It can bake 400 loaves of bread at the same time and literally feed an army. That’s why the huge brick oven at Fort Knox State Historic Site in Prospect was built by government masons in the summer of 1863.

Knowing that the fort might someday be home to hundreds of soldiers with big appetites, the oven was built as a big brick dome running 15 feet deep, 10 feet wide, and 19 inches high in the center.

Last summer, the oven in the Fort Knox “bake house” was put back into service for the first time since 1898, and it drew tremendous interest from visitors.

The public is invited to see the giant oven in use this Memorial Day weekend and enjoy samples of baked goods made in the 148-year-old oven.

Interested visitors also can bring something from home and leave it in the oven while it bakes for that authentic “baked at Fort Knox” experience.

The oven will be in use Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

Ovens like this were at one time common in forts across the country, but this is the only one still in use in its original condition.

“The basic technology dates back to the ancient Romans,” said Tom Desjardin, historian for the Bureau of Parks and Lands (part of the Maine Department of Conservation), in a press release, “and every home had a smaller version in it during the 1700s and early 1800s.”

Desjardin said that it works very much like the brick-fired pizza ovens that have become popular again here in the U.S.

Army manuals called for the baker on the post to light a “violent fire” each morning at around 4 a.m., stoking and feeding it until the brick inside the oven was heated. By around 9 a.m., the hot coals were raked out, and the oven stayed hot enough for baking for up to eight hours.

Located at the Penobscot River Narrows, Fort Knox, which is Maine’s largest historic fort, features stunning military architecture and master granite craftsmanship. The fort was constructed between 1844 and 1869 by master craftsmen and never fully completed. It is an unaltered example of a large, mid-19th century granite coastal fortification.

Although it never saw combat, Fort Knox was garrisoned during the Civil and Spanish American Wars. It is one of Maine’s most popular historic sites and is used for numerous popular events, including Civil War reenactments.

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