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.
Backstory and Context
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.
A Short History of Battery Steele and the Peaks Island Land Preserve. Peaks Island Land Preserve. Accessed July 06, 2017. http://www.peaksislandlandpreserve.org/history-of-battery-steele. Considerable information about the site from the group that cares for the historical sites
Sassman, Virginia. Sacred and Profane. CreativePortland.com. Accessed July 06, 2017. http://www.creativeportland.com/blog/sacred-profane-peaks-island. Source for information on the Sacred and Profane festival at Battery Steele
Board of Fortifications. Wikipedia.org. Accessed July 06, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Board_of_Fortifications. Meta-source for basic information about the Endicott Program
MacIsaac, Kim. Eastman, Joel. An Island at War. 2011. Source of information about Battery Steele and the other emplacements in the area