2005-12-14 / Front Page

‘Precious History’ Of Fort Totten

Photo Dominick Totino
Photo Dominick Totino Borough President Helen Marshall. (c.) helped cut the ribbon, on the historic Fort Totten Battery Friday, December 2 with state Senator Frank Padavan (at Marshall’s r.), Congressmember Gary Ackerman (at Marshall’s l.) and city Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe (third from l.) in attendance. The project to ensure the safety and stabilization of the battery was funded by $167,000 from the Borough President's Office, a $475,000 grant secured by Padavan, the City Council, including Councilmember Tony Avella, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office and the Northeastern Historic Preservation Commission of the state of New York. Safety, stabilization and beautification of the Fort Totten Battery cost $740,000 in all. Safety and accessibility features include lighting, hand rails, drainage and new bluestone paving. Significant amounts of mercury pollution were found in the soil and waters of the fort, requiring extensive remediation efforts.

The mayor’s office has allocated some $12.6 million in the city budget for the 50-acre park, including $3.6 million in the current fiscal year, “for use to be determined to continue creation of the park.” Opening of the Battery is the first phase of a two-phase project, according to Benepe. The renovation of the museum building and the ordinance yard, connected to the battery via a Civil War-era tunnel, constituting the second phase, will cost about $800,000, he added. A third phase would restore the fort’s historic landscape and open up the Endicott Batteries at the top of the fort's hill to limited tours. The final phase of the project would more fully open the Endicott Batteries to visitors.

Marshall termed the project “another example of government and the citizens of our borough getting together and preserving part of our very, very precious history.” The two forts, Fort Totten in Queens and Fort Schuyler in The Bronx, were built to protect the Long Island Sound entrance to the city during and after the Civil War. By 1876, however, Fort Totten had become outmoded as a military fortification, work on it stopped and it was left unfinished. Even so, Padavan called the fort “unique…anywhere in the Northeast and perhaps [on] the entire Eastern Seaboard.”

General Joseph G. Totten, who built the modernized defenses around San Francisco and New York, gave his name to Fort Totten in 1898. Until 1967, Fort Totten was part of America’s coastal and aerial defenses but after 1967 it became a residential center for Army families and most of its armaments were removed. Fort Totten was officially declared closed in early March 1995, but continues to serve as the headquarters of the 77th Army Reserve Command, troops from which are now serving in Iraq. A number of organizations, mostly non-profit or government agencies, lease space within unused fort buildings, including the New York City Fire Department, which uses the space allocated to it as a training facility.

The Fort Totten battery was named a New York City Landmark for its exemplary military architecture. Because the battery is now open to the public, the Parks Department will apply for National Landmark status for the site. The 49.5-acre property was turned over to the Parks Department by the National Parks Service in 2004. Earlier in 2005, it was opened to the public as a park.

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