Beaufort News

Port Royal officials want more public access to Fort Frederick ruins

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  • Port Royal officials say they want to increase access to the ruins of the historic Fort Frederick which is located on the grounds of the Naval Hospital Beaufort. The ruins sit on S.C. Department of Natural Resources-owned land behind the tightly-secured Naval Hospital Beaufort.
    Port Royal officials say they want to increase access to the ruins of the historic Fort Frederick which is located on the grounds of the Naval Hospital Beaufort. The ruins sit on S.C. Department of Natural Resources-owned land behind the tightly-secured Naval Hospital Beaufort. Jonathan Dyer/The Beaufort Gazette

    Locked behind the gates of Naval Hospital Beaufort is a historic landmark that town of Port Royal officials wish more people could visit.

    But access to the ruins of Fort Frederick -- a 276-year-old British fort built to protect Beaufort from attacks by Indians and by Spaniards from St. Augustine, Fla. -- has been limited since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks led to increased security at the naval hospital.

    The problem came up during a Town Council meeting earlier this month.

    "We have a significant piece of the town's history that is behind a gate," town manager Van Willis said.

    Town officials are eyeing a public boat ramp near the ruins as a possible entry point for cars and boats.

    Car access to the landing is currently blocked by naval hospital gates, Willis said, and the landing doesn't have a floating dock, making it difficult for boats to approach the site.

    Port Royal plans to seek input from Fort Frederick Circle-area residents and the hospital about creating a public access road to the landing, Willis said.

    "We would just like to have access to a very historic part of Port Royal," Willis said. "At the same time, we could reopen a boat landing that was at one point used by many and would be a fantastic resource that's already paid for."

    The three-acre Fort Frederick site is part of the 127 acres of riverfront land the Navy bought in 1945 to build Naval Hospital Beaufort. The fort site was donated to the state as part of the National Park Service's Federal-Lands-to-Parks Program in 1997.

    Visits to the fort can be arranged through the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, according to its website. The hospital also offers one day of public tours each month, hospital public affairs officer Gaynelle Dantzler said.

    In the past year, however, only about 60 people visited the fort, Dantzler said, and that includes a group of 35 teachers recently.

    Boaters also are welcome to approach the state-owned land by water, Dantzler said.

    But Willis and Town Council members say it's not that easy, recalling stories of boaters who attempted to come ashore near the public landing and were met by naval hospital security, who suggested they turn around.

    All that remains of Fort Frederick today are 3-foot-high walls of tabby -- a building material made of a mixture of lime, sand and oyster shells that predates concrete -- marking the southwest bastion. The northeast bastion is submerged 100 feet into the Beaufort River and is visible at low tide, according to DNR.

    Stephen Wise, historian and director of the Parris Island Museum, said it's a shame more people can't see the site, given its rich history.

    "It was the first fortification to guard the town of Beaufort," he said. "It was also one of the largest tabby structures ever built."

    Completed in 1734 and used as a military base for less than two decades, the fort was deserted by 1758 and replaced by Fort Lyttleton, a British tabby fort upriver on Spanish Point. Fort Lyttleton was destroyed in the Revolutionary War, according to DNR.

    Follow staff writer Juliann Vachon at twitter.com/EyeOnPortRoyal.

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