Friday, August 28, 2009

2009 Places in Peril: Battery Backus

The Story: During the late 19th through mid 20th-centuries, batteries like Backus were vital components of the United States’ coastal defense system. Six individual gun batteries, with construction dating from 1885 to 1905, significantly contributed to Fort Screven’s coastal defense success during the Endicott Period. The 1898 Battery Backus protected the entrance to the Savannah River. Battery Backus, five additional gun batteries, the Tybee Island Light Station, and several hundred military buildings and structures were included in the 1984 Fort Screven National Historic District designation.

The Threat: The distinct role each of the Fort Screven batteries served is crucially important to understanding the well designed and complex system that made up Fort Screven. Of Fort Screven’s six gun batteries, all but one is privately owned. Batteries Gant, Fenwick, and Brumby are nearly unrecognizable following the construction of private residences on top of the batteries. Batteries Backus and Habersham are currently privately owned and available for development. The loss of any one of the gun batteries in Fort Screven weakens that understanding and distorts the significant role each played and why.

The Solution: The Fort Screven Preservation Organization, The Tybee Island Historical Society and other groups are working to ensure public access to the batteries; however, development pressure looms over this seaside property. The Tybee Island Historical Society has recently included Battery Backus as part of its walking tour. The group is also exploring the purchase of replica guns and other materials to help interpret the batteries.

Update: After barely avoiding foreclosure, development pressures continue to loom over this 1898 fort.

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