Fort Sumter Tour


The city of Charleston is filled with important buildings and monuments that date as far back as before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. For a city that has survived the Revolutionary War and the Civil War it is impressive how many of these structures contributed to the protection of the city and are still intact. One of the most notable of these structures is Fort Sumter.

On Friday May 17, the Architecture & Art History Club (AAHC) took a tour of Fort Sumter, located in the Charleston harbor in between Morris and Sullivan Islands. Rick Dorrance, Chief of Resource Management and a materials specialist, was kind enough to be our tour guide during our trip to Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter was built in 1861, making it 183 years old. It has five-foot masonry heavy walls that are roughly 50 feet above the water. Four sides of the pentagon shaped fort were designed for three tiers of guns. The gorge held the officer’s quarters and the enlisted men’s barracks were parallel to the gunrooms. A sally port was in the center of the gorge, opening onto a wharf.

The only visible wall left after the Civil War was the left flank, left face, and right face. The right wall and the gorge wall had taken most of the Federal bombardments and had been reduced to mounds of earth, sand, and debris. There were efforts to construct what was left of Fort Sumter into a military installation. The sally port was moved to the left flank with an addition of a pediment structure above the door, and storage magazines and cisterns were added. The fort was used lightly during the Spanish-American War, and used as gun posts during the both World Wars. It was not visited again until excavation began in the 1970’s.

The assurance that Fort Sumter will be around for future generations is not certain due to the tides, severe weather that often hits the harbor, time itself, and tourism. Thankfully a new structural health monitoring system has been installed that allows professionals to precisely calculate the movement of the fort. This will drastically improve the overall preservation of the fort, but there are also specific preservation actions that will be set in place within the next year. After the excavation of the site in the 1970’s cannons that had become obsolete due to new technology were left on the fort. These historic cannons are deteriorating due to rust from the weather. To make sure that these canons are around for future generations a professional has been brought in to assess the cannons and create a treatment and preservation plan.

A special thanks to Rick Dorrance for being such a great tour guide and allowing us to ask so many questions. We had a wonderful time and the AAHC looks forward to future trips.

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