Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Fort Knox- A tale of new and old in Maine
Maine’s Coastal Route 1 meanders past quaint towns, sleepy seaside fishing villages and more antique shops and lobster shacks than you ever imagined. As we left the postcard perfect town of Camden for the rugged beauty of Acadia National Park our innkeepers gave us advice on some interesting sites along the way. With typical New England modesty and reserve we were directed to go to “that cute little blanket shop”; this happened to be Swan Island Blankets, whose handmade items are given to visiting dignitaries by none other the The White House. No big deal.
“Oh, there’s also a nice bridge along the way. There are some good views from the top.”
That “nice bridge” turned out to be the Penobscot Narrows Bridge which at 420 feet high is the tallest public bridge-observatory in the world. Built in 2007 the bridge features plenty of granite in a nod to the local quarries throughout Maine. The bridge’s towers may look a bit familiar to you as well. The Washington Monument was built from Maine granite and served as a inspiration in the design of the bridge. Even with the dreary overcast weather the 360 degree views from the observation deck were spectacular. To the east you’ll see the Penobscot River as it meets the Penobscot Bay as well as a few(of the many) islands that dot Maine’s mid-coast region. To the north you’ll spot the crown of Acadia National Park, Cadillac Mountain.
As my gaze shifted west I spotted something I didn’t expect to see- a fort.
A military fort. A historic one at that.
I was intrigued so I descended the 42 stories on the fastest elevator in all of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont (as the elevator operator will proudly tell you) to go have a look.
Fort Knox ( No, not the one with all of the gold. That’s in Kentucky) is one of the best preserved fortifications on the East Coast. Looking more like something I’d expect to see in Ireland or Scotland, this was the first and largest granite fort to be built in Maine. This timber and granite rich area of Maine (which at the time was still part of Massachusetts) was a prime target for British invasions during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. By 1825 the northern border between Maine and British Canada was still hotly contested and plans for a military installation to protect the Penobscot River were made. While the fort was manned both during The Civil War and Spanish-American War it never saw any military action.
Guided educational tours of the fort are available but we opted to explore the fort on our own. Visitors are able to access many of the interior areas as well as the ramparts. Function was definitely valued over comfort here, the thick granite walls did little to make Maine’s cold, damp winters more comfortable. In fact, most of the soldiers stationed at Fort Knox chose to live in tents behind the granite structure near what today is the visitor’s center. Wandering around the forts stone enclosures brought me back to my travels through Europe. Whether it was the walled city of Rhodes, Salzburg’s monolithic fortress or the relative newcomer here at Fort Knox it was evident that the technology used to keep people out changed very little for over 1000 years.
The cannons at Fort Knox were just as impressive as the rest of the site. The 15 inch Rodman canons weighed over 50,000 pounds each and required 12 men to maneuver around. The cannonballs for this behemoth were monsters themselves weighing in at 450 pounds each and used over 100 pounds of gunpowder to shoot. This was enough firepower to propel one of these giants over 5500 yards!
I have to admit that I had heard of neither of these attractions prior to my visit. The ability to be completely surprised, especially somewhere you think you know, is one of my favorite aspects of travel. I’m sure you all have a story of something surprising and unexpected you have encountered during your travels. I’d love it if you shared your stories with me in the comments!
Good to Know
Both Fort Knox and The Observatory Tower are open to visitors for May 1- October 31. Be sure to check the website for hours and rates.