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Fort Fremont – Lands End, St. Helena Island, South Carolina

Also see: Lands End Light | More SC History, Genealogy Resources

This article and the photos that accompany it were contributed by Barry Gooch, a native of Port Royal in Beaufort County who enjoys studying local history and exploring our state. He is a valuable resource on the backroads and hidden treasures of South Carolina.

History of Ft. Fremont

Located at the southwestern tip of St. Helena Island in Beaufort County, Fort Fremont was constructed in 1899 to defend Port Royal Sound.

Road to Fort Fremont
This old tree stands along the road to Fort Fremont and is a popular landmark for adventurous investigators of the paranormal. If you park on the right side of the road facing the tree, you may see the ghostly Lands End Light. © Barry Gooch
The original site was developed in 1875 and included a wharf extending into Port Royal Sound, as well as a clapboard hospital structure to support the Parris Island Naval Base. At the onset of the Spanish-American war, the wooden hospital was demolished and replaced with a concrete building and the existing fortifications. The first battery (un-named or unknown) was emplaced by 1898. Battery Jessup and Battery Fornance were added in 1899. The hospital section includes a square, two-story colonial revival structure, subsequently incorporated into part of a private residence. Earthen bulwarks protect the harbor side of the masonry buildings that rest on a granite foundation. The roof is designed to collect rainwater for storage in a large cistern. An extensive duct system is used to ventilate the structure.

Battery Fornance
Facing Port Royal Sound (to the right of this photograph), Battery Fornance was armed with two 4.7-inch cannons. The guns were mounted on an elevating platform which would raise the cannons to fire at enemy ships, then lower them behind the protection of the sand and concrete ramparts. © Barry Gooch
The design, known as "Endicott Batteries" after William C. Endicott, Secretary of War under Grover Cleveland, was constructed as part of a modern coastal defense system and accommodated disappearing guns of 8, 10, 12, and 16 inch diameters, and 10 and 12 inch mortars. Fort Fremont mounted 10" disappearing guns and a rapid-fire battery.

At its peak, the fort covered 70 acres and included a hospital, barracks, stables, guardhouses, commissary, and numerous support buildings. Garrisoned by approximately 110 men and officers of the 116th Coast Artillery, the fort was never involved in military action and the batteries were decommissioned in 1901. Only two batteries and the hospital building remain.

Possibly an Oil Bunker
This concrete structure may have been the oil bunker for the old fort. The hospital is located to the left of the photograph and is now part of a private residence. © Barry Gooch
Named after Savannah native General Charles C. Fremont (one of four major generals appointed by Abraham Lincoln), Fremont was a leading figure in wresting California from Mexico. He became wealthy during the California Gold Rush, later becoming a Senator from that State. In 1856, the Georgian was the first Republican presidential nominee (losing to James Buchanan) and his abolitionist views first raised the specter of Southern secession from the Union if elected. He died in New York City on July 13, 1890, nine years before the fort that bears his name was completed.

In 1910, violence erupted between men of the 116th and local Blacks over the purchase of illegal whiskey. There were several brawls and gunfights, and one fight resulted in the death of Private Frank Quigley. Quigley, popular in the Beaufort social circle because of his involvement with a local baseball team, is rumored to be the source of the ghostly "Lands End Light," occasionally seen drifting down the deserted road leading to Fort Fremont.

Battery Jesup
Obsolete by the time it was completed, the hardened fortifications of Fort Fremont were proven to be of little protection against modern artillery. Overgrown by the maritime forest, Battery Jesup once mounted two 10-inch cannons. Today, Fort Fremont stands in mute testimony to the bygone era of coastal fortifications. © Barry Gooch
Fort Fremont was sold at public auction in 1930 and the site passed into private ownership. Now overgrown with vegetation, the impressive structure is partially hidden by a maritime forest. Threatened with vandalism and erosion caused by four-wheelers, fourteen acres of the site were recently purchased by Beaufort County. It is slated to be preserved as a historic site and public park. It was listed in the National Register on May 26, 1989.

Ft. Fremont References and Resources


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