Day 54, Friday, September 7, 2018
Fort Knox State Historic Site, Prospect, Maine
First off, I just want to say that this is the “other” Fort Knox, and it is actually the original Fort Knox. The one that most people think of when they hear Fort Knox is the one in Kentucky, which is adjacent to the United States Bullion Depository, which holds about half of the United States’ gold reserves. So now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on!
This Fort Knox was built between 1844 and 1869. After the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, there was some considerable anti-British sentiment lingering. The Aroostook War in 1838-1839 revived that sentiment when military troops and civilians in Maine clashed with the British troops and subjects in New Brunswick; it was essentially a border dispute fueled by valuable lumber. Never heard of the Aroostook War, you say? Well, you may know it as the Pork and Beans War – because of course the mainstay of a lumberjack diet was said to be pork and beans (stay with me here, it gets better!)… So apparently there were disputes over timber when some Canadians cut some trees on land that the Americans considered their land.
Then a hapless black bear wandered along and just wanted the lumberjacks to leave, or was looking for a meal; the bear was not interviewed about his side of the story…. So the bear comes along and attacks three Canadian lumberjacks and badly injures two; the Canadians then shoot and kill the bear. The American lumberjacks nearby hear the gunfire and think the Canadians are shooting at them, so they shoot back. Thankfully no one was injured (by the gunfire at least).
Obviously, tensions are pretty high at this point and both sides start mustering militiamen in the area… Diplomats got involved and saved the day, negotiating a treaty that would set the border in Maine, mostly along the St. John River, but also throwing in some border clarifications in New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota too. And you thought these insane omnibus bills that Congress passes were a new thing, but nooo… This treaty also created a joint naval system between the Americans and the British to suppress the African slave trade off the coast of Africa. Because, of course that seems related!
Tensions remained though, and a few years later the Americans started building Fort Knox along the Penobscot River. Fort Knox was the first fort to be built entirely of granite and is nearly unchanged from the time that it was built. It was never totally completed, and although it never saw battle, it was manned by regiments during the Civil War and the Spanish American War. When the U.S. Government declared it excess property in 1923 and sold it, the State of Maine picked it up for a song, paying only $2,121!
These days it is operated as a State Historic Site and nearly the entire fort is open to the public! I enjoyed wandering around and checking out all the rooms. There is even a hot shot oven, designed to heat up cannon shots to fire at ironclads.
In 2018 when I visited, an $8 ticket got you access to Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory. What a deal! And one final side note – I ate lunch that day in the picnic area at the park, and this adorable little guy was really, really hoping to grab a snack! Don’t worry, I didn’t feed him, but I did get some photos of his antics!