Fort Fremont's History and the Land's End Light
Located on St. Helena Island all the way at Land’s End, Fort Fremont is a Spanish American War fort built in 1899.
Lying right along the water, its picturesque shell remains for all to see, walk around, and marvel at. While many people mistakenly refer to it as a Civil War fort, the Civil War was over for many years by the time of construction.
The fort was named after General Charles C. Fremont, a Savannah native. General Fremont had played an enormous role in capturing California from Mexico years before. Little talked about, he was also the first Republican presidential nominee, in the election of 1856, and he lost to James Buchanan. He carried deep abolitionist views and if he had been elected, Southern secession would have begun sooner than it did. General Fremont would die in New York nine years before the completion of the fort that would carry his name.
Fort Fremont was constructed as one of the coastal batteries authorized by Congress under the $50 million Harbor Fortification Act of 1898. The property used to build the fort was condemned private property, and the Army Corps of Engineers hired labor from the Beaufort area to build the military complex. Fort Fremont is said to have been the most expensive to construct of all Beaufort area forts… and also the most useless. No shot was ever fired from the fort. No threat or call-to-arms was ever even made.
The original Fort site had 170 acres and was manned by a force of 110 personnel. The main weapon systems consisted of ‘Battery Jesup’ which had three 10-inch breech-loaded disappearing cannons and ‘Battery Fornance’, which had two 4.7-inch rapid-fire guns. At the Fort Fremont complex, here was a hospital, a stable, a mess hall, a commissary, a water tower, a bakery, and of course a guardhouse and barracks. The only thing that survives today is the 10-inch battery, the rapid-fire battery and the brick foundation of the hospital.
In 1906, the War Department considered closing the fort because of budget problems. The fort remained in use but had fewer men attached to it. In December of 1921, there was an article that appeared in the Charleston News and Courier that stated the fort would be used as a quarantine station. The property by then was placed on the Secretary of War’s list of properties considered as obsolete and not needed for military purposes and was available for sale.
Fort Fremont was deactivated as a military installation in 1921.
There are many ghost stories that are attached to the mysterious compound in the wooded area next to the sea.
The story of the ‘Lands End Light’ is very familiar to many local Beaufortonians. Noted in local lore as a ghostly, haunted place, Land’s End and Fort Fremont raise the hair on the back of the neck of many folks. Nobody ever asks ‘if’ the area is haunted, everyone just wonders ‘who’ is doing the haunting. Many local legendary ideas exist. One of the tales is about the violence that had erupted between the men of the 116th and local African-Americans over the purchase of illegal whiskey. There were several brawls and gunfights, and one fight resulted in the death of Private Frank Quigley. Private Quigley is rumored to be the source of the ghostly Light, seen floating down the dark road leading to Fort Fremont.
Also, ‘The Light’ is said to possibly be the lantern of a Confederate soldier who was on patrol along Land’s End Road in 1861, on the watch for Union soldiers who were expected to invade St. Helena Island. A Yankee soldier (or soldiers) sneaked up behind him and cut off his head, and he now goes up and down the road in search of it, carrying his old iron lantern. Some also say that it’s the spirit of an unhappy slave who was sold to an owner far away from the Island. He now haunts the land he was forced to leave, searching for the wife he left behind.
One woman said that her hair grew stiff and made crackling noises as the Land’s End Light passed her car. She felt that the Light put out an electric charge. Others would suggest a supernatural influence. In fact, a large share of eyewitnesses agrees that the Light is a ghost.
Fort Fremont is open to the public and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Historic Resources of St. Helena Island.
Beaufort County plans to develop and improve the remnants of historic Fort Fremont. These plans include an interpretive center detailing the site’s history, paths to explore the remaining batteries, a picnic pavilion, and beach access.
Discover it. You’ll be glad you did.