A treasure awaits on Hunnewell Point at the bottom of the Phippsburg peninsula. But Mainers and tourists often discover it by chance, not because they’re hunting for gems like Fort Popham State Historic Site.
Perched 16 miles below Bath at the end of twisty Route 209, the free historic site is a mile and a half down the road from popular Popham Beach State Park (fee). Folks often head to the fort after hitting the beach—or are directed there when its parking lot fills early on steamy summer days, which is not a rare occurrence. They’re often stunned to discover a medieval-looking granite edifice in the seaside hamlet also known as Popham Beach.
Like a stone choker ready to be clasped, the semi-circular, two-story fort hugs the water on a spot of land jutting into the sea at the mouth of the Kennebec River and anchors the eastern end of three-mile Popham Beach. Private beachfront property separates the fort from the park, which is bordered on the southwest by the widening Morse River. Visitors enjoy Atlantic views that sweep across upper Casco Bay and walk to Fox Island from the wide, long sand beach at low tide.
Sequin Island Light Station can be seen from the park and the fort, which is one of several “Third System” federal forts along Maine’s coast. These fortifications were constructed or upgraded from after the War of 1812 until a few years after the Civil War. Fort Popham was begun in 1861 but never completed: construction halted in 1869. The curtain wall at the entrance, lower than the fort’s main section, attests to that.
Cyrus Longley of Bath painted watercolors of the fort’s construction while serving here during the Civil War. The recently restored panel works are on display at the seasonal Phippsburg Historical Society Museum (phippsburghistorical.com), off Route 209 in Phippsburg town center. Visitors can also peruse binders with fort information.
Fort Popham has upper and lower galleries and striking granite spiral staircases. Visitors can gaze at the sea through gun ports on the ocean side. Arches overlook and line the parade ground; views from this side extend across Atkins Bay. “Kids love to run around and explore all the ins and outs and dark corners,” said Sean Vaillancourt, park and historic site manager.
Informational placards explain things like why the fort is here and what type of cannons were emplaced (sorry, none remain—but one brought here for the Spanish-American War is near a pay parking lot in the village). Outside the fort proper, there are picnic tables about and a wheelchair-accessible shore path. No battles were waged at Fort Popham. Rudimentary fortifications were on the same small, round piece of land during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
Overlooking Fort Popham, Fort Baldwin State Historic Site is nearby on Atkins Bay. Built in the early 1900s and expanded during World War II, it saw service during both World Wars, as did Fort Popham. No interpretive panels yet at Fort Baldwin, but visitors climb the well-preserved observation tower, scramble on concrete ruins, hike the 1.25-mile trail and soak up what Vaillancourt describes as an “untouched feel.”
Fort Baldwin is next to, and shares parking with, yet another free historic fort site: Fort Saint George, home of the Popham Colony. Founded in August 1607—a few months after Jamestown—it lasted about a year, which is why you may have never heard of it. Marked with flags, the spot is now a seaside field with interpretive panels and a historic marker. These neighboring sites are on Fort Baldwin Road, off Route 209 between the park and the village (no facilities; also managed with the park).
Mary Ruoff is a freelance writer in Belfast and a contributor to Fodor’s “New England” travel guide.

If you go…

Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, maine.gov/dacf/parks

Route 209, Phippsburg

(207) 389-1335 (also for Fort Baldwin/Fort Saint George and Popham Beach State Park; parking and tides hotline, (207) 389-9125).

Hours and Season
9 a.m.–sunset mid-April–Oct. 30 (other months no staff or facilities)



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