Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island is officially named on June 12, 1903.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 1/27/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9699

On June 12, 1903, Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island is officially named. The fort is a Unites States Army coastal defense post constructed to protect the Bremerton naval shipyard. It will be an active installation until the 1920s. It will close in 1928, and become a summer camp for needy boys and girls. In 1938 the navy will take it over as a recreational camp for sailors. In 1939 the post will become a secret navy listening post (Station S) for intercepting Japan's military messages, and will also help track enemy shipping.  In addition, a Naval Reserve Radio School will operate there from 1940 to 1953. In 1953 the navy will close activities at Fort Ward, and in 1960 the waterfront area will become Fort Ward State Park. In 1971 Battle Point Station will close and subsequently become Battle Point Park.

Guns at Beans Point 

On February 1, 1900, construction began on facilities to protect the Bremerton naval shipyard. Coast artillery experts planned five gun batteries, along with Puget Sound minefields, including a gun installation at Beans Point, Bainbridge Island (also known as Restoration Point). This installation was officially named Fort Ward on June 12, 1903, in honor of Brigadier General George H. Ward (1826-1863), 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. General Ward died on July 2, 1863, from wounds suffered in the Civil War battle at Gettysburg. 

Fort Ward's five named gun batteries honored soldiers who had served with valor. Battery Nash, the main battery, had the largest coastal defense artillery, three eight-inch guns. This battery name honored Brigadier General Francis Nash (1742-1777), who was mortally wounded in the Battle of Germantown during the War for Independence. Tennessee named a city after him, but he had no connection to Bainbridge Island or Washington state. The remaining batteries had smaller rapid fire guns to defend minefields. Battery Warner, named to honor Captain William Warner (d. 1849), killed by Indians while surveying in California, had two five-inch guns.  Battery Vinton, named to honor Major John Vinton (1801-1847), killed at Vera Cruz, Mexico, contained two three-inch guns. Major Thomas T. Thornburgh (1843-1879) had a four three-inch gun battery named to honor his valor in the Indian Wars. He was killed in action at Milk River, Colorado.  A Battery Mitchell did not receive weapons.

Fort Ward included 24 buildings, which served as officer and NCO housing, barracks, administration, a guardhouse, bakery, quartermaster and commissary building, mine facilities, shops, and warehouses. Interestingly, brick construction dominated, despite the abundant lumber available. The bricks were obtained from nearby sources, making the construction cost effective. Reinforced concrete was used to build the gun batteries, which were completed in 1903. Three years later, shipping lanes in Puget Sound were mined. During World War I, the fort had a torpedo test area. A minefield with beer barrels loaded with dynamite was considered but not installed. 

By the 1920s, Fort Ward was largely inactive. Gun batteries were removed in 1920, and the fort officially closed on March 12, 1928. The two soldiers who had remained to guard the abandoned post were removed in 1933, emptying the place.

Fort Ward Summer Camps

In the summer of 1935 the American Legion joint child welfare committee, Washington Department, organized summer camps for boys and girls. The summer camps at Fort Ward were for children on the King County relief rolls. They would be the first of their kind in the nation. The American Legion provided camp furnishing and supplies. The 10 weeks of camp, would be divided into five weeks each for boys and girls. Five hundred children, selected by King County Relief, would attend the camp.

The Washington Emergency Relief Administration provided the food.  Camp recreation directors came from local universities and the state Department of Health assigned a doctor and three nurses. Every child received a physical before departing for camp.  The camp served as part of a wellness program for needy children. Children received health care plus recreational time in the outdoors.   

In July 1937, sailors off the battleship USS Arizona spent recreation time at the old fort. A year later, the U.S. Navy took it over as a recreation camp offering personnel relaxing time in a country setting. Surrounded by farms and a peaceful natural setting, Fort Ward provided welcome relief from shipboard duty.   

Navy Listening Post

In September 1939 the navy opened a listening post at Fort Ward called Communications Support Activities (COMSUPACT). Rhombic antennas were erected on the parade grounds. In 1940, the facility was renamed Station S, Naval Security Group Activities (NSGA) and eavesdropped on the Tokyo-to-San Francisco radio net, recording Japanese diplomatic messages sent in Japanese Morse code. 

During World War II, the post also tracked enemy vessels through radio direction finding (RDF). Using radio signals acquired by several listening stations, RDF could identify a ship’s location. Bainbridge operated in the West Coast High Frequency Direction Net as the Net Control and Plotting Center, compiling its own and other RDF stations’ data to keep a log of Japanese ship locations. The data was then sent to West Coast naval commands and the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. 

After the war the listening post turned its attention to Korea and the Soviet Union.

Fort Ward State Park

In 1958 the United States Navy withdrew from Bainbridge Island. In 1959 the General Services Administration disposed of the land and buildings. In 1960, 137 acres on the water became Fort Ward State Park.

Battle Point station closed in 1971, and this land was turned over to the Bainbridge Park District. It became Battle Point Park.

In 1978 the Fort Ward site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Sources: Ivan W. Lee Jr., The Story of the Little Fort at Beans Point (Bainbridge Island: private published, 1994), available at Northwest Reference Collection, Bremerton Public Library, and at Bainbridge Public Library; David Kahn, The Code Breakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communications from Ancient Times to the Internet (New York: Scribner, 1996); “Fort Ward, Washington,” The Coast Defense Study Group, accessed on September 1, 2010 (http://www.cdsg.org/); David Hansen, “This Is Ft. Ward, Wash. Today,” Headquarters Heliogram, Council on America’s Military Past, Issue 101, p. 8; “Fort Ward Work Completed,” The Seattle Daily Times, October 27, 1903, p. 4; “Summer Camp To Be Dedicated At Fort Ward,” The Seattle Daily Times, June 30, 1935, p. 40; “Radio School Opens Monday,” The Seattle Times, October 25, 1940, p. 4; Charles Aweeka, “800-foot Bainbridge Tower Due to Go Down into History,” The Seattle Daily Times, April 23, 1972, p. 29.

Related Topics:   Islands | War & Peace

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