Dutch Island, in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, is an uninhabited, irresistible place that for decades has lured local kids across the water to camp or climb around the remains of what was once an impressive, self-sufficient, military fortification named Ft. Greble.
Named for John T. Greble, the first U.S. Military Academy graduate to die in the Civil War, Fort Greble was established as an Endicott fortification in 1897 and was part of the RI Coastal Defense. The fortifications were open-topped reinforced, concrete walls protected by sloped earthworks with large-caliber breech-loading artillery and mortar batteries.
In 1898, troops arrived and the construction of permanent housing and facilities began and continued for five years. Barracks for over 300 enlisted men were constructed as well as significant homes for officers and their families. A 12-bed Post Hospital was built in 1904, and at one point, temporary buildings housed as many as 495 men. There were two large docks, a tennis court, a commissary, a bowling alley, and a bakery that provided 280 rations daily. Letters from home were important to soldiers and a post office was established in 1910.
In the early 1900s, Jamestown was a bustling summer destination. The town boasted five resort hotels on its eastern side. On its western side, Jamestown and Ft. Greble were inextricably linked via underwater communication and power cables. The Jamestown Ferry, carrying visitors to the mainland and back, displayed a panoramic view of the impressive structures on the little island. Particularly notable were the large warehouses along the shore close to where the troops disembarked on arrival.
Two batteries at Ft. Greble remained armed at the beginning of WWII but were considered obsolete by 1942. Today, only concrete defense positions of the once powerful weapons remain. Dutch Island is currently closed to the public. Since 2015, the Army Corps of Engineers has been securing the remaining structures so that visitors may visit safely.