Prospect, Maine, a very tiny rural town with a population of 709 as of 2010. Based on that, you might not think it is a tourist destination but it is. It is home to two major attractions – Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory.
We had been to the Bridge and Observatory before on one chilly, slightly damp day, shortly after it opened in 2007 but the weather had kept us from exploring Fort Knox. So when we crossed the bridge on our way from Camden to Trenton we knew that a return visit was in the cards.
Despite our concerns about the 45 minute drive and the potential traffic on the day before July 4th, off we went. The Fort and Observatory are on the west end of the bridge and they share the same State Park entrance gate and fees, so follow the signs to Fort Knox. Fees and information about Fort Knox and the Observatory are available in their online brochure. Note that you can enter the Fort at a lower rate than the combined rate for the Observatory and Fort, but there is no price break if you only want to visit the Observatory.
First a few facts about the Bridge….
- It is one of three bridges in the US that utilizes a cradle system that carries the strands within the stays from bridge deck to bridge deck, as a continuous element, eliminating anchorages in the pylons.
- It was designed as an emergency replacement for the Waldo–Hancock Bridge, the “most beautiful steel bridge of 1931”. From conception to completion of the Narrows Bridge, just 42 months elapsed and it was opened to traffic December 30, 2006
- It has a tower height of 447′ compared to the tower height on the Waldo-Hancock Bridge height of 206′
- It has a 2,120-foot-long span with 180 segment units in the span
- It was built with 331 miles of epoxy-coated strand, 31,000 cubic yards of cement and 1,200,000 pounds of steel reinforcing rods
- Total weight in pounds is 126,000,000
- Civil engineers say the $89 million bridge is one of a kind being the first in the U.S. to test carbon composite cables, which are believed to be stronger than steel cables and more resistant to corrosion
- The Observation Tower is 420 feet high
There are three decks in the Observatory offering views in every direction. The one minute elevator ride (it supposedly has the fastest elevator in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) stops on the lowest deck. Stairways off to your right lead up to the other two decks.
Note there is a vertical lift in the Observatory itself for all who are mobility impaired. The fully enclosed 13 x 25 foot observation room offers a 360-degree view of the Penobscot River, the islands, mountains/hills and the nearby local towns. Wow! A perfect day with perfect visibility, extending 100 miles north with views of Mount Katahdin, Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park and Camden Hills. The observatory is fully enclosed in special safety glass, but be aware that there is no heat or air conditioning.
Rob and I were remarking how last time we were here we spent time outside observing a peregrine falcon nesting under the bridge. No place here to do that. We then realized that the bird must have been nesting under the old bridge which at that time was still standing. The old bridge was removed in the 2012-2013 time frame.
Lots of interesting facts as well as the history of the fort are provided on the map obtained at the entrance gate.
Here are a few factoids abut the Fort….
- It was built between 1844 and 1869 but never completely finished.
- Nearly one million dollars was spent to build the fort.
- It was the first and largest granite fort (instead of wood) built in Maine and is one of the best preserved fortifications on the New England seacoast (we agree).
- The Fort was named for Major General Henry Knox, America’s first Secretary of War, who was born in Boston but retired to Thomaston, Maine in 1796. Fort Knox in Kentucky is also named after him.
- The granite was quarried five miles upriver from Mount Waldo in Frankfort.
- Two engineers, Ingalls Stevens and Thomas Casey were in charge of building the Fort. Casey later became a member of the Army Corps of Engineers and is best remembered for his work on the Washington Monument.
- Two batteries faced the river, each equipped with a furnace to heat cannonballs hot enough that they could set wooden ships on fire if the ball lodged in the vessel. These furnaces became obsolete with the changeover from wooden ships to ironclads.
- The fort’s two levels and four batteries contain mounts for 135 cannons although no more than 74 cannons were brought to the site.
- Fort Knox never saw battle though it was manned during times of war (Civil War and Spanish American War).
- It is now a Maine state historic site and was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark on December 30, 1970.
A very well preserved fort with lots to see and explore! If you are in the area, the Fort and/or the Bridge Observatory are well worth a visit. To fully appreciate the fort allow at least two hours and at least a half hour additional for the Observatory. We took lots of pictures, probably more than what you want to see but here they are anyway.