Butts Hill Fort Plans, Land, Get Clearer
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Slowly, but surely, like the dream that impels it, the Butts Hills Fort, the most significant berm of land in Rhode Island during the Revolutionary War, is being shaped into something recognizable.
High atop a hill at the end of a private road, under the shadow of a wind turbine, and bordering Portsmouth High, only a 4-by- 6-foot stone slab marks this hallowed historical ground.
The dreamers – the Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee, established in January by the Portsmouth Historical Society to restore and maintain this historic site in time for the 250th anniversary of our nation in 2026 and the anniversary of the Battle of Rhode Island in 2028 – inch ever closer to their vision. “We’ve got a treasure here,” said Col. Burton Quist, Ret. U.S. Marine, of Middletown, who serves on the committee. “Not only a Rhode Island treasure; it’s a national treasure. The people on Aquidneck Island ought to realize that, and [many] of them don’t even know it’s here.”
Quist walked the grounds in June with Col. Paul Murphy, Ret. USAF, the sub-committee lead for master plan and land management, along with landscape architects who are reshaping what is the largest remaining Revolutionary War fortification in southeastern New England. It is the only earthwork fort named a National Historical Landmark being transformed into something “family friendly.”
The committee is slowly bringing in experts to remediate this historic site over the next six years.
“We are trying to restore the earthworks to the maximum extent possible,” said Murphy. “It’s actually like uncovering a hidden gem. It’s here. You just can’t see it. We are bringing in a landscape architect, an archaeologist and an arborist to restore it, as much as we can afford to do as a nonprofit.”
The work is being done in concert with the town, which maintains the open space on a monthly basis.
Since Newport This Week last visited the site more than one year ago, stone walls have been unearthed to begin a framework. Cuts in the landscape, rediscovering the original site shape, are slowly evolving out of the rocks.
Much of this work was done on April 23, when Murphy said stumps were ground up with enough debris to fill three 30-foot dumpsters.
This is what has been forgotten about the site and why it is considered historically important:
“We want this to look like something other than a mere tree line,” said Quist. “We want a picnic area . . . [and] to get enough trees out of the way and look at that battlefield and have markers and a little map of what was going on at the time.”
Murphy pointed east. “You can see from here to Fort Barton,” he said.
He pointed north. “You can see Bristol on a clear day. Facing Portsmouth High, you see the other hills where the British were. It is the first time, after Saratoga, that the French enter the war on our side and they do it here,” he said.
“It is time to change the idea held by Rhode Islanders that nothing ever happened here during the War for Independence,” Quist said.
Public support for the project is critical. Tax free donations can be made to the Battle of Rhode Island Association (BoRIA) at P.O. Box 626, Portsmouth, RI 02871.
Previously published by Newport This Week in Vol. 50 No. 26 June 30th, 2022