My favorite hidden gem is Fort Mifflin. This fort has a rich and critical original of the United States of America. It is nestled along the banks of the Delaware river across from her sister fort, Fort Mercer in New Jersey.
Modernity Crushed Fort Mifflin
Unfortunately, our modern times have crunched Fort Mifflin next to several industrial zones, and crammed next to Philadelphia’s International Airport. It is the ONLY tourist location for miles and miles.
The fort is difficult to find (unless you’ve already been there), the signs of tiny and easy to miss, and you will believe you are trespassing until you are able to make out the gates for the fort.
If you are going for the first time, look for the Fort Mifflin road and follow it under the tarmac overpass. Look for signs along the road and you’ll be turning left on a shared road that leads to a business entrance and the fort’s entrance.
If after you exit the tunnel you drive until the road bends right, you went too far. After existing the tunnel, look for small-ish signs in the middle of the road. You’ll turn left to enter. There are two entrances right next to one another: industrial zone warning to not trespass on the left and Fort Mifflin’s entrance on the right.
I always feel a tragic sense of loss when this important historical site is neglected from all of the historical bus tours. I want people who visit Penn’s Landing have a chance to visit Fort Mifflin and connect the incredible river / port history of this region.
The fort is an open field with surrounding marshlands located right by the river. Wear suitable shoes. Plus, wild things tend to leave their droppings… expect that. This area is well visited by local wildlife.
The fort does not have strong food services. They might have snacks and drinks, but plan to bring your own picnic goods if you are spending time on site. They do have a picnic area and picnic tables outside of the fort.
Facilities are available.
This fort is not wheelchair friendly due to the open fields and gravel trails. Access to the casemates requires navigating stairs or low entry ways.
River, Wetland, and Wildlife
If you are a birder, this is a great sister site to John Heinz Wildlife Refuge for bird watching. When visiting Fort Mifflin, there is a great chance you will see plenty of migratory birds visiting the river’s edge and the fort’s marshlands.
You might see eagles 🦅 flying around the river’s edge, and you will definitely see the ever present Canada Goose. Plus there is a small nature trail that circles outside of the fort’s walls which could give you a chance to spot various birds.
The wildlife enjoys this area, so expect to see something.
War and Battle History
Fort Mifflin has a long history involving battles and wars.
- Revolutionary War? ☑️
- Civil War? ☑️
- WWI? ☑️
- WWII? ☑️
There’s a lot of history here. Any history buff will find something of interest. Throughout the year, Fort Mifflin holds several events to commemorate a variety of past events. Check out their event calendar or Facebook feed to see what might be coming up next.
During a recent tour, I was told that Fort Mifflin suffered what was – at that time – the greatest bombardment every inflicted on a fort. It was bombarded from both land and sea, and left it utterly destroyed. There is a line that you will hear: “During one hour, the British fired over 1,000 canon balls on the fort.”
If the ‘greatest bombardment’ fact is actually true, that puts a very different spin on the event in my mind. I always knew the fort was hammered during the Siege of Fort Mifflin, I knew it was an historic moment. But the greatest bombardment of all history (at that time)? That means this fort suffered historical abuse and still did not surrender. [Someone let me know if they can clarify this declaration]
After suffering several bombardments and also empty of ammunition, the fort was abandoned. The men set the fort ablaze. They slipped out of the fort at night, leaving the fort’s flag fort flying defiantly over the fort’s remnants. They stealthily rowed at night across the Delaware river to New Jersey and joined their sister fort, Fort Mercer. It wasn’t that the fort was lost, but that I didn’t appreciate the historical beating this for suffered and still refused to surrender. In my opinion, that earns it a degree of respect and dignity I don’t think I was giving this humble site.
When you visit Fort Mifflin today, you will find a walled fort surrounded by a moat. You cross a bridge and enter the walled fort and come into a flat field dotted with buildings, canons, and casemates. The flag of Fort Mifflin flies over the eastern gates. When you enter the fort you will be greeted by a wide field and a few buildings including the blacksmith, Soldier’s Quarters, Quartermasters’ Store, Officer’s quarters, Citadel (Commander’s house), Artillery shed, and more. The fort is also working on developing its own museum display in collaboration with the Independence Seaport Museum. I’m eager to see this.
For me, personally, the casemates are entirely worth the visit. These are unique structures that you can enter and explore. These are subterranean buildings which have a feeling of being in a man made cave. Fort Mifflin is lucky to possess several casemates which have unique styles, uses, and history. Each seems to have a story to tell. The casemates have so many personalities: the old structures reaching back in time and belonging to another age.
