Brief Histories of Fort John Custis & Fishermans Island

Fort John Custis


Fort Winslow was the original name (9/10/1941), named after Brig. Gen. Eben Eveleth Winslow, but Eastern Shore residents wanted the base named after a local hero, Capt. John Parke Custis. But the new name, Fort Custis (2/5/1942), was often confused with Fort Eustis, a base that was being created in Newport News. So, shortly after being renamed, it was renamed a third time to Fort John Custis (10/14/1942). This fort was built to compliment Fort Story in Virginia Beach in order to protect the vast entrance of the Chesapeake Bay (12 to 15 miles wide) against enemy vessels. This remote post was commanded by Fort Monroe until the end of the war when command was given to Fort Story. After the test firing period, the Army left only a caretaker crew here until the closing of the base in 1948. At the time there was no bridge linking the two areas. Travel was by ferry. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel complex was built in the 1960's (and expanded in the late 1990's).

The Air Force created the Cape Charles Air Force Station here in 1949. Closed in 1980 and became the property of the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1984. The area at Wise Point is now the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. A walking tour of the wildlife refuge takes you to the top of Battery Winslow which is a good vantage point to view the ocean, bay, islands, and marshes. There is free admission to the visitor center at the Eastern Shore Refuge. Although some of the bunkers remain, there is little evidence that the area was ever used by the military. If you plan to visit this area, bring insect repellant - swarms of big mosquitoes await you.

There are three watch towers next to the Cape Charles Lighthouse on nearby Smith Island. The lighthouse was built in 1894, replacing earlier lighthouses in 1828 and 1864. Rubble from one of these is visible in the surf.

BATTERIES, BUNKERS & TOWERS at Wise Point & Kiptopeake:
Battery 122 - Eben Eveleth Winslow (Battery 7): two casemated 16-inch Navy guns (1943-1948)
Winslow Plotting Room Casemate (1943) - also used as the USAF NCO club.
Battery 123: NEVER BUILT (was to consist of two casemated 16-inch Navy guns).
Railway Artillery (Battery 8): four 8-inch guns/eight revetments (1942-1944)
{on RY artillery see "American Seacoast Defenses" 2nd Ed. page 116}
Temporary Battery (Battery 9): four tractor-drawn 155mm guns on Panama mounts - replaced by Battery 228
Battery 228 (Battery 9): built for two shielded 6-inch guns (1943); never armed / buried
one concrete Group Station Tower
three Fire Control Towers on Wise Point; demolished
one Radar Tower on Wise Point; demolished
Two Searchlight Towers on Chesapeake shoreline; demolished

USGS aerial image of the fort

courtesy of Microsoft TerraServer

Fishermans Island Military Reservation

1890 - 1969

A Marine Hospital & Quarantine Station was located here around 1890. Guns and troops were stationed here during World War I (from 1917 to 1919). The Coast Artillery returned in 1942. The Army gave the island to the Navy in 1949 but they stopped using it by 1969. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was built across it in 1962. In 1973, the Dept. of the Interior received the island, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service started their operations here in 1984. All of Fishermans Island is Fishermans Island National Wildlife Refuge. Public visitation on the island is NOT allowed.

BATTERIES, BUNKERS & TOWERS on Fishermans Island:
Battery 227 (Battery 11): two shielded 6-inch guns (1943-1965); guns sent to Fort Pickens FL 1976
Battery Lee (AMTB Battery 20): two 3-inch guns on pedestals from Fort Wool (1942-1944), later sent to Fort Story;
emplacements buried
AMTB Battery 24: two 90mm fixed pedestal mount guns (1943-1946); one gun sent to Fort Monroe 1976.
Emergency Battery: four 5-inch pedestal mount guns (1917 - 1919); two guns from Battery Ritchie, Fort DuPont, DE - two from Battery Fraser, Fort Slocum, NY
{on Emer. battery see "American Seacoast Defenses" 2nd Ed. page 90}
Mine Casemate #4 (1944) - used by Navy beginning in 1952; buried
Battery Commanders Tower next to Battery 227; demolished 1986
Mine Command Tower next to Mine Casemate; demolished
Radar Tower near shoreline; demolished
Two Searchlight Towers between Batteries 24 and 20; demolished 1986

USGS aerial image of the island

courtesy of Microsoft TerraServer

Ft. Custis Photo Gallery
Fishermans Is. Photo Gallery