Battery Steele, also known as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Battery Construction #102, is a historically recognized artillery bunker located on Peaks Island, Portland, ME. It was built towards the end of World War 2 as a part of a military program which sought to replace decades old coastal defenses along the Eastern Seaboard. Battery Steele overlooks the Portland Harbor and a large portion of the Casco Bay. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public for exploration and is recognized as the largest gun battery ever built in the United States.
Many of the coastal defenses in the Casco Bay area which
were upgraded during World War 2 had been originally constructed during the
Endicott Program initiated by President Grover Cleveland and led by Secretary
of War William Endicott. The Endicott
Program was a series of fortifications constructions recommended by the Endicott
Board of Fortifications, whose report indicated severe neglect of coastal fortifications
starting in 1886. Many of the Endicott
Program fortifications were built up between 1890 and 1910, and many remained
in use until 1945, despite their weaponry largely being obsolete.
The 1940 construction program in Maine included many of the
Endicott Program sites as well as the construction of multiple new sites, of
which Battery Steele was one. Battery
Steele was designed to be resistant to air attacks and was armed with heavy
guns strong enough to replace all of the older defenses in the Portland Harbor
(in combination with another new gun battery on Cushing Island.) The guns at Battery Steele were 16-inch 50
caliber naval artillery guns. In
addition to the two massive cannons housed in Battery Steele, Peaks Island also
housed a number of fire control towers, observation towers, and a collapsible
searchlight tower which were to aid in the case of an attack.
The site of the bunker is now popularly accessed by hikers
on foot or by bicycle. Visitors to
Battery Steele enjoy well-protected woodland paths and a unique view of the
ocean, established by the bunker’s need to have a clear view of the bay. It is additionally the site of a popular art
and performance festival known as “Sacred and Profane.” Sacred and Profane takes place all around
Battery Steele, including on the inside of the bunker where performances and
art installations are exhibited by candlelight.
Notable exhibits of the past include musical performances,
flame-juggling acts, and extensive displays of artwork. The site joined the National Register of
Historic Places in October of 2005.