Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point

Fort Point, with Golden Gate bridge in background
Photo of Fort Point, with Golden Gate Bridge in background
National Park Service

Quick Facts

Location:
Sacramento, CA
Significance:
Fort Point never saw combat, but has been an important part of the Bay area since its construction
Designation:
National Park, National Register of Historic Places, HABS/HAER/HALS

Fort Point has been called "the pride of the Pacific," "the Gibraltar of the West Coast," and "one of the most perfect models of masonry in America." When construction began during the height of the California Gold Rush, Fort Point was planned as the most formidable deterrence America could offer to a naval attack on California. Although its guns never fired a shot in anger, the "Fort at Fort Point" as it was originally named has witnessed Civil War, obsolescence, earthquakes, bridge construction, reuse for World War II, and preservation as a National Historic Site.

Fort Point was built between 1853 and 1861 by the U.S. Army Engineers as part of a defense system of forts planned for the protection of San Francisco Bay. Designed at the height of the Gold Rush, the fort and its companion fortifications would protect the Bay's important commercial and military installations against foreign attack. The fort was built in the Army's traditional "Third System" style of military architecture (a standard adopted in the 1820s), and would be the only fortification of this impressive design constructed west of the Mississippi River. This fact bears testimony to the importance the military gave San Francisco and the gold fields during the 1850s.

In 1861, with war looming on the eastern horizon, the Army mounted the first 55 guns at the fort. Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, commander of the Pacific branch of the Army, prepared the defenses of the Bay and ordered the first garrison for Fort Point. Kentucky-born Johnston then resigned his commission to join the Confederate Army (he was later killed at the battle of Shiloh in 1862). Fort Point never had to fire its guns in defense during the Civil War; the war came and went, without the Confederate Army ever launching an assault on the Bay. Although the Fort never came under attack, its mere presence created a deterrent that would have weighed heavily in the minds of those who sought to undermine the Union's grip on the Pacific Coast.

In the years after the Civil War, Fort Point became underutilized and was used intermittently as an army barracks. In the late 1930s, plans for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge also involved plans for the demolition of Fort Point. Fortunately, Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss recognized the architectural value of the Fort and created a special engineer arch which allowed the construction of the bridge to occur safely over the Fort.