History Around the Corner: There's lots to learn at Fort Trumbull State Park and Museum in New London

Fort Trumbull State Park is located at 90 Walbach St. in New London.

The massive stone fort consisting of granite blocks obtained from millstone quarry has been restored to its final “Third System” configuration and is managed as a state park by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Most of the people who were born and raised in this area of Connecticut have paid at least one visit to the park, walked the promenade, and run their hands over the warm stone blocks on a summer day. For good or ill, this bulky fort has never been struck in anger by invaders. However, in its final form it could easily be knocked down by modern artillery.

The stone fort has been patiently used over its 225-year history for striking at the British invaders and for storage while the site housed a modern research and development center for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). In its current form of restoration it should be visited by young and old and its story told.

I like to look across the Thames River and imagine the last few defenders retreating by boat to join forces at Fort Griswold on the Groton side as the large contingent of redcoats closed in. One of the advantages of having a state-run facility like the Visitor Center is adequate funding for archivists and historians to graphically present that which we sometimes find hard to imagine.

Using audio-visual techniques, visitors can interact with characters in costume and virtually aim and fire the great guns housed by the fort. The whole progression of the life of the historical and contemporary Fort Trumbull on this rocky promontory is artistically presented in the Visitor Center.

Centuries of warfare have always driven the need to fortify this locale, but the various iterations in design and execution seemed to be obsolete by the time they were completed. The museum chronicles each of these uses in great detail with actual artifacts where available and with excellent historical photography. Regardless of whether it was in war or peace, each generation that occupied this fort did their duty to protect the nation.

My tour of the Visitor Center Museum was virtually uninterrupted by other visitors. The second and third floors devoted to the fort’s history are clean, cool (on this July day), and spacious. Displays are placed chronologically starting with the first Fort Trumbull and extending to some of the tasking of the modern ASW site. Posters and displays are well lighted as we would expect.

My only criticism of the walk through the museum is that some of the textual information is small and hard to read, and some of the posters are a bit busy. The curators are expecting visitors to absorb a lot of information in a single day’s visit, and I’m not sure I would attempt to keep a youngster amused and entertained. The first floor of the center has restroom facilities. Park service guides are available to answer questions. I should not neglect to mention that the park’s fishing pier on the Thames River is open year round.

My first visit to the visitor center allowed me to use my newly acquired Charter Oak Pass. This state-issued pass allows the holder free unlimited visits for life as well as free parking and admission to many Connecticut state parks and forests. Otherwise, the cost of admission for adults is $10. A Charter Oak Pass can be acquired if the applicant is 65 years or older at any of the state parks with proof of age or by mail. This is an excellent benefit.

I recommend that anyone who wants to learn more about Fort Trumbull and the associated state park should log on to the web site and read more at ct.gov/deep/forttrumbull.

Phil Houk is a former submariner, UConn grad, and retired field service technician. He can be contacted at: plhouk@ct.metrocast.net.

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