California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts
Fort Barry
by Mr. Gordon Chappell
Regional Historian, Pacific West Region
National Park Service
Fort Barry circa 1918. Photo courtesy National Park Service
At the end of the 19th Century, when modem artillery of greatly increased range and calibers came into use, the line of defenses that protected San Francisco Bay shifted westward to a line stretching from Point Bonita to Point Lobos. North of the Golden Gate at Point Bonita, this would require a whole new series of gun emplacements on the Marin Headlands. It would represent an attempt to match the size and range of the heaviest guns that could be carried on an enemy warship, and by locating batteries on the westernmost points of land north and south of the strait and west of San Francisco Bay, keep enemy warships beyond a range from which they could shell the city and its harbor.
But it was not until after the beginning of the 20th Century that, spurred by the recent Spanish-American War of 1898, army engineers actually began construction of large gun emplacements north of the Golden Gate at new locations to the west, toward the ocean. This land was technically the western end of Fort Baker, which in 1897 had replaced the Lime Point Military Reservation of 1850, but it was known unofficially at first as the Point Bonita Military Reservation. Here, the Corps of Engineers constructed, more or less concurrently, five batteries:

BATTERY MENDELL - First of the batteries to be built in Fort Barry, it was commenced in July 1901 and mounted two 12-inch breech-loading rifles, Model 1895, on Buffington-Crozier "disappearing" carriages Model 1897. Colonel George Mendell, the engineer officer who had supervised construction of post-Civil War and early Endicott-type batteries around San Francisco Bay, had died in San Francisco in 1902, and on November 22, 1902, the new Marin County battery was named for him.

BATTERY ALEXANDER - Commenced in October 1901, this eight-mortar battery, smallest mortar battery in the defenses of San Francisco, was armed with breech-loading 12-inch mortars, all Model 1890 mounted on model 1896 Mark I carriages. The battery was named on November 22, 1902 in honor of Colonel Barton S. Alexander of the Corps of Engineers, an associate of Colonel Mendell's and the senior engineer on the Pacific Coast, who had died in 1878.

BATTERY EDWIN GUTHRIE - This battery of four six-inch rapid-fire guns, Model 1900, mounted on barbette carriages, Model 1900. The emplacement was named on December 27, 1904 in honor of Captain Edwin Guthrie, 15th Infantry, who died in the Mexican War in 1847.

BATTERY SAMUEL RATHBONE - The second six inch barbette battery, this one contained Model 1900 weapons, on Model 1900 barbette carriages. The battery was named on December 27, 1904 in honor of a lieutenant of artillery killed in action in Canada in the War of 1812.

BATTERY PATRICK O'RORKE - It was built to mount four 15-pounder, 3 inch guns on Model 1903 pedestal mounts. It was not armed until 1909. The battery was nevertheless named on December 27, 1904 in honor of Colonel Patrick Henry O'Rorke, killed at Gettysburg during the Civil War in July 1863.


All of the above batteries were transferred to the Coast Artillery Corps on June 8, 1905.
Meanwhile, the beginning of this construction program with Battery Mendell in 1901 logically would require subsequent construction of a garrison to house the men who manned the guns. The first detachment of an officer and 23 enlisted men from Fort Baker, which arrived at the Point Bonita batteries in July 1903, was forced to live in the magazines of Batteries Mendell and Alexander. Subsequently, the artillery detachment occupied several successive temporary camps. Finally on July 16, 1904, the Secretary of War authorized construction of a permanent post for two companies of the Coast Artillery Corps on December 27, 1904, the War Department designated the new post "Fort Barry" in honor of Brigadier General William F. Barry, a colonel of the 2nd Artillery who had died in 1879.
The garrison structures comprised basically two small complexes of buildings. The main complex was ‘aligned on the sloping hillside around a small dead end valley or ravine, the lower reaches of which accommodated a sloping Parade Ground. The structures were laid out like a backward "J" with the top of the letter to the west . Around the comer of the hillside southwest of this complex were three more buildings which constituted the quartermaster/commissary/ordnance complex.
In January 1905 the Quartermaster Department invited bids for construction of the twenty-one garrison buildings, all frame except the corrugated iron oil house. The buildings were finished in the spring of 1907, but the first occupants, the 161st Company of the Coast Artillery Corps, did not move in until February 12, 1908. The buildings of the new post included duplex officers' and noncommissioned officers' quarters, a twelve-bed hospital, two three-story barracks containing mess halls and kitchens, a guardhouse, a headquarters, and (around the point of the hill to the southwest) a complex of warehouses, stables, firehouse and other support buildings.
In 1922, Battery Guthrie was divided for better management of the weapons, and the two guns on the left flank were named on March 22 for Hamilton A. Smith, a West Point graduate killed in action at Soissons, France, during World War I in 1918. At the same time, Battery Rathbone was similarly divided, its left flank guns being named for James F. McIndoe, an engineer officer who served in France as a brigadier general, where he died in 1918.
As the years passed, other structures were added to Fort Barry, notably a Departmental Rifle Range begun in 1904, the flagpole and a gymnasium and post exchange erected in 1909, Battery Elmer J. Wallace, constructed in 1917 for two long-range 12-inch guns each with a 360-degree field of fire (and later casemated in 1943, a balloon hangar built in 1921which is the last of three such structures in the defenses of San Francisco to survive, used today as a stable, and Battery Construction No. 129 on the high summit to the east, completed in 1943 to contain two 16-inch guns, but never armed or named.
Fort Barry was without a permanent garrison from 1922 to 1941, but was regarrisoned at the beginning of World War Il when it saw a tremendous increase in military activity. There were also many World War II "temporary" structures in Fort Barry, most of them now gone, and its final defense construction was a Nike missile site, SF-88, with its three component complexes: 88A. administrative; 88C, the control site on top of Wolf Ridge in Fort Cronkhite which included the radar equipment; and 88L, the launching site.
Following the closure of the Nike missile site in 1974, the fort's last active military use was as a housing area for Army personnel stationed at the
Presidio of San Francisco. Today the old cantonment area serves the same purpose for National Park Service personnel and 'park partner' groups such as the Marin Center for the Arts and Headlands' Institute.

Fort Barry, Circa 1910
Images courtesy of Mr. Bob Ebbeskotte
Medical personnel at Fort Barry, circa 1910
161st Company, Coast Artillery Corps, circa 1910
Fort Barry Today

  Enlsited Barracks. The buildings now house the Marin Center for the Arts. October 2000

 Parade Ground and former Officers Quarters

 Former post gymnasium (foreground) and World War II era chapel. The chapel now serves as the National Park Service Visitors Center. October 2000.


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