You can imagine what it must have been like trying to keep stores safe and dry in here. Or, as was done during wars, keeping prisoners in these spaces. Nothing about these structures scream comfort. Frankly, you can easily imagine the horrors of being confined in them. They also feel cave-like, semi-submerged and covered with layers and layers of stone and soil – you can’t help but feel buried. Tomb-like isn’t too far from an accurate description.
Other times the casemates feel serene, quiet, and peaceful. When inside, you are far removed from the noises outside. Depending on the mood of the event, you can get different experiences when exploring the various casemates located here.
People seem to find the casemates an excellent location to connect to the past. They provide the perfect location for cutting off modern interruptions and reaching back into your imagination – allowing the history and experiences of this fort to play out in your mind. Others feel the place is ripe with emotional lineage or haunted spaces. A few friends have felt that they were touched by something in these casemates. Not literally, mind you. But having a strong sense that they were inflicted with emotions and feelings they couldn’t explain, or overwhelmed with the experience of being inside the casemate. Some have blamed spirits, others have expressed the impact such locations can have on a person who finds themselves alone and quietly sitting in the dark.
Visit the Casemates
Here is everything you’ll need to know about Fort Mifflin’s Casemates:
- Some of casemates’ doorways and hallways are tight and low, but the casemates themselves open up. So if you are a bit anxious about tight spaces… just know the hallways and doorways are naturally narrow and low. The casemates themselves have plenty of space. If you are very tall, you will need to duck when entering doorways and along some halls
- The casemates are dimly lit. There is very little natural light entering these structures. There are slits and long narrow openings that allow some light, but mostly fresh air to continuously enter. During winter months, the fort may have fires crackling in the fireplaces
- Some of the more adventurous casemates have a curved entrance that requires careful footing. Some have steps and a flat hallway type entrance. Chose carefully for yourself
- Most casemates have solid floors. However, the fort itself and the surrounding areas dictate sturdy footwear, and some of the casemates should only be explored while wearing non-slip shoes
- There are additional casemates located outside of the fort. Some are sturdy and can be explored, some are collapsed and make ideal grunge/decay photo-backgrounds. I learned there are two permanently filled with runoff water and cannot be easily explored. I have not personally viewed these (yet) and generally advise against entering. This area is a wetland and critters probably live in these casemates AND the water runoff is from the airport and refinery. Eww
Nothing beats the atmosphere and ambiance of the fort when looking for spirits and ghosts. More than a few people have shared stories of their ghostly experiences. And as anyone who knows me, I keep looking! I keep missing the ghosts and their appearances. But I keep looking. (And let’s be honest, I’m feeling more than slighted by the ghost’s rudeness.)
The fort has enough history of trauma to justify a full platoon of ghosts. What will you see / feel / experience when YOU visit?
The fort is starting to introducing bon fires and fire pit events that you can attend both during the day and night.
The fort also has a small cannon that they fire for demonstration purposes. I hear that for a reasonable fee you can fire the cannon as well. I believe I will have plans soon!
I haven’t attended this event yet due to schedule conflicts. But I want to stop by and see how Colonial brews were made… and take home a growler of my own making. So I’ll be keeping an eye open for future events scheduled at the fort.
Halloween used to be such an amazing experience at the fort. The only downside was that most of the activities are outdoor activities, so weather can impact Halloween festivals. But if you have a chance to experience Fort Mifflin at Halloween (candle light tours, ghost hunts, bon fires) be sure to experience it!
Lastly, the fort IS located immediately next to the fort. You will see and hear airplanes landing all day and night. It is amazing that you can somehow manage to ignore the noise. But in case you like this type of thing, photography of the planes is pretty easy.
Plan your visit today
I recommend visiting this fort during one of their many events. You’ll find people in period costumes, lessons will be shared, tours given, and some of the closed buildings might be opened for special occasions.
Fort Mifflin’s Ticketleap page: https://fortmifflin.ticketleap.com/
Hi, I’m Patti. I work in the IT field and my favorite thing to do is reboot stuff. (Muahahaha!)
I love exploring the United States and luckily I enjoy driving. Which is a good thing since it would be hard to explore if I had to walk everywhere. I am usually exploring the states on a tight budget with limited vacation time. I try to make the most of my free time, and I may have a trick or two up my sleeve.
I’m a weird mix of over-planner and free-spirit wanderer. There’s no in between. I see weekends as play-time. Laundry is for Wednesday nights and dusting is never on my to-do list.
I love museums, learning new things, and just letting my curiosity take me to my next discovery.
To discover more about me, check out my About Me page.