Fort Terry was a coastal fortification on Plum Island, a small island just off Orient Point, New York, USA. This strategic position afforded it a commanding view over the Atlantic entrance to the commercially vital Long Island Sound. It was established in 1897 and used intermittently through the end of World War II. In 1952, it became an animal and biological warfare research facility, a mission it continued under military and later, civilian, control until 1969.
History and Timeline
First “owned” by the Corchaug and Montaukett Indian tribes the Plum Island was sold to Samuel Wyllys for a coat, a barrel of biscuits and 100 fishhooks. The original fort was constructed after the federal government acquired Plum Island from Abraham S. Hewitt, a former mayor of New London, Connecticut, for $25,000. It is not clear how Hewitt became owner of the property. Fort Terry, named for Major General Alfred Terry, began operation in 1897 and was expanded several times from the time of the Spanish–American War through World War II. The initial federal purchase was for 150 acres, however the rest of the island was turned over to the federal government in 1901.
Fort Terry served as an artillery post during the Spanish–American War, and it was to attack enemy ships as they headed toward New York City. Organized in 1907, It was manned by the 133rd Company, Coast Artillery Corps, organized in 1907. In 1916, they were re-designated as the 3d Company, and continued to serve in that capacity throughout World War I. Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Hero, Jr. was in command of the post in August, 1915. Following the end of World War I, Fort Terry was declared surplus and put under the control of personnel at Fort H.G. Wright. At one point, Fort Terry was used by Portsmouth National Guard Armory as their summer encampment and training location. The Gun and Machine Gun Battalions worked on night firing solutions at aerial balloon targets, tracked by the Searchlight Battalion. In 1930, the Federal Census - New York, identified 133 people living on Fort Terry. Also, in 1930, the Justice Department conducted a study to consider building a 1000-cell prison on the island. However, it was deemed impractical, and there was no further action.
During World War II, the post was put to use again, this time as a training facility and supply depot. It was also used as a look-out for German U-boats and planes. On December 7, 1941, this fort was listed as manned by the Navy Harbor Defense, 242nd Coastal Artillery Regiment. Today, on the east side of Plum Island, a network of trenches remains from the area's tenure as an artillery post. The fort was once again declared surplus in 1948. Beginning April 15, 1952, it served as a U.S. Army Chemical Corps facility. As a Chemical Corps facility, it was under the control of the First Army. Fort Terry was small and focused primarily on anti-animal biological warfare (BW) research aimed at enemy livestock. Anti-animal agents rinderpest and foot and mouth disease were the main areas of research. When the decision to use the Fort as a research facility was planned, it was envisioned that it would be staffed by less than 20 personnel. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) took over the island in 1954 and began to use it as an animal disease research center. It was then staffed by at least 9 military and 8 civilian employees. Most of the original buildings and batteries still stand today and in many cases have been incorporated in one way or another into the island's new role as a disease research center. Most of the disease research done by the USDA was also focused on biological warfare until Richard Nixon ended the U.S. bio-weapons program in 1969. The facilities continued to be operated by the USDA until June 2003, when the responsibility for Plum Island and its security was transferred to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The original anti-animal biological warfare research mission at Fort Terry was "to establish and pursue a program of research and development of certain anti-animal biological warfare agents. The first agent that was a candidate for development was foot and mouth disease (FMD). Besides FMD, five other top secret BW projects were commissioned on Plum Island. The other four programs researched included Rift Valley fever (RVF), rinderpest, African swine fever, and a slew of miscellaneous exotic animal diseases. Among the miscellaneous diseases were 11 other animal pathogens. Shortly before the handover of the facility to the Department of Agriculture in 1954, Fort Terry's mission was altered. The number of pathogens studied was reduced to two, rinderpest and FMD, and the mission was changed to "defensive" research of those two diseases.
Facilities and weaponry
As an artillery post Fort Terry, was heavily armed. By 1914 the fort had 11 gun batteries and the ability to extensively mine the area against submarines. During World War I the post had anti-aircraft artillery installed. In addition the post was home to an advanced fire regulation system as well as a position finding system. The grounds also had a functional 36" gauge railroad built in 1914. The Porter locomotive was used to haul munitions from bunkers to the artillery batteries.
Fort Terry's Chemical Corps installation covered three acres and included many of the amenities traditionally associated with U.S. military installations. Included on the grounds were various administration buildings, laboratories, a dock, a motor pool, a commissary, a hospital, a fire station, staff housing and animal housing. When the Chemical Corps took control of Fort Terry, in 1952, it required the remodeling of 18 original buildings on post. The Army had been developing plans for the animal disease facility at Fort Terry since 1951. A laboratory was planned for the circa 1911 Building 257, originally known as Combined Torpedo Storehouse and Cable Tanks building. The lab was not completed by the time the Chemical Corps transferred the fort to the USDA but it and the rest of the remodeled buildings were eventually incorporated into the civilian facility.
