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The Many Re-Purposes of Old Fort Totten

A brief look back in time at the evolution of one of northeast Queens' nicest parks.

There are over 67 designated landmarks in Queens alone.

Still, perhaps no landmark in northeast Queens is better known among the locals than Fort Totten.

Even so, few visitors to this preserved Civil War fort ever actually take the time to learn about its unique history of constant recommissioning. 

Fortunately Patch is here to help walk through the many evolutions of Old Fort Totten in this week's installment Remembered Places.

Initially known as Fort Willets—named for Willet's Point, which was the swath of land the fort was built upon—Fort Totten was originally designed in 1857 by then-Captain Robert E. Lee of the Union Army, to protect the East River approach to New York Harbor.

Alongside its sister encampment Fort Schuyler, which lay just across the sound in Throgs Neck, Fort Willets was to guard the back door of the Federalist Capital in New York City.

That was until rapid advances in rifling technology rendered Lee's fortification design obsolete.

Accordingly, construction of Fort Willets was halted and the facilities on campus were recommissioned to the position of casualty support during the final year of Civil War.

And so began the fort's long history of constant repurposing.

Fort Totten served many purposes in the first hundred years of its existence: It was a coastal fortress, war hospital, artillery school, submarine defense facility, the prototype for the U.S. Anti-aircraft installation, and the First Region ARADCOM used for the NIKE Missile Defense Systems.

Fort Totten was decommissioned in 1974, left abandoned for years, and today many of the historic buildings on campus remain dilapidated or unused.

Still, the fort remains a vibrant 60 plus acres of public park, which houses a U.S. Army Reserve post, police and fire training facility as well as a sports and recreation compound for the surrounding area.

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