The Devil’s Playground

Rhode Island’s Legendary Fort Wetherill

By Sean and Amanda

While our home state of Connecticut is known amongst the urban explorer community for its many abandoned hospitals and insane asylums, the neighboring state of Rhode Island is known for something different. Due to its coastal proximity and value, the Ocean State is home to several abandoned seaside fortresses. Most of these forts date back to the early colonial days of America, with British, French, and Colonial forces occupying them at one time or another throughout the pages of history. Sadly, over the years the uses for these coastal protectors has dwindled. Many of the former forts and artillery batteries are now abandoned. Now, with no watchmen watching over these former watchtowers, they have become plagued by vandals, graffiti artists, and delinquents. It is these lawless individuals have made these places into their very own playground for destruction.

Perhaps the most well-known of these former coastal protectors is Fort Wetherill. Located in the town of Jamestown, Rhode Island, Fort Wetherill is a mere stone’s throw away from the neighboring town of Newport. The history of the site dates back to the early 18th century. To protect the Narragansett Bay area, Fort Dumpling was built by British forces. After the expulsion, Fort Wetherill was constructed in its place by the American military a mere hundred years later in 1899. As a protector for the wealthy city of Newport and the New England mainland, Fort Wetherill proved to be very active during both World Wars as an artillery placement and troop station. Another primary task of the fort was to oversee the minefields erected during World War II. But following the “War to end all Wars,” Fort Wetherill was decommissioned in 1946. It was then left abandoned for many years.

Fortunately, the grounds were reacquired by the State of Rhode Island in the year of 1972. Due to its large granite cliffs and excellent view of the ocean, the grounds were commissioned as a state park. It is currently enjoyed today by many for sailing, fishing, and other water sports. The fortress, however, still stands. The state did just enough to make the grounds not dangerous, by removing all hazardous materials and sealing off the upper and lower tunnel networks. By not demolishing the fort, the state left it at the mercy of the elements and the more destructive visitors the park. The tunnels are now filled with trash. The walls are coated with graffiti. And instead of soldiers, the fortress is garrisoned only by drunken teenagers. We decided to visit this former fort on a gloomy fall day.

Finding Fort Wetherill is easy. Due to its status as a national park, all you have to do is google it. There is a nice little parking lot at the front of the park. They even have onsite bathrooms. Apparently the park is also very popular for dog walkers, as we saw plenty. The fort is a short walk from the parking lot. Through the thick vegetation blocks it from view at some points, its large multicolored hull eventually looms out through the trees. It is truly a site to see. There are hardly any spots left on the fort that have not been covered with some sort of graffiti. Coming down the path initially, you are launched right into the main courtyard.  There is a small staircase leading off toward the ocean, and on either side are the old watchtowers and tunnel networks.

There are old fences scattered all over the fort, not that they can do much good. They are quite easy to hop right over. Following the old fence from the courtyard, we traveled along the fort’s outer wall. Though it may look small from the initial approach, Fort Wetherill is anything but. Most it, however, is hidden from sight by the wild trees and vegetation. At the farthest point, we found a small watchtower with an excellent view of the Narragansett Bay. Each section of the fort has their own tunnels. None of them are connected. When walking down them into the darkness, each one will have a large open room and then exit out a different way. Some even have little barred windows overlooking the outside. The inside of each tunnel is coated wall to wall with graffiti, and trash is everywhere.

Past the first courtyard, there are a few more towards the western side of the fort. Each one is just as graffiti covered as the first. This colorful art ranges from jokes, hate speech, drawings, and the occasional philosophical saying. For all you “Walking Dead” fans out there, we even found a few signs pointing to “Terminus.” Just like the show, they read “Sanctuary for all.” Fortunately, we didn’t find any cannibalistic community led by a former “Greek” star. While some of the graffiti is really offensive and at times dumb, it does give the former fortress an almost look of urban beauty. All of the wild colors and mismatched drawings give the fort a very unique aura. Unfortunately, any sense of beauty that may be found on the outside is ruined by the darkness of the inside.

The tunnels of Fort Wetherill are the Wild West. As made evident, there are no rules here. We found a small room deep in one of the tunnels that was completely full of bottles and beer cans. We also encountered a lot of unsavory characters down there. A few teens were smoking pot. There were others that were having sex. And even more were smashing the walls with sledge hammers. All just for fun. While we were all kids once, it is a shame to see this incredible site systematically destroyed by these people. And unfortunately, nothing can be done about it. Fort Wetherill has been left behind, and while its walls are sturdy, who knows how long this place has left. Since it is legal to visit, we encourage you to check out Fort Wetherill. However, we do urge you to be respectful. It really is a place of urban beauty, and we hope that you get to experience it. For it will not be long before Fort Wetherill becomes more than just The Devil’s Playground, and descends deeper into darkness.

Comments
  1. Teneka cooke says:

    Hey so was wondering I’d this park is still up and alive. I would like to go sight seeing over there and see some awesome art!

    Like

  2. Ryan says:

    Just visited fort wetherill yesterday. It’s such an amazing piece of history. It’s just a shame that people are so disrespectful and covered the whole place with trash and graffiti. I defiantly recommend people to go check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

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