Many people have asked if Fort Fremont (sometimes misspelled "Freemont") dates from the Civil War, or earlier. According to Grace Cordial, Historical Resources Coordinator, Fort Fremont "did not exist until 1899. There was no previously known military installation on that site."
Construction of coastal batteries was authorized by Congress under the $50 million Harbor Fortification Defense Act of 1898. Fort Fremont was built by the Corps of Engineers on condemned private property with construction starting in 1899. Former owners of portions of the condemned land were Ellen A. Crofut, F.A. Dran, Jacob Meyers, Jack Freeman, July Fripp, Andrew Jenkins and Ellen Williams. The Corps of Engineers hired labor from the Beaufort area to build the military complex. In 1900, Fort Fremont was turned over to the Coast Artillery. The National Register of Historic Places documentation states that "Fort Fremont is one of only two extant Spanish-American War fortifications which retain their character from that period."
According to Historic Resources of the Lowcountry, "Fort Fremont is said to have been the most expensive of all Beaufort area forts and perhaps the most useless, because no shot was ever fired from the fort."
( Image courtesy of Beaufort County Planning Department, 2007)
Fort Fremont is located at Lands End on St. Helena Island, S. C., four miles southeast of Port Royal. It overlooks the Fort Fremont Reach of the stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway that runs from Port Royal to the Beaufort River.
( Image courtesy of Beaufort County Planning Department, 2007)
The complex at Fort Femont consisted of almost 170 acres of land with numerous outbuildings, including an Administration building, guard house, barracks, hospital, stable, mess hall, bakery, commissary, post exchange, lavatory, and water tower. Of these, only the 10 inch battery, the rapid-fire battery and the brick hospital built in 1906 survive. All the other structures were made of wood and were demolished at various points before 1989 when documentation was submitted to the National Register of Historic Places.
(Section of Fort Fremont Plat, 1906 in the Beaufort District Collection)
The first commander of Fort Fremont was Lt. Johnson Hagood, First Artillery. After Hagood married in December of 1899, a Capt. Knowlton and Lt. Stanley D. Embrick succeeded him for the following two years.
According to the November 7, 1901 Palmetto Post, Capt. Knowlton recommended that the War Department buy adjoining land from African-American owners, in order to drain ponds and improve sanitary conditions for soldiers and civilians alike. Lt. Embrick had earlier made similar improvements on the premises.
The full company of personnel at Fort Fremont was set at 108 men in July of 1908, when 40 newcomers arrived from Columbus, Ohio. The 1907 payroll for the fort was $2,000 a month and $22,000 were spent on improvements to the facility in that year. Fort Fremont had the second-lowest number of desertions in the United States in the year 1910.
In June1910, violence erupted between artillerymen at the fort and African-American civilians, involving the sale of illegal "blind tiger liquor" by the locals. Following several fights and gun fights, six soldiers were wounded and one killed. Isaiah Potter, arrested for the fatal shooting, claimed that the trouble began with what the Beaufort Gazette called "intimacy between (Potter's) wife and a private soldier."
The same Beaufort Gazette article indicated that Fort Fremont's soldiers were in frequent social contact with the townspeople of Beaufort: Pvt. Frank J. Quigley, the slain soldier, had been "well known and liked in Beaufort and in many of the towns in which the Beaufort baseball team played last season, having played behind the bat for the Fort Fremont team and the Beaufort team."
A local legend identifies Quigley as the ghostly Land's End Light.
The garrison's single artillery company manned three 10-inch disappearing guns and two 4.7-inch rapid fire guns. Much of the bastions and the concrete emplacements for the guns remain today. (The March 2, 1899 issue of The Palmetto Post told that "a large force of laborers" was at work on the fortifications, that the 4.7-inch guns had already been mounted, and the emplacments had been completed for the larger weapons).
A report from the December 12, 1901 Palmetto Post gave an idea of the sort of ballistic maneuvers that occupied coastal artillery troops of the day. On the Hilton Head Island installation, a board of army officers conducted a test of the "new pneumatic dynamite gun," at the mouth of Port Royal Sound. The weapon had a range of 6,000 yeards and was capable of aerial torpedoes of 1,800 pounds (containing 50-200 pounds of nitro gelatine). Both dummy and live-cartridge projectiles were fired (the latter "threw columns of water into the air" as they exploded upon impact).
In 1908, the general public could freely tour the fort and its weapon emplacements. "A few years ago, the orders were very strict," said the July 9 Beaufort Gazette, "but now the government is glad to have people look all over the works. The big guns and mine firing devices are well worth an afternoon."
The June 26, 1930, a Beaufort Gazette reported that the guns at Fort Fremont as "stayed on the fort until the World War when they were taken to France" (in a 1972 Beaufort Gazette article, however, historian Gerhard Spieler said that there was some doubt about this, with conflicting reports that the guns had been simply stored away).
As early as 1906, however, the War Department gave serious consideration to the closing of Fort Fremont, due to budgetary constraints.
