East Fort Armistead Park

E: Fort Armistead Park

By Mercedes Lopez (spring 2014)

Fort Armistead Park is located southwest of the Key Bridge at Hawkins Point. Intended for protection of Baltimore Harbor, the fort was built in 1896 as part of the Endicott Board’s $127 million coastal defense project. The Board of Fortification was a joint army, navy, and civilian program from 1890-1910 headed by Secretary of War William C. Endicott that introduced a massive construction plan to modernize the U.S. harbor and coastline resistances, including the installation of large caliber artillery and reinforced concrete barriers. These were not fortresses, but open-top concrete emplacements, though the project was largely interrupted by U.S. entry into World War I. Fort Armistead never saw battle and was completely dismantled by June 1920. The space was abandoned in 1923 and claimed by the City of Baltimore in 1928. During World War II, the fort was used as a Navy ammunition dump and returned to the City in 1947.

The 1960s witnessed the fort merge with wilderness as the city neglected even general maintenance. Adventurous types enjoy explored underground tunnels that lead to Fort Carroll, a nearby island owned privately by a local lawyer, C. William Struever, since 1958. Locals recall fishing and swimming in the area, community Easter egg hunts for children, and exploring the underground tunnels, an attraction for adventurous teen groups. Residents have initiated efforts to clean the fort throughout the decades and build a restaurant or other tourist attraction that could maintain aesthetic and historical value, rather than just serve commercial ambitions. From 1999-2012, Fort Armistead served as the venue for the popular annual Electronic Dance Music festival Starscape though the concert’s rapid growth resulted in seven drug-related issues in its final year. Due to limited access to the fort and distant, but constant and necessary emergency services, the city cancelled the event.

Since the music festival’s cancellation, the Fort has experienced minimal maintenance and is better known for less savory things such as drug dealers, prostitution, needles, rats, and feral cats. The cat colony, which consists of as many as 30 abandoned cats. Baltimore Bureau of Animal Control attempts to humanely trap and remove the cats, but has limited resources that cannot keep up with animal abandonment and good Samaritans that leave water and food in the secluded park. Recently, Fort Armistead has continued to be a popular destination for urban exploration projects that encourage an appreciation for the city’s lost and forgotten urban spaces.