Staten Island, as well as the rest of New York City, was occupied by the British between 1776 and 1783. British forces fortified the area now known as Fort Wadsworth in 1779. After the American Revolution the protection of New York, which had been so easily invaded, became a priority for the new American government.
New York State began planning for construction of masonry and earthen fortifications to help defend the Narrows in the early 1800s. Fortifications at Fort Wadsworth included what is now known as Battery Weed and Fort Tompkins. Other coastal fortifications built during this time period included Fort Lafayette in Brooklyn, Castle Williams and Fort Jay on Governors Island, Fort Wood on Liberty Island, and Fort Gibson on Ellis Island. This system of forts came to be known as the Second American System of coastal defense and existed to protect New York harbor from foreign interference.
In 1841, New York State gave the War Department permission to occupy part of Fort Wadsworth. By 1847 the whole of Fort Wadsworth was under federal control. Fort Morton and Fort Hudson were the first forts to be modernized, and were then renamed Battery Morton and Battery Hudson.
Fort Tompkins was rebuilt between 1859 and 1876. Granite and brick replaced the sandstone version that had been completed in 1814. The stones from the original fort were used in the counterscarp of the current fort. These original stones can be seen during guided tours of Fort Tompkins.
Battery Weed was rebuilt 1847-1862. It was originally called Fort Richmond, and renamed Fort Wadsworth in 1865 to honor Brevet Major General James Wadsworth, who was killed during the Civil War. The new Fort Wadsworth also used granite and brick to replace the original sandstone. These granite forts represented the 3rd system of fortifications.
New weaponry developed during the Civil War made these masonry forts and the smoothbore cannons they used obsolete. The U.S. government convened the Endicott Board in 1885 to create a new system of defense using the latest weaponry.
Fort Wadsworth was updated with disappearing gun batteries and expanded greatly during the time of the Spanish American War. Twelve additional batteries that were designed to be invisible from the water. The batteries contained guns that were designed to attack enemy warships and allow American vessels the time necessary to reach and engage the enemy. The entire post was named Fort Wadsworth during this time period.
The twelve Endicott era batteries at Fort Wadsworth include the following:
Battery Duane; Battery Ayers; Battery Richmond; Battery Barry; Battery Upton; Battery Dix; Battery Mills; Battery Hudson; Battery Barbour; Battery Turnbull; Battery Bacon; and Battery Caitlin. Battery Duane is beside Fort Tompkins; Battery Caitlin, Battery Barbour and Battery Turnbull are on the Battery Weed road.
In 1907 electric lights, motorized ammunition hoists, searchlights and telephone communications were added to the existing fortifications. Observation posts were also added, so that the target’s direction, bearing and speed could be sent to soldiers in plotting rooms. The soldiers in the plotting rooms used the information to triangulate on and target moving enemy ships and then relayed to the artillery gun crews what elevation and direction to fire their guns.
During World War I, soldiers assigned to Fort Wadsworth manned the guns and were also sent on a rotating schedule with soldiers from Fort Hamilton to the new Fort Tilden.
After the war’s end the fort’s command was changed to Infantry. Advances in naval weaponry allowed their range to exceed any response from a disappearing gun. The Army chose to focus on Fort Tilden and Fort Hancock, and did not build new batteries at Fort Wadsworth.
During World War II, operational control of the Fort was returned to the Coast Artillery. The main defenses were anti-aircraft guns.
From 1955 to 1960 Fort Wadsworth was the headquarters of the 52ND Anti-Aircraft (AAA) Brigade. The unit oversaw the Nike Missile firing batteries of the New York Defenses until moved to a new missile master facility in Highlands, N.J. The U.S. Army Chaplain School was located at the site from 1974 to 1979 in Fort Tompkins. After the Army vacated the site in 1979 the U.S. Navy made it the headquarters of Naval Station New York.
In 1994 the U.S. Navy turned Fort Wadsworth over to the National Park Service.