The history of Fort Mott
The Finn’s Point Reservation was purchased by the United States Government in the late 1830s. Originally called “The Battery at Finn’s Point”, the proposed fortification was one of a three-fort plan to protect growing industries and shipping along the Delaware River. Plans for Finn’s Point specified eleven gun emplacements with twenty guns and a mortar battery with six emplacements. With Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in operation since the early 1820s, and the nation involved in the Civil War, the construction of the Battery at Finn’s Point was delayed until 1872. At that time, only two gun emplacements and five magazines in the mortar battery were completed before construction was halted due to budgetary constraints.
With advancements in military technology made during and after the Civil War, the United States’ defenses were dangerously inadequate. In 1885, President Grover Cleveland, at the request of Congress, appointed the Endicott board, named after its chairman William Endicott, the Secretary of War. The board, which consisted of both military men and private citizens, studied the existing coastal defenses and developed a coastal defense plan for the United States. This plan determined where defenses should be built or improved, the order in which the work would proceed, the quantity and type of guns that would be placed at each fort, and other considerations.
The main defensive concept of the Delaware River was the dispersion of armaments into three separate fortifications. The original plan for the Battery at Finn’s Point was abandoned and construction of new fortifications began in 1896 in anticipation of war with Spain, the Spanish – American War. This fortification was officially renamed Fort Mott on December 16, 1897 to honor Major General Gershom Mott (April 7, 1822 – November 29, 1884). Mott, a native of Bordentown, New Jersey, was a decorated veteran of the Mexican – American and Civil Wars. Fort Delaware was upgraded and construction of Fort DuPont began during this same time period.
At Fort Mott, large caliber weapons, three 10-inch and three 12-inch guns, were installed on disappearing carriages. The gun emplacements were located behind a 750-foot long and 35-foot thick concrete and earthen embankment, which was sloped to form the “parapet” wall. These guns had an effective range of seven to eight miles and shot projectiles that weighed 617 and 1,000 pounds respectively. Beneath the six gun platforms were powder and shell magazines, ammunition hoists, a telecommunications system, and an electric generating station. Two batteries, each with 5-inch rapid fire guns, and one battery with two 3-inch rapid fire guns were also part of the defenses, designed to counter fast moving smaller warships which might evade the large caliber guns. They also protected the fort from potential land attack. Fort Mott was completely a modern installation for its time period.
Two steel control towers were later built to improve aiming of the guns. Observers stationed in the towers, in conjunction with plotting room personnel, directed the gunfire of the 10-inch and 12-inch guns. The tower near the river on the northern end of the emplacement was built in 1902 and was used to aim the 12-inch guns of Battery Arnold. The tower near the park office was built in 1903 to help aim the 10-inch guns of Battery Harker.
Behind the main emplacement are the parados and the moat. Parados is Spanish for rear door. These provided the rear defenses for the fort. The parados was constructed using the fill from the moat. Landscaping around the military reservation helped camouflage Fort Mott from attack by potential enemy ships.
Fort Mott was a self-contained military community. The post had over 30 buildings, including two large barracks, non-commissioned and officer’s housing, a hospital, a post exchange, a library, a guard house, a stable, YMCA and a school for the soldiers’ children. The Delaware River was the main transportation infrastructure for Fort Mott; munitions, supplies, and construction materials arrived at the fort by barge.
With the construction of Fort Salisbury near Milford, Delaware shortly before World War I, Fort Mott, Fort Delaware, and Fort DuPont became obsolete. The three forts remained active defense installations until after World War II, when they were phased out. Troops were regularly stationed at Fort Mott from 1897 to 1922. The federal government maintained a caretaking detachment at the fort from 1922 to 1943. During this time, Fort Mott’s guns were dismantled and sent to various locations.
Fort Mott was declared “surplus property” in 1943. Finn’s Point National Cemetery (dedicated a National Cemetery on October 3, 1873 because of the Confederate prisoners of war buried there) was separated from Fort Mott at that time. In 1947, the State of New Jersey purchased Fort Mott, as a historic site, from the federal government. On June 24, 1951 it opened to the public as Fort Mott State Park.