Fort Totten Park

Joseph G. Totten (1788-1864,) the namesake of Fort Totten Park in Bayside, Queens, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. He was educated as an officer at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the Hudson Valley of New York. Totten spent most of his military career in the Army Corps of Engineers, at least partially responsible for the construction of numerous examples of military infrastructure and fortifications around the United States. He began his career in New York Harbor, assisting in the construction of Castle Williams and Castle Clinton in 1808. Totten saw further service during the War of 1812 in upstate New York on the Niagaran Front, engaging the British on the Canadian border.

Totten saw additional combat during the Mexican-American War, gaining accolades for his efforts at the Siege of Veracruz. Totten would pass away at the age of 75 during the American Civil War in Washington, D.C., still in active service. Beyond his military accolades, Totten was a co-founder of the National Academy of Sciences and participant in the founding of the Smithsonian Institution.  

Fort Totten Park was originally planned in 1857, by soon-to-be Confederate General Robert E. Lee, to defend northerly access to the East River in conjunction with Fort Schuyler,  now home to the State University of New York’s Maritime College. The fort, initially called Willets Point, was renamed for Totten upon his death in 1864. It served largely as a hospital, due to its already obsolete construction. Fort Totten would serve in many other capacities, such as a test site for anti-aircraft weaponry, a school for anti-submarine warfare, several communication centers, and most recently as a post for the U.S. Army Reserves. The fort was acquired by New York City Parks in 1987, with a further 93 acres added in 2001, for recreational purposes. The U.S. Army and Coast Guard still utilizes small portions of the fort for their operations, but many of the larger buildings are now either owned and operated by NYC Parks or the Bayside Historical Society, which possesses a large photographic archive regarding the fortification. 


 J.G. Barnard, “Memoir of Joseph Gilbert Totten. 1788-1864,” National Academy of Sciences, January 6, 1866,

Maritime College, State University of New York, “Fort Schuyler History,” Maritime Museum, accessed October 1, 2023,

NYC Parks. “Fort Totten Park.” Find a Park. Accessed October 1, 2023.

E.D. Townsend, “The Death of Maj.-Gen. Totten” New York Times, May 1, 1864,