A New Use Supersedes The Old

The picture above, taken around 1906, is titled “Fort Lafayette at sunset, Brooklyn, N.Y.” The problem with that is that I’ve never heard of Fort Lafayette and I’m pretty familiar with the nineteenth-century forts scattered around New York harbor. A fast trip to Wikipedia explained that: the fort, constructed between 1815 and 1822, was demolished in 1960.

The first group of forts constructed in the harbor, including Castle Clinton and Castle Williams, were too close to Manhattan to be militarily meaningful: by the time theoretical enemy ships were close enough for the forts to be of use, those ships would be close enough to fire on the city. The second generation of forts was built further out, guarding the entrances to the harbor to the south and at the East River’s connection to the Long Island Sound. One of them was Fort Lafayette, on a small island (Hendrick’s Reef) at the Narrows, the natural choke point between the lower bay and the harbor. It was effectively superseded by Fort Hamilton, on the Brooklyn mainland nearby, built 1825-1831. (Fort Hamilton then gave its name to the neighborhood that grew up nearby several decades later.)

Most of the forts around New York were abandoned for defensive use but were reused in other ways. Lafayette, like Williams, was used for a while as a military prison. But its location doomed it. Here’s a picture of the Verrazano-Narrow Bridge, taken from Brooklyn:

See the way the Brooklyn tower is located on a small island? You guessed it: Hendrick’s Reef. The island saved the difficulty of building a cofferdam or caisson in the Narrows, once the fort was demolished.

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