Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pic of the Day: The Two Forts Pickens

On September 5, 1828, four men gathered at Newport, Rhode Island to review plans for several forts: General Simon Bernard, Colonel Joseph Totten, Major Samuel Babcock, and Captain William Chase, all of the Board of Engineers.

One set of plans--18 sheets worth--described Totten's design for the fort to be built on the west tip of Santa Rosa Island, guarding the entrance to Pensacola Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. Bernard was more familiar with the area. He pointed out that Pensacola's defenses were to include a second fort across the channel on Foster's Bank (Perdido Key, today). Reducing the size of the Santa Rosa Island fort without significantly weakening it would save a good bit of money that could go to building the other fort.

Both Totten and Chase wanted the big, elaborate design, but they deferred to Bernard's rank and his refusal to endorse the project. He was given time to come up with his own design.

Bernard did agree, however, that the channel fronts (at bottom in each picture) were satisfactory. Chase--the Engineer who would preside over the fort's construction--was given the go-ahead to start with those two walls.

Bernard's "streamlined" layout makes the half-bastions at the ends of the channel fronts into full bastions, shortens the north and south walls (north is to the left in both pictures), adds a pair of larger bastions at northeast and southeast, and cleans up the entire design by eliminating a lot of outerworks in the ditch (or moat).

The upper picture shows a lot of construction to the east of the fort, outside the ditch. Bernard scrubbed all of that, as well, giving the fort a leaner, cleaner layout. As it turns out, he's responsible for many of my favorite bits of architecture, such as the interiors of the northwest and southwest bastions and the curved stairs in the northeast and southeast corners of the parade. From Totten's surviving part of the project, we have the graceful 30-foot arches spanning the open casemates along the northwest and southwest walls and the impressive splayed arches in the west bastion.

I kind of wish Totten had prevailed, if only so I could explore his fort.

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