The March 10, 1911 Beaufort Gazette reported that the 127th Company -- under command of Capt. W. E. Murray -- was ordered to proceed from Fort Fremont to Fort Sam Houston (Galveston, Texas), along with eleven other coast artillery units, for mine-planting practice. Only "the post non-commissioned staff and a detachment of five men and a non-commissioned officer of the 116th company coastal artillery from Fort Screven, Ga." were left to man Fort Fremont. Dr. Charles S. Halliday, post surgeon at the Fort Fremont hospital facility, did not know "whether his removal (was) permanent or temporary."
But on June 30, readers of The Beaufort Gazette learned that "the last steps toward the abandonment of Fort Fremont (were) being taken." Captain Murray, a sergeant and five privates had arrived from Galveston to pack and ship "all the portable material and equipment in the several quarters of the fort." Although much property had already been packed for shipment to Fort Crocket, Texas, the job would require another several weeks to complete. Sergeant Meyers told the newspaper, " I am glad to get back to Beaufort, and I only wish I were here to stay" (Meyers, Capt. Murray, and the soldiers were to be stationed at Fort Crocket).
Regarding reports that Fort Fremont would be sold or abandoned, the April 16, 1912 Beaufort Gazette quoted the Assistant Secretary of War: "... I have the honor to inform you that no such action is contemplated at present. A small detachment of soldiers had been serving as caretakers at the fort after troops stationed there had been reassigned to Galveston the previous year.
A December 7, 1921 Charleston News and Courier article reported that the Treasury Department requested Fort Fremont from the War Department, for use as a quarantine station. The property had by then been placed on the Secretary of War's list of properties no longer needed for military purposes and available for sale.
Fort Fremont was deactivated in 1921.
On June 26, 1930, a Beaufort Gazette story announced that New York corporate executive Frederick H. Barnes had bought the Fort Fremont property at "the largest (price) paid for a country estate on the coast to date." Mr. Barnes had plans to build a Spanish villa on the site, complete with a sunken landscaped garden and a private yacht basin. The newspaper described the existing hospital building as "beautiful ... standing on near the water's edge, facing the sound." Several of Barnes's friends were also "contemplating acquiring country estates on St. Helena."
John Demosthenes and a group of other local businessmen bought the property from Barnes in 1946 (a Greek immigrant, Demosthenes had served in the Coastal Artillery at Fort Screven and had been to Fort Fremont on frequent work details). At that time, the 170 acres were split into waterfront sites for summer beach houses. In 1951, Mr. and Mrs. G. B. Schurmeir renovated the hospital structure into a hunting and fishing lodge. In 1972 the concrete gun emplacements were the property of Mr. and Mrs. G. G. Dowling.
Fort Fremont To Be a Public Park
The Trust for Public Land and Beaufort County Council paid $5.4 million to two landowners in October 2004 in order to transform the remnants of Fort Fremont into a beachfront park. The Interpretive Center is expected to be constructed and open to the public during 2016.
Thanks to a new partnership between the Beaufort County Library and the Fort Fremont Friends group, the St. Helena Branch Library is providing a temporary home for the stunning new diorama constructed by local modeler Dennis Cannady that showcases Fort Fremont as it appeared in the early twentieth century. The miniature landscape work was unveiled by the Friends of Fort Fremont on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 in a ceremony held at the St. Helena Branch Library. The model is available for viewing during the St. Helena Branch Library's usual hours of operation.
The model will be the centerpiece of the Interpretive Center when it opens.
For more information about the diorama or for tours of this historic site, please visit the Friends of Fort Fremont's website at http://fortfremont.org.
Christensen, Neils. ""The Big Gun: Aerial Torpedoes Fired on Hilton Head." Palmetto Post, December 12, 1901, p. 3.
Christensen, Neils. "To Improve Fort Fremont."
Palmetto Post, November 7, 1901, p. 1.
Cordial, Grace Morris. E-mail of November 25, 2002.
"Fort Fremont: Beaufort County Buys a Piece of History," Beaufort Gazette, October 7, 2004 (electronic version)
"Ft. Fremont Property May Be Used For Quarantine Purposes." Beaufort Gazette, December 9, 1921, p. 1.
"Fort Fremont Not To Be Sold." Beaufort Gazette, April 26, 1912, p. 1.
"Fort Fremont Soldier Dies from Wounds." Beaufort Gazette, June 16, 1910, p. 1.
"Fortifications at Port Royal Island."
Palmetto Post, March 2, 1899, p. 3.
"Hunting Lodge will be opened near Beaufort." [uncited newspaper clipping in McTeer Scrapbook 1, (p. 13)].
Lowcountry Council of Governments. Historic Resources of the Lowcountry. The Council, 1979.
National Register of Historic Places Registration Form Application for Fort Fremont Battery, 1988-1989.
"New Soldiers for Fort Fremont." Beaufort Gazette, July 9, 1908, p. 1.
"New Yorker Buys St. Helena Lands." Beaufort Gazette, June 25, 1930, p. 1.
Roberts, Robert B. Encyclopedia of Historic Forts: The Military, Pioneer and Trading Posts of the United States. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1988.
Spieler, Gerhard. "Fort in St. Helena Named for Gen. Fremont." Beaufort Gazette, August 12, 1986, p. 5-A.
Abandon Fort Fremont: Plans Are Making for the Eventual
Discontinuation of Garrison." Beaufort Gazette,
June 30, 1911, p. 1.
Additional Sources about Fort Fremont
in the Beaufort District Collection Vertical Files