Fort Miles Historical Association members say it's time for action to create a showplace World War II museum in Cape Henlopen State Park.
Over the next few years, depending on funding, the look of Fort Miles will change dramatically.
As the association's fund-raising efforts swing into full gear, public meetings will take place throughout the Cape Region, said Gary Wray, association president. Work will cost an estimated $5 million and take about five years to complete, he said.
The association plans to convert Battery 519 into a World War II museum and relocate its USS Missouri gun barrel. The gun from the historic battleship will be located near the entrance to the museum overlooking the Atlantic Ocean toward Cape May, N.J.
Phase I, to cost about $1 million, will include new roads to create a new entrance to the fort, a circle driveway to the entrance of the museum and new parking lots – including one for 200 vehicles behind the orientation building, Wray said.
The current entrance to Fort Miles – across from the fire tower – will be closed. The parking area will be transformed with striping and signs to provide better and safer access to the area for pedestrians and bicyclists. “We need to tie the tower and the fort together better and this will achieve that,” Wray said.
A gun will be placed in the old parking lot.
Within the confines of Fort Miles, two new pavilions and a new barracks for concessions and rest rooms are planned. In addition, an improved area for the display of the fort's guns will be connected by a boardwalk to the museum's entrance. The glass-enclosed entrance will face the fort offering visitors a view of the park as well.
Because Battery 519 is built into and under the Great Dune in the park, Wray said the architects have developed the project keeping in mind the ecological importance of the dune. “We are very sensitive to construction in and around the dune,” he said.
Wray calls Phase II of the project the prize. “The museum is what excites everyone the most,” he said.
Association volunteers, known as the Bunker Busters, have provided countless hours of skilled construction work already. “We need to assess what our group can do to save money,” he said.
Missouri gun barrel relocation
Four large pieces of hardware needed for the Missouri gun display will be trucked from Dahlgren Naval Yard in Virginia to the state park. It won't be lightweight work, Wray said. The girder and slide each weigh 50 tons, the yoke weighs 19 tons and the breech block weighs 53,000 pounds. All will be assembled to fit onto and around the 110-ton gun barrel for a total of nearly 230 tons. The gun was moved to Fort Miles – at a cost of more than $150,000 – in April 2012.
Wray said once the “puzzle pieces” are ready to be put together cranes will be needed. In all, the association estimates the cost of the project will be $250,000 and is about two years away.
Fundraising, under the direction of board member Harry Winn, is key to success of building the museum and relocating the gun. Wray said funding will be solicited from a variety of sources including the public. The association will seek funds from legislators and Delaware Department of Transportation for road work and raise money locally, through grants and from state sources for the Missouri gun barrel project. A capital campaign will kick off soon for museum construction. “Our volunteers are balancing a lot of balls right now,” Wray said.
For more information, go to fortmiles.org.