now a private marina and housing development.

UPDATE JANUARY 2011 - Thanks to Constance Barone of the NY State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, for contributing new photos and updated information.

Map of Sackets Harbor Fortifications

courtesy of Sackets Harbor Historical Society
Map of Sackets Harbor Fortifications, 1814.

(click on thumbnail image to enlarge)
General Macomb's map of the town and its defenses, March 1813.

An 1835 drawing of Sackets Harbor, showing the Ship House at the Navy Yard (center).
Fort Tompkins is on the bluff at right, Fort Pike is on the far left.

Site of Fort Tompkins (1812 - 1815), within the state park,
adjacent to the Commandant's House and Navy Yard site (background).
There are no trace remains of the fort, which was leveled by 1860.

The War of 1812 Monument (1913) located within the site of Fort Tompkins.

The War of 1812 Monument.

Marker for the southwest Basswood (Smith) Cantonment Blockhouse (1813 - 1815).

The Basswood site (wide view), near the Fort Tompkins site.
There were four blockhouses with barracks in a palisaded square complex.

Earthwork remnants of Fort Kentucky (1813 - 1815), within the state park.

Fort Kentucky.

The 32-pounder cannon in photo is a 1960's reproduction,
originally mounted on a concrete base near the Commandant's House.
At that time, the State considered rebuilding Ft. Tompkins where the cannon was to be mounted.
Since the fort was not rebuilt, the cannon was moved to the site of Ft. Kentucky, where it rests today.

The lawn of the Navy Yard site, within the present-day state park.

Another view of the Navy Yard site.
A blockhouse was sited near here in 1813, part of Fort Tompkins.
The original Navy Yard Sail Loft and Icehouse are on the left.
The houses in the center background are part of the private Navy Point Marina complex.

Flagpole at Navy Yard site.

Sackets Harbor Navy Yard, circa 1915, depicting the Sail Loft and Ice House (1849).

Cannon at the Navy Yard, circa 1915.

The Commandant's House (1848) (left) and Lieutenant's House (1849) (right), circa 1860.
The 1815 Shiphouse is in the right background.

photo by Gary Ernest
Modern postcard of the Commandant's House (left), and the Lieutenant's House (right),
restored to the late 1850's when Commandant Josiah Tattnall and his family occupied the house.

The Commandant's House, circa 1935.

Sackets Harbor Navy Yard, depicting the Ship House on Navy Point.
The Commandant's House and Lieutenant's House on left.
The Ship House was built in 1815, demolished in 1884.

(click on thumbnail image to enlarge)
Another historic image of the Navy Yard, viewed from Fort Pike.

The general site of the stone powder magazine (1813 - 1815), between Forts Kentucky and Virginia.
No marker, no trace remains. Photo of private land on Ray Street west of Washington Street.

Marker for the Fort Virginia Blockhouse (1812 - 1815).
There are no trace remains, located at Ambrose and Washington Streets.

An image of the Fort Virginia Blockhouse taken many years after the war.

Site of Fort Virginia.
The blockhouse was surrounded by earthworks in 1813.
The house now here was built in 1832.

Marker for Fort Chauncey (1813 - 1815) on Broad Street.
There are no trace remains.

The site of Fort Chauncey is now the town's fire station.

The general site of Fort Stark (1813 - 1815).
No marker, no trace remains. Photo of private land on east side of Monroe Street south of Dodge Avenue.

Old cannon and a stone marker located in front of the Sackets Harbor Visitor Center,
located at West Main and Bayard Streets.

Another view of Market Square Park.

Old ship timbers located along the waterfront in front of the Visitor Center.

A US Army Cobra helicopter on display at the American Legion Post on Ambrose Street.
Evidently a cannon display wasn't good enough!

Sackets Harbor Military Cemetery on Dodge Avenue.
The tombstone monument for General Zebulon Pike (died 1813 at the Battle of York (Toronto)).

Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, killed at the Battle of Sackets Harbor in 1813.

Marker for the French Camp of Observation (1756 - 1757) on Association Island.
The island is in the background, located in Henderson Harbor.