History

The Fort Halifax Park Project will bring to life the rich history of the site. And you can help!

History of Fort Halifax Park

Fort Halifax Park opened in 1981 after a multiyear effort by Winslow residents.

In the past twenty years, there have been concerts, movie screenings, the annual Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration, and business and community events.

Several years ago, many residents began to envision more for the park. The Town Council authorized a committee of local residents to reconcile those visions and hired a landscape architect to develop plans for improvements to the park. In 2011, the Fort Halifax Park Planning Committee returned its recommendations. 

Since then, the Town Manager and the Fort Halifax Park Implementation Committee have been working to raise funds and to coordinate the project to make these much needed improvements. In 2014, the Town of Winslow was awarded a massive $95,000 grant. The Town now needs to raise $98,320 to fund the Park Improvement project that will cost a little more than $193,320 when completed.

History of Fort Halifax

Early History

Indians inhabited the site where the Kennebec and Sebasticook Rivers meet, in what is today Fort Halifax Park, from more than 5,000 years ago to about 1692; a Pilgrim trading post was also located on the site in the 1650s.

Located within Fort Halifax Park is the oldest blockhouse in the United States, the remnant of Fort Halifax.

During its heyday, Fort Halifax was the largest frontier fort in Maine (then part of Massachusetts). It was garrisoned for over a decade, from 1754 to 1767. At times, more than one hundred men and several dozen women and children lived at the fort.

Fort Halifax was built in two phases. A seven-week construction project led by Major General Edward Winslow, the namesake of the town, built a massive fortress with a big square blockhouse and four barracks inside. The fort’s new commander, Captain William Lithgow, overhauled Fort Halifax, creating a smaller more defensible structure. It included a second blockhouse, which you can still see today in the park.

The Town of Winslow was founded in 1771. Fort Halifax became a community gathering area. A few years later, during the Revolutionary War, Fort Halifax, which served as a tavern, a meeting place, and a dancing hall, was a stop on Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Quebec. It became a state-run trading post welcoming Penobscot Indians. And during these years visitors included Aaron Burr, Chief Joseph Orono, and Paul Revere.

By 1798, all that remained of Fort Halifax was the lone blockhouse on the Sebasticook River. You can still see it (rebuilt using original timbers) today. It is the oldest blockhouse in the U.S.

The 1800s

In the early 1800s, the ownership of the blockhouse changed hands repeatedly. As the Waterville Mail reported the blockhouse had been used as “a boathouse, a store house for farm-tools, a cow-house and a hen-coup.” By 1867, it was, “in a tumble down and particularly disagreeable condition.”

The first restoration efforts officially took place in 1873–1874, when several local men repaired the roof and righted the blockhouse, which was listing like the leaning tower of Pisa.

By the late-1800s, industrialization had come to the town, and the blockhouse stood in the shadows of a large lumber mill located in what is today the park. The blockhouse was, quite literally, left in the dust.

The 1900s 

By 1902, the Maine Central Railroad had come to own the blockhouse.

From 1924 to 1965, the Fort Halifax Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, owned the blockhouse. They raised funds for maintenance and upkeep and they held half a dozen or more major gatherings, and they opened the blockhouse to the public.

By the mid-1900s, various businesses including a coal company, oil storage tanks, a building supply company, and eventually a used car dealership and a beverage distributors’ warehouse, sat on the site of what is today Fort Halifax Park.

In 1965 the State of Maine took over ownership of the blockhouse. Several years later, it became a national historic landmark. Local interest grew in creating a park at the site and this only increased with the 200th anniversary of Benedict Arnold’s expedition.

In the 1970s, the town began purchasing the property adjacent to the lone blockhouse, secured state and federal grants, cleared brush and debris, and created a beautiful park. Various civic organizations chipped in labor and funds. Fort Halifax Park officially opened in 1981, with beautiful river views and grills, gazebos and picnic tables.

The devastating April Fool’s Day Flood of 1987 swept the blockhouse away and deposited silt and debris throughout Fort Halifax Park. Timbers were recovered, and the blockhouse was rebuilt the next year.

Extensive archaeological investigations conducted from 1987 to 1995 by the Maine State Historic Preservation Commission have yielded thousands of artifacts attesting to the rich history of the site

Fort Halifax Park Today

Since the rebuilding of Fort Halifax's blockhouse, Fort Halifax Park has become a popular community gathering place and is the site of the annual Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration. It is a scenic spot for picnicking, photography, fishing, nature watching, kayaking, and for getting a breath of fresh air. It hosts family, business, and church functions.

With your help, we can bring Fort Halifax Park to life and make the park a destination for people of all ages.

For Further Reading

For further reading, see Fort Halifax: Winslow’s Historic Outpost, by Daniel J. Tortora (2014). Books are available for purchase at the Winslow Town Office. All proceeds go to the Fort Halifax Park Project.