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Did you know there's a Civil War fort under the Golden Gate Bridge?
posted by John : November 19, 2017


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Way back in 1853 the US Army started building a fort at the Golden Gate near San Francisco. The fort on the point was to be a critical part of the west coast infrastructure so it was built to the standards of a "Third System" fort with the lower level just above sea level and seven foot thick walls. It was the only fort of this type built on the west coast and boasted 55 canon by the beginning of the Civil War.

Not that there were any battles at Fort Point. It never fired a shot against an enemy and after the Civil War it ceased to be an active fort. The advancement of weaponry, especially rifled artillery, made those thick brick walls far less effective as shown by the attacks on forts on the East Coast.

The fort was attacked in the 1930s as it was almost demolished during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Thankfully, it was preserved and the bridge was built right over the fort.

Our stop was part of our second Park-packed day in San Francisco. We arrived at Fort Point before it opened and walked along the shoreline feeling like slackers because we weren't jogging. The fence at the fort marks the end of a common runner's route and they streamed by, gave a high five to a pair of hands on the fence, and then turned back toward the city. (Wha? They're called Hopper's Hands and there's a great backstory.)

When the building did open we were the first in. The ranger greeted us and we asked the most important question you can ask of any ranger at a park. "What's the one thing we need to see before we leave?" (You totally thought we asked about a bathroom, huh? Nah. The bathroom is out by the parking lot.) Sometimes this question gets you directed to a spot most people overlook. This time we were told to make sure we saw the ancient canon on the opposite side of the courtyard and to go through the officers' quarters on the second level.

The canon was neat and the officers' quarters were very spacious. However, the best parts were the thick brick walls, hidden staircases, and the views from the upper level. Being on the point protruding into the entrance to San Francisco Bay meant we could look west to the ocean and east to the city. Directly above us was the Golden Gate Bridge that had come close to destroying Fort Point, but now seemed to frame it.

You can see Fort Point National Historic Site in about an hour, but book extra time if you want to take one of the tours. Visit the tours page to get information on the available tours and enter the lottery for the Candelight Tour. If we'd had more time (and were the types to plan far enough ahead to enter a lottery) the night time tour would have been what we tried for. Of course, then we would have missed the great views.

So maybe plan two trips to Fort Point when you go. One on a good weather day and one at night. And a third when the famous fog has rolled in to really get the experience of the locals. And a fourth when... Hmm... Maybe just start with one trip.

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