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Fort Hancock New Jersey-Steampunk Days Out

Fork Hancock was the original United States Army proving ground and an important coastal defense fortress protecting New York City http://www.nyharborparks.org/visit/foha.html. The site is huge and offers a number of attractions. The scenery is amazing, the ocean views and beaches wonderful. Birds and other wildlife are present in profusion.

Sandy Hook is on the southern shore of the lower bay of New York. It juts approximately five miles from the northern shore of New Jersey. The park is an easy ferry ride from Manhattan http://www.seastreak.com/. During the summer season the ferry goes right to the park. I had the misfortune of finding out that if there aren’t enough riders the ferry might instead go to Highland New Jersey. I can say without a trace of doubt that it is a very, very long walk from Highland to the end of Sandyhook. Luckily the weather was dry, although when I went it was quite warm. I had an excellent meal at a eatery (although this was about five years ago, so I can’t recall where or what)

The reservation consists of over 100 buildings. The batteries date from the 1890s on and are some of the technologically most interesting in the United States. The up side from walking all the way in from Highland was getting to see the entire post. Again I had to walk quite a ways just to get to the initial Victorian period sites. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2O4qLmqRwk

Fort Hancock saw a wide variety of batteries. One of the most interesting is Battery Potter. This is a unique emplacement called a Gun Lift Battery. A large artificial hill was constructed and the battery built inside it. The guns were each mounted on an elevator. They were loaded in the large underground chamber and elevated upwards to their firing position. Once fired the weapon was lowered to its protected loading position http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYxqTGxXybA&feature=related.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUyRF6TmHMo&NR=1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRzDVkYdSAc&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=QH62TGY9oHk&noredirect=1

The various animations describe the complex nature of the battery and its functions. The guns are long gone but the massive battery structure is still an amazing piece of Victorian engineering. Battery Potter has a defensible entrance that looks like a castle gate. Instead of archers provisions were made for Gatling Guns in the towers.

One battery that does have guns is much smaller and more simple. Battery Gunnison has a pair of 6 inch Model 1900 pedestal mounted guns. This is my personal favorite US 6 inch gun models. The carriage is simple and the lines of the shield are elegant. The US Coast Artillery used comparatively few pedestal mounted weapons preferring the more complex and expensive but better protected disappearing carriages. Re-enactors make the best use oft hes these two weapons possible http://coastalforts.home.mindspring.com/10-25-03-Hancock.htm. I did not see them in action but their activities are well known in the restoration community and if possible I plan on getting out to the Fort again when they are in action!

Mortars also played a critical role in US Coastal Defenses and Fort Hancock had two 12 inch mortar batteries Batteries McCook and Reynolds. These batteries were a complex series of gun pits and tunnels designed to protect the 16 weapons from direct naval fire. These weapons are also long gone, having been removed for field service in France during WW1. However this battery was a prototype for the many 12 inch mortar batteries constructed from Manila Bay to Key West Florida.

Hancock also had a large group of heavy batteries facing the main shipping channel. Called Nine Gun Battery but actually a series of four continuous batteries mounting disappearing guns of up to 12 inch caliber this series of structures provided the main armament in the fortress until after the First World War. The strategic location of the military reservation meant that it served as a defensive installation until well into the missile age. During WW2 a number of more modern batteries, mounting 12 inch long range guns in heavily protected concrete casemates. After WW2 the land was used for Nike missile batteries.

After many hours of exhausting exploration and miles of walking I was darned lucky to find a troop of boy scouts willing to let me hitch a ride back to the Ferry dock in their van.

I really enjoyed the time on the post. This is probably one of the most exciting Endicott period forts to explore. The massive changes in technology that occurred between 1880 and 1910 are well illustrated by the various battery structures. The Post is huge. I recommend getting a good set of maps before visiting and ensuring that you give an entire day for exploration. If possible ensure that you either have a car for the visit or that the ferry will actually land you at the Sandy Hook Dock. Bring plenty of water. Watch out for poison ivy, they had huge thickets of that noxious weed growing all over the area. I’m used to the low vine version we usually see in the Midwest but these were gigantic bushes with what looked like dense woody stems. There are a few cafes scattered around the park. Highland offers a number of excellent eateries. There are snacks available on the ferry as well.

This is a day out requires careful planning (which I did not do) to fully explore the site. I was lucky to get there on a day that Battery Potter was open to the public. Again I highly recommend a visit to this site, but caution that it is huge and requires some logistical foresight to avoid some level of discomfort. (I was sore for a week after all the walking, but my legs were well defined from all the miles I hiked through the sand dunes!)