A 2008 DHS report recommended that the remnants of Fort Terry, its buildings and batteries, be opened to the public and preserved. The Town of Southold, New York formed a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) which noted that many of the island's structures, including those at Fort Terry, could qualify for listing on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
|Battery Stoneman||4 - 12" Mortar||1901–1943||named in honor of MG George Stoneman, U.S. Volunteers (Bvt. MG, U.S. Army), who served with distinction during the U.S. Civil War, died 5 Sep 1894.||41.18889||-72.16472|
|Battery Steele||2 - 10" Disappearing||1900–1942||named in honor of Bvt. MG Frederick Steele, U.S. Army, who served with distinction during the Mexican-American War and the U.S. Civil War, and who died on 12 Jan 1868.||41.185||-72.18083|
|Battery James Bradford||2 - 6" Disappearing||1901–1944||named on March 13, 1902 in honor of Captain James Bradford, U.S. Artillery, who was killed on November 4, 1791, in action with hostile Indians at Fort Recovery, Ohio||41.18944||-72.16333|
|Battery Robert Floyd||2 - 6" Disappearing||1906–1917||arms removed by 1921 - named in honor of Lt. Robert Floyd (3d Art. attached) fought and died in the battle for Fredericksburg, VA. 1863||41.16778||-72.19722|
|Battery Justin Dimick||2 - 6" Disappearing||1905–1917||arms removed by 1921||41.18861||-72.16389|
|Battery Kelly||2 - 5" Pedestal||1898–1917||arms removed by 1921,partially buried||41.18833||-72.16444|
|Battery 217||1944||never armed|
|Battery Peter Hagner||2 - 3" Pedestal||1906–1932||mostly destroyed||41.17111||-72.20361|
|Battery Bogardus Eldridge||2 - 3" Pedestal||1906–1946||named in honor of Capt. Bogardus Eldridge, U.S. Infantry, who was killed in action at Bocoor, Philippine Islands, 2 Oct 1899.||41.1688889||-72.1961111|
|Battery John Greble||2 - 3" Pedestal||1905–1932||Named in honor of 1st Lt. John Greble, 2nd US Artillery, killed in action at the Battle of Big Bethel, 10 Jun 1861.||41.18917||-72.16556|
|Battery James Dalliba||2 - 3" Pedestal||1905–1946||named in honor of Captain James Dalliba - Ordnance, War of 1812, in 1815 - Bvt. Major James Dalliba ||41.18861||-72.16222|
|Battery Henry Campbell||2 - 3" Pedestal||1905–1934||partially destroyed||41.18972||-72.16167|
|AMTB Battery 911||1943–1946|
|155mm||2 - 3"||1942–1943|
Sale of Land
This fort and all of Plum Island are currently for sale. They are listed with the Government Accounting Office website as accepting bids. The listing number is C02NY0619.
- Alexandra Cella, “An Overview of Plum Island: History, Research and Effects on Long Island,” Long Island Historical Journal 16, no.1-2 (2003- 4): 176-181.
- Bleyer, Bill. "Plum Island Animal Disease Center", from Newsday, via The Baltimore Sun, April 26, 2004, accessed January 10, 2009.
- Cella, Alexandra. "An Overview of Plum Island: History, Research and Effects on Long Island", Long Island Historical Journal, Fall 2003/Spring 2004, Vol. 16, Nos. 1 and 2, pp. 176-181 (194-199 in PDF), accessed January 10, 2009.
- "Fort Terry", New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs, accessed January 9, 2009.
- Grossman, Karl. "Target: Plum Island", The New York Times, September 11, 2005, accessed January 10, 2009.
- Wheelis, Deadly Cultures, p. 225-228.
- Chauhan, Sharad S. Biological Weapons, (Google Books), APH Publishing Corporation, 2004, p. 197, (ISBN 8176487325).
- Pg 13132 Federal Register / Vol. 75, No. 52 / Thursday, March 18, 2010 / Notices
- "Combating Bioterrorism: Actions Needed to Improve Security at Plum Island Animal Disease Center", General Accounting Office, September 19, 2003, accessed January 10, 2008.
- Carroll, Michael C. Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory, (Google Books), HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 45-48, (ISBN 0060011416).
- pathogens. These were Blue tongue virus, Bovine influenza, Bovine virus diarrhea (BVD), fowl plague, goat pneumonitis, mycobacteria, "N" virus, Newcastle disease, sheep pox, Teschers disease, and vesicular stomatitis. See, Wheelis, p. 226.
- "National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Environmental Impact Statement - Scoping Report", Department of Homeland Security, February 2008, pp. 3-8 to 3-9 (pp. 27-28 in PDF), accessed January 10, 2009.
- Wheelis, Mark, et al. Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons Since 1945, (Google Books), Harvard University Press, 2006, (ISBN 0674016998).
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