Battery Steele – Portland, Maine - Atlas Obscura

Battery Steele

Explore the dark underground corridors of this graffiti-covered former military fortification. 


Battery Steele military reserve rests in a marsh at the southeastern side of Peaks Island, on the ocean edge of Casco Bay in Portland, Maine. Completed in 1942, Battery Steele was built to replace aging structures throughout the coastal defenses of the United States.

On Peaks, as part of the defenses, there totaled 58 military structures, known as the Peaks Island Military Reservation. Among these structures were gun emplacements, range-finding bunkers, fire-control posts, barracks, watchtowers, and searchlight bases. Today out of the 58 structures that were on the island, many still exist, but no where close to those original numbers.

Outside of the Battery Steele gun emplacement, fire control towers still stand, range-finding bunkers stare out at the ocean, and various other buildings of differing uses dot the 14 acre site. Some of the structures have been incorporated into private residences, and some sit on private land not available to the public. Others are part of the Peaks Island Land Preserve, which is open to anyone for exploration. With hiking trails and markers pointing out military sites of historical significance, the previous military compound offers well groomed trails to explore and hike. 

The structure of Battery Steele is dark and tomb-like, so bring a flashlight. The structures are built into berms, with a 300-foot cement corridor connecting the previous gun emplacements. Concrete walls 18 inches thick blank out all light. Rooms that jut off the long, darkened hallway have graffiti adorning their surfaces. One room, down a set of stairs, is flooded with water four to five feet deep. 

Battery Steele has gained National Registry of Historic Places status in recent years. It is an important part of Peaks Island and military history. Although the guns are gone from the structures, the buildings still stand as if waiting for an attack. 

In recent history, the monolithic structure of Battery Steele was used to host the alternative art installment of Sacred and Profane. Lasting over a week, performance art, environmental art exhibits, and many other modern sculpture and abstract art adorned the dark spaces. This event no longer exists, but artwork still remains on the walls of some rooms. 

To reach the island, take the Casco Bay Ferry from the Maine State Pier. Use the Peaks Island Preserve map to find the multiple military sites. You will find the trails marked. Also, expect to get wet inside the structures. One access point is through a marsh, and depending how much rain has fallen, you may make it through dry. 

Know Before You Go

Get off the ferry and go straight up Welch Steet. Take a left onto Prospect Street, and then a right onto Brackett Avenue. After a long walk you will take Florida Avenue on the right. Battery Steele is on your right a little ways down. Follow marked trails for the other military sites on the island.

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June 2, 2016

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