History Lives at Fort Nathan Hale

Fort Nathan Hale is a unique city park that keeps history alive through the work of a longtime corps of local volunteers.

On July 5, 1779, as British warships darkened the mouth of New Haven Harbor, a small militia of nineteen patriots fought back from Black Rock Fort. Perched on a rocky ledge over the city's eastern shore, the small force held back the Redcoats for several hours before eventually becoming overwhelmed and captured. The British continued their march downtown, where they spent the next several days drinking rum and harassing the residents before suddenly leaving, declaring the city too pretty to burn.

The historic site of that battle, now named Fort Nathan Hale after the Connecticut patriot, is a unique city park that keeps history alive through the work of a longtime corps of local volunteers.

Opening Day ceremony at the fort.
Signs marking the historic site, open through Labor Day.

Fort Nathan Hale will host about 2,000 adults and schoolchildren for activities including historical reenactments, says Marge Ottenbreit, longtime volunteer at the fort.

"When you have a living history day and see people cooking and see kids playing in ways that they did in colonial times, it makes history interesting for kids," says Ottenbreit. "If you can get them excited about history, it might change their direction. You may be talking to a future history teacher."

After the Revolutionary War, the fort was again used during the War of 1812 and later refortified during the Civil War. The site was deeded to the city in the 1920s and became a popular beach for several years before falling into disuse. After decades of neglect, the park was brought back to life by volunteers in time for the bicentennial in 1976. The Yale School of Architecture built a small visitors building and volunteers raised funds to hire a fort keeper.

Fort Nathan Hale Restoration Projects continues to maintain the park, including planting flowers, cutting the grass, and the daily ritual of wheeling out a statue of Nathan Hale. Every night, the statue is retired to a storage shed for protection from vandals.

"I'll say, did you put Nathan to bed?" says Ottenbreit.

Fort Nathan Hale Restoration Projects is supported in part by the Henry S. Johnson Fund, a designated fund at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

Fort Nathan Hale is free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://www.fort-nathan-hale.org.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

Did you know?

Fort Nathan Hale was declared a Landmark and Historic site by the New Haven Preservation Trust, the first site so recognized in New Haven. In 1970, Fort Nathan Hale was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior.