The Blockhouse was one of many fortifications built in New York City during the War of 1812 to protect against British attack. Assuming that the British would attack from the harbor, New Yorkers originally built forts along the waterfront at the southern part of Manhattan. When the British attacked from Long Island instead, New Yorkers realized that they weren’t prepared to defend northern or eastern Manhattan. In response, General Joseph Swift recruited all types of New Yorkers from Columbia College students, to firemen, to butchers, to Free Masons. Hastily, as evident in the Blockhouse’s uneven stonework, they built forts all throughout the city.
By examining the fort, you can see the gunports soldiers used to spot the British. Over 2,000 militiamen were stationed there during the war. One can only imagine how squished the soldiers must have been in those tight quarters!
With the signing of the Treating of Ghent in 1814 signaling the end of the war, the Blockhouse was promptly abandoned. For a while it was used to store ammunition, and functioned as a celebration venue for patriotic holidays in the early 1900’s before it fell into disuse again, a reminder of the city’s colonial days.