Site Lines: Fort Decatur

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By Daniel Forrest

The prominence overlooking the Thames River north of Gales Ferry has carried several names over the years: Dragon Hill, Allyn’s Hill, and Decatur Mountain. That last designation refers to the spot’s role as one of Connecticut’s significant War of 1812 sites.

(top) "Stephen Decatur" by Alonzo Chappel, c. 1863. Library of Congress. (bottom) monument marking the north boundary of Fort Decatur. photo: Mary Donohue, DEEP

(top) “Stephen Decatur” by Alonzo Chappel, c. 1863. Library of Congress. (bottom) monument marking the north boundary of Fort Decatur. photo: Mary Donohue, DEEP

With a peak standing just 270 feet above the river, the landform can barely claim “mountain” status. But its association with Commodore Stephen Decatur is solid. During the 20 months Decatur and two of his frigates were trapped on the Thames River by a British naval blockade (see opposite page for the full story), the commodore had a fort built on Dragon’s Hill. The fort was situated in such a way that Decatur’s troops could defend against attack from either the water—Long Island Sound and New London Harbor—or the land.

Today the land on which the remains of Fort Decatur stand is privately owned and not open to visitors. (The land was more recently part of the Dow Chemical Company complex and has since passed into private hands.) A preliminary survey of the site by the State Historic Preservation Office conducted in the mid-1990s revealed that much of the earthworks of Decatur’s fort are still visible, if fading. Artifacts from the soldiers and sailors that manned the position remain. The untold story of the men who stood vigil at this post remains hidden beneath the ground within the blurred outlines of the former fort.

Daniel Forrest is deputy state historic preservation officer and staff archaeologist with the State Historic Preservation Office of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

Go to related story: The Mysterious Bluelights

Site Lines is supported in part by a grant from the State Historic Preservation Office of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development with funds from the Community Investment Act of the State of Connecticut.

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