Butts Hill Fort has been a presence in Portsmouth and Aquidneck Island since the War for Independence. The other redoubts and fortifications were lost through time as Portsmouth farmers resumed plowing and farming the land. The Butts Hill area was spared because the rocky soil wasn’t useful for agriculture. Butts Hill Fort continues to be depicted on area maps even today. What happened to the fort after it was purchased by Rev. Terry and entrusted to the Newport Historical Society in 1923? According to Terry’s stipulations:

  1. The Newport Historical Society and its successors were to forever “preserve, keep and maintain” the property as a monument to those who fought in the Revolutionary War.
  2. That the property will always keep the name “Butts Hill Fort.”
  3. That the property should never be used for monetary gain.

How has Butts Hill Fort been utilized through the years?

1939: A newspaper article (Newport Mercury, April 31, 1939) announces plans to use Butts Hill Fort as a playground and ball field for the children of Portsmouth. The land would still be held by the Newport Historical Society, but the American Legion would supervise the playground. The field in the center of the fortifications would be used for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and American Legion activities. The American Legion pledged to police the area and keep it litter free. The Legion would work to prevent vandalism. According to the article, the fort had been badly damaged by vandals through the years.

1946: Boy Scouts from local troops “gained further knowledge of Rhode Island in the Revolution” when they hiked from Butts Hill Fort along the picket and entrenchment lines where colonial forces met the British during the Battle of Rhode Island. (Newport Mercury, May 24, 1946.)

1947: An article in the Daily News of January 31, 1947 tells us that the Newport Historical Society is still trying to maintain the fort. “Butts Hill was given a general clean up; the grass was mowed, ground cleared and iron fence rails that had fallen were cemented in place. Eleven pipe rails missing from the fence could not be replaced with available funds. The work on Butts Hill cost $194.” There is no mention of the playground or how the fort was used, only the continual effort to maintain the grounds. Maud Howe Elliott was among the committee members trying to raise funds for Butts Hill Fort, Fort Barton and the Sherman Windmill.

1955: “Portsmouth Scouts’ Plans for Bonfire Go Up in Smoke of ‘Book Burn” Tag” reads the headline on a February 12, 1955, Newport Daily News. It seems that the scouts were indeed using Butts Hill Fort for events. The Newport Historical Society and the Portsmouth Fire Department gave permission for the boys of Explorer Post 18 to burn crime and horror type comics as part of a campaign on indecent literature. They had been collecting them from their homes and the homes of neighbors. The New York Post got the idea this was book burning and that generated media attention. In the end the quiet night of bonfire and refreshments at Butts Hill Fort was cancelled.

1975: The Portsmouth Conservation Commission lead a special “colonial” celebration to mark the beginning of a restoration effort at the fort. “Celebration at Butts Hill is Colonial” reads the headline on the Newport Daily News article of September 2, 1975. This restoration effort was begun to prepare the fort for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Rhode Island. Much like our restoration efforts today, it began with cutting brush, spraying poison ivy and clearing the fort. A new flagpole was raised. Volunteers included Boy Scouts from Portsmouth and surrounding areas. The celebration included fife and drum music, and canon firing by the Newport Artillery Company. Colonial dress was the uniform of the day for the 200 participants.

1976: “1978 showdown looms at Fort Butts” read the headline of a Newport Mercury article on April 16, 1976. The showdown was a fight between Tiverton and Portsmouth as to where the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Rhode Island would be held. Tiverton held celebrations at Howland Ferry, but Portsmouth Conservation Commission members wanted to bring the festivities back to Butts Hill Fort. By this time the fort had changed hands and now the six acres belonged to the Town of Portsmouth. Steve Boscarino and George Thurston of the Commission told the reporters that although there are no buildings left, the area is ringed by 15 to 20 foot mounds of earth called parapets. These survived because of the rocky soil used to build them. “mostly made of shale, the earth was piled around huge bundles of sticks tied together to make an embankment.” The Public Works Department will cut down all the overgrown shrubs and there will be spraying to rid the area of poison ivy. They completed a small parking lot to the left of the site and there were plans in the works to construct a 15 foot tower so visitors can enjoy the panoramic view from the top of Butts Hill. Vandalism by motorbike riders is a problem.

1980: Butts Hill Fort was the site of an 18th century encampment that was part of the Portsmouth Heritage Celebration. (Daily News, May 1, 1980).