The urban island of Fort Armistead

Dotting the Eastern seaboard of the US from Maine to Florida are the Endicott Era forts, places which have become 'islands unto themselves', writes Charles Swain.
 

To hurriedly remedy a perceived threat in its coastal defenses in the early 20th century, the US quickly erected concrete sentinels and placed them at the mouths of harbors, at the end of forgotten peninsulas and in the middle of tidal inlets. Many of these forts were barely used, the threat never really manifesting itself, and were either abandoned (or more appropriately "packed away") or given over to other uses. Much like the pillboxes you may stumble upon in the middle of a field in Gloustershire or Herefordshire, these places have now become islands unto themselves, trodden in the memory and the landscape. One fairly potent example is Fort Armistead at the foot of the Key Bridge in Baltimore. It lies at the end of one of the innumerable peninsulas and promontories that surround Baltimore and its industrial suburbs. A paragon of strategic placement, it could train its beams straight across the main marine gateway to the city center while remaining relatively unseen. Encroaching upon it are elevated motorways, a gypsum works and large petrol tanks. To reach it you have to locate a small exit just before coming to the bridge and free yourself form the highway's eagerness, like throwing a junction switch on a particularly fierce miniature railway. The fort itself is now concealed mainly by trees and there is a large car park at its foot. It is a low, two leveled complex built entirely of concrete. Its guns have been removed and a colony of feral cats live in the voids between the prefabricated concrete blocks. Someone has laid straw for them and left an array of cages in the woods nearby for them to retire to. The fort is not so much in disrepair as it is in the throes of some prolonged degenerative illness. Its components are all there and between its graffiti-covered plaster are signs of the fact that it was never used - plaques that look brand new except for the coating of grime. The small wooden footbridges that span the gulleys and paths which lead to its lower depths are still in place. The flora has exploded around its shell in deciduous rapacity. Neatly clipped grass boarders its fences on the land-bound side, maintained by a neighbouring chemical manufacturer - an absurd, transcendent desire for an all American lawn. The whole place is designated as a public park. An island of recreation in a sea of industrialization, dirty estuary water and complex road networks. Many of the forts have gone the same way - left as the centerpieces of little known and little frequented parkland. Others just lie in pieces at the end of inaccessible spits of land or are gradually disintegrating amid the prevailing snow or barbeque smoke.

Charles Swain is a photographer and writer based jointly in Baltimore, Maryland and Matlock, Derbyshire. He runs Travin Systems Records and the Travin Press which focus on the rural and urban unseen landscape and the the liminal emotional connections we form with places through photography, writing and recordings.