History of Fort Schuyler
The following is an excerpt from the Dedication of the New York State Merchant Marine Academy, Fort Schuyler, New York City, May 21, 1938. Works Progress Administration for the city of New York, Brehon Somervell, Administrator.
"The narrow land-spit now known as Throgg's Neck, which juts into Long Island Sound at its junction with the East River, takes its name from John Throgmorton, who obtained a license to settle there from the Dutch Governor of New Amsterdam on October 2, 1642. Throgmorton's Neck was shortened through the years to Throgg's Neck.
Construction of a fort at the point was first considered in 1818. A tract of 52 acres was purchased by the Federal Government from William Bayard in 1826 and construction of the fort began in 1833. This was intended to close the western end of the Sound and thus protect New York from attack by sea from this direction.
In December 1845, the fort was ready for its armament of 312 seacoast and garrison guns, six field pieces and 134 heavy guns. The installation of the armament was completed in 1856, and the fortification was named Fort Schuyler, in honor of General Philip Schuyler, who commanded the Northern Army in 1777, and whose conduct of the campaign is credited with laying the groundwork for the final defeat and capture of Bugoyne by Schuyler's successor, General Horatio Gates.
The fort was built of granite brought from Greenwich, Conn., in an irregular pentagon, and is said to have been the finest example in the United States of the French type of fortification for the purpose of both sea and land defense. It was built to accommodate a garrison of 1,250 men.
Three full bastions at the salients of the waterfront, two demibastions flanking the gorge on the land front, and the bastioned coverface and covered way protecting the land side were armed for firing from every angle. The fort had two tiers of guns in casemates and one en barbette. The casemates had two embrasures each. Two gun embrasures and one howitzer embrasure were closed later on to make room for a torpedo casemate. On the land side, approach was over a drawbridge, after the manner of a medieval castle. This opened into a tunnel with narrow slits in each side for riflemen who thus would be able to pour a heavy fire upon any attacking force from that quarter.
Major Barnari, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, in a report to Secretary of War Floyd, on The Dangers and Defenses of New York, under date of January 27, 1859, wrote:
"The East River Approach (to New York City) is defended by the formidable work of Fort Schuyler. Another work opposite to it, on Willett's Point, is deemed necessary; and the two will, with such auxiliary means as can be easily provided in the time of war, complete the defense. The work on Willett's Point may be set down at the same cost as for Fort Schuyler, $800,000."
On January 17, 1861, Fort Schuyler was garrisoned by engineers who occupied it until 1865, when it was turned over to artillerymen. During the Civil War, the McDougall General Hospital at the fort was destroyed by fire. In 1868 ten Rodman guns were mounted in casemates of the first tier and these in turn were replaced later by eight-inch rifles.
A medical report for 1868 - 1869, written by Assistant Surgeon C. B. White, who served in this hospital, contains a description of life at the post in that period. Officers and enlisted men lied in the casemates, the troops being quartered in eight rooms arranged in two tiers. Three windows in the rear, two windows and a door in front, and shutters over each ventilated the quarters so well that, despite the two fireplaces in each room, Surgeon White said, "to warm them properly in severe winters it has been necessary to revert to stoves."
Laundresses and the families of married soldiers lived in a one story frame building which had 24 rooms and 12 sets of quarters. Officers were housed in south landward casemates in rooms similar to the men's.
There were no bathrooms except in the hospital. The men had a swimming place in Summer. A shed over a well and pump within thirty feet of their quarters was a washroom for the enlisted men, and sinks in the front yard served the officers. Watercarts and barrels furnished well-water 'usually good'. The fort had natural drainage; excellent sewers emptied into large reservoirs, which were flushed regularly by the tides. So good was the sanitation that no deaths occurred within the period covered by Dr. White's report.
The fort was regarrisoned by the infantry on June 28, 1877. Construction of modern defenses was begun in 1896. Under this program two ten-inch and two twelve-inch guns on disappearing carriages; two five-inch rapid fire guns, two fifteen-pounders and battery commanders' stations for the ten-inch and twelve-inch batteries were installed. The coast artillery now garrisoned the fort.
After October 12, 1870, when artillerymen left, the post stood abandoned; but three years later work was begun on widening the terreplein of the north and east waterfronts for barbette batteries of fifteen-inch guns, leaving the emplacements unchanged on the south front and the demibastions of the gorge. This work was suspended in 1875 for the want of funds. It was in 1875 that the New York State Merchant Marine Academy, now to occupy the old fort, was founded.
In October, 1931, the fort was taken over by the Headquarters and Service Platoon and Company A, Twenty-ninth engineers, which were making a fire control map of New York and vicinity. This last garrison was officially withdrawn on May 1, 1934, and plans were begun for converting the fort into a home for the Academy.
Restoration of Fort Schuyler as the permanent land base of the New York State Merchant Marine Academy has been under way since the summer of 1934. Only those familiar with the property prior to that time can fully appreciate the vast amount of work that has been done. While outwardly the main building remains much the same, with the exception of the roof, the interior has been completely transformed. These changes are visible. In and around the fortification many improvements now hidden to view were made in the process of modernizing the structure and making it ready for school purposes.
One of the first jobs was the removal of 31,000 cubic yards of earth and sod from the roof and stripping the brick arches underneath. Several of these latter had to be entirely rebuilt. Air ducts were set in and other openings for electrical fixtures were drilled through. Then the underside of the arches was sandblasted and grouted to prevent leakage. Finally a new concrete roof was put on and a parapet wall was constructed. Two duct chambers were erected on the roof for ventilation.
Electric and water lines were brought from the mainland and a concrete chamber for electric, water and steam lines was constructed around the inside of the fort.
The steam lines run out of the building and across the road to the new heating plant, which has two completely equipped boilers and space for the addition of a third. Steam lines also run from the heating plant to the individual houses occupied by members of the school staff. The oil is stored in huge tanks located in the old magazine foreword of the fort proper.
The most striking alteration of all was the bisection of the arches of the inner wall and the construction of a mezzanine floor all around the fortification with the exception of the north-westerly end, where the mess hall is located. Here the story was eliminated in favor of a gallery with a staircase which gives access to the rooms beyond. The old floor of the fort was replaced with modern concrete to harmonize with the new mezzanine. The mess hall is floored with terrazzo. Steel frames and sashes were installed throughout and on both floors the spaces were partitioned off for class rooms, laboratories, drafting rooms, shops, administrative offices, a library and other impurenacaces of a thoroughly modern school. Them embrasures in the outer wall were relined with artificial stone and all stone work was sandblasted and repainted. The old barracks have been reconditioned and fitted up as first class dormitories with tiled was rooms, showers and toilets adjoining, and a fire escape has been erected. New electrical fixtures and radiators have been installed. All connections for the cook's galley are ready for the equipment.
An important job was the construction of the new pier for the accommodation of the training ship. This pier is 550 feet long and 40 feet wide, with an approach 20 feet wide, all of reinforced concrete equipped with mooring gear. The dwellings of the administrative staff were completely rehabilitated. An infirmary has been erected adjacent to the heating plant, a fire house and garage are nearing completion.
-May 21, 1938"
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