Revolutionary find: Remains of 'rebel' fort off town's shore
Bill Lee knows boats. He has not only sailed them, he built them. Bill Lee also knows Fairfield's history. He was the town's historian for years, often putting his profession as an artist to work in re-creating what the town looked like in its formative years.
And he has been certain that a fort once stood in Black Rock Harbor in front of what is now known as St. Mary's by the Sea in Bridgeport, based on maps created in 1779 by the British who were planning their invasion. At that time, Black Rock was not a Bridgeport neighborhood as it is now, but was part of Fairfield.
Lee's theory about the fort took a big leap forward recently when his friend, aviator and photographer Morgan Kaolian, snapped some aerial shots of the point at dead-low tide.
There, in the photographs, is the outline of what appears to be the same fort depicted in a map by for a Lt. Lawru of the British Army on July 7, 1779. Labeled "Rebel Fort" on the map, the shape of the fort mirrors that which appears in Kaolian's photographs.
"For many years there have been questioning opinions regarding the exact location of this historic Revolutionary War fort in Fairfield," Lee said. But these new photographs, he said, are "convincingly revealing the foundation footprint of this historic fort."
When flying for radio station WICC to report on the region's traffic for about 25 years, Kaolian said he used to comment on the fort and that it could be seen at low tide off St. Mary's. "But there were comments that, `No, it's not a fort, you need to get your history right,' " he said he heard from listeners.
Kaolian decided he to try to get positive identification of the sighting. "One afternoon when the tide was low and the sun showed proper light, I took several aerial photos with my trusty Nikon. We had high resolution. You could count the stone blocks that once was a fort with cannons and the military," he said.
Excited about the images, he had some 20-by-30-inch posters printed, and rushed them over to Lee. "Bill was excited and concurred with me that, no question about it, these photos will prove the remnants of a real fort that saved the Black Rock Harbor from the British gunships who were burning all they could in Fairfield."
Initially, Lee said, the fort's architecture appeared to be "little more than an extended portion" of the Grover Hill beach area's south shore.
Lee has a hard time containing his excitement as he talks about the fort, which he said had four cannons with a range of 1,000 yards to prevent the British from invading the harbor.
A furnace at the fort was used to heat the shot, so when it hit ships' sails, the sails and the vessels ignited.
The fort, he said, forced the British to abandon their original landing area and saved the shipyards in Black Rock from destruction.
While secure in his contention that this foundation is the former fort, Lee said he wants to see the ruins officially proven or disproved by national, state and local authorities as the coastal artillery fort known to have existed in the area. He would also like a preservation policy enacted to protect the site and a descriptive plaque erected in the nearby public walkway.
Conservation Director Thomas Steinke has visited the site at low tide.
"You can see the outlines at low tide," Steinke said, and comparing the present-day site to early maps, there is a strong likelihood that it is the foundation of the fort. "No question about it," he said.
Unfortunately, Steinke said, there's been so much coastal erosion at the point by St. Mary's by the Sea that it is unlikely that any other evidence such as cannonballs can be found. "That would have been washed away," he said.