fort tilden
Battery Harris East at Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden is located in the Rockaways in Queens County and is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. It is known for its natural beach and biking trails, tucked away on the Rockaway Peninsula. But less is known of its rich militaristic history during World War I and II and the Cold War, or of the thriving arts and recreational activities in Fort Tilden today. Keep reading to discover the top 10 secrets of Fort Tilden State Park, from its abandoned buildings to its namesake, Samuel J. Tilden.

10. It Was Built as an Emergency Military Base in World War I

Battery Harris at Fort Tilden
Photo by Ben Hagen for Untapped Cities

The Rockaway peninsula’s first temporary system of defense was a blockhouse built during the War of 1812. But emergency war fortifications were not built until over a century later in 1917. During World War I, emergency military fortifications were built on Fort Tilden on the recommendations of the Taft Board, named after Defense Secretary William Taft. The Taft era of defense began in 1907 and was marked by the use of electric lights, motorized ammunition hoists, searchlights, and telephone communications.

In 1917, Congress approved three sites in the United States, including Fort Tilden to receive 16-inch guns, 39 foot long (35 caliber), 284,000 pound guns that were in place on Battery Harris East and Battery Harris West to protect the entrance to New York harbor until the end of World War II. Installed in 1924, these were the “largest guns used in seacoast defenses,” according to the National Park Service.

The majority of the buildings at Fort Tilden, about 90 new ones, were built during the WPA era in the 1930s and early ’40s as World War II approached. In addition, Battery Harris was encased in concrete in 1941. Of note, describes the National Park Service, “there was an overhead trolley system on rails hanging from the new ceilings could transport the heavy artillery shells to the guns.” You can see a full list of the impressive armaments that were installed over the years and where they are today on this website.