Fort Burnside

Located on the grounds of what today is Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, Fort Burnside was a World War II Coastal Fort first established in 1942. Named after Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, a U.S. Civil War General and Rhode Island Governor from 1866-1868, the fort's purpose was to surveil marine traffic traveling into Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor. Today the building is home to the Fort Burnside Communication and Coastal Defense Museum, a by-appointment museum which hosts an annual workshop for ham radio enthusiasts. To learn more or to contact the Museum, fortburnside@gmail.com.

History of Fort Burnside

Fort BurnsideOutwardly built to mimic the look of a country farmhouse, Fort Burnside's main structure or "HECP" (harbor entrance control post) was constructed to protect military personnel and equipment from sea-borne attacks. The main bunker within the structure is comprised of 36-inch hardened, reinforced walls. A wooden shell disguises the concrete so, at a distance at sea, the building resembles a cottage rather than a military structure.

During World War II, approaching vessels were observed at Fort Burnside using both visual and electronic means of detection. In addition to human lookouts, there were underwater microphones in several large groups positioned strategically south of Beavertail with a terminal at the HECP. There were also several "magnetic loops" - coils of wire specifically placed to detect the passage of a large ferrous (steel) body of a ship or more importantly, a submarine.

During the war, two anti-submarine nets were spanned across the bay. The first net was used to block all navigation of the west passage and spanned from Fort Kearny (now the URI school of oceanography) to Fort Greble (Dutch Island) and then to Fort Getty on the west side of Jamestown's Connanicut Island. The second net spanned from Fort Wetherill on Jamestown to Fort Adams in Newport. This net had the ability to open and close by net-tending boats. Control of the net was exercised on command from the HECP after they had determined a vessel was cleared for entry into Newport Harbor.

Photo By Orange Suede Sofa - With my very own camera, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38121857Radar was in its infancy during the early 1940's and Fort Burnside had two of the early coastal radars in use. At the beginning of the war, they were used together with telescopes to aim the fort's coastal defense weapons which consisted of large-caliber guns on either side of Narragansett Bay. At the end of the war, the coast artillery was essentially obsolete and the guns were scrapped.

Fort Burnside went on to perform a number of functions including modern harbor defense and as a communication center during the beginnings of the Cold War. The fort's direct military service ended in 1978 when the Naval reserve group who had occupied the fort was disbanded. Recently, however, the fort has come full-circle with the installation of a radar and surveillance cameras mounted on the 110-foot tower built in 1951 on the east side of the building by Homeland Security.

Location Information:

Beavertail Road
Jamestown, Rhode Island 02835

Contact Information:

Fort Burnside Communication and Coastal Defense Museum: fortburnside@gmail.com

Other Information:

History of Beavertail State Park


Information on the Beavertail Lighthouse and Light House Museum: www.beavertaillight.org

Copyright © 2012 Property of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Parks & Recreation