When you think of Fort Zachary Taylor, you think beach, snorkeling and sunset. But, did you know there is a Civil War Fort in the Park? Don’t miss this the next time you visit the park. The park is located at the end of Southard Street in Truman Annex. Fort Zach is Florida’s southernmost park and well worth the trip.
Originally, the Fort was three stories surrounded by water. With the advances in gunnery, the structure eventually was reduced to a one story structure. Construction began in 1845 and was 1,200 feet from the shores of Key West. It held 140 cannons and was home to 450 soldiers.
The Fort was named for President Zachary Taylor in November 1850 a few months after his sudden death.
Fort Taylor was part of the Third Tier System of Defense which called for the construction of masonry fortresses to prevent sea attacks on the United States. This was in response to the War of 1812 where the British burned the US Capital to the ground during a sea-based invasion.
Fort Taylor and Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas were important defensive structures for the United States. They held command over the waters of the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
Construction was completed in 1866, 21 years after it began. When completed, the Fort had sanitary facilities flushed by the tide and a desalination plant that produced drinking water from the sea.
The Fort During the Civil War
Fort Taylor is one of three Civil War forts built in Key West. When the Civil War began, the Union seized control of the fort, preventing it from falling in the Confederate hands. The fort played a very important role in curtailing the threat of blockage runners. The 10″ Rodman and Columbiad cannons had a range of three miles, which served as a very good deterrent for any one wanting to stage a sea assault. That said, the fort never saw any hostile action.
During the Civil War, the Fort is credited with shortening the war and averting the deaths of untold number of soldiers on both sides.
The Fort was heavily used during the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The current form of the Fort is due to the ever changing military needs. In 1889, with the advent of the rifled artillery, most masonry fort structures were deemed obsolete.
In advance of the Spanish-American War, the fort was transformed into a single story structure. The upper two floors were removed and were used to fill the casements.
When Fort Taylor was being updated, the other fort on the Island, West Martello was being partially demolished. It is rumored the bricks removed from the West Martello were used in the transformation of Fort Taylor.
Army to Navy
By 1947, the Fort was no longer used by the Army and was turned over to the US Navy. In 1968, volunteers excavated Civil War guns and ammunition that had been buried in parts of the Fort. This led to the disclosure of the Nation’s largest collection of Civil War cannons. Many have been refurbished and stand guard in their original gun ports.
When the channel was dredged, the Fort became land-locked. The fort now sits in the middle of 54 acres of park land.
Fort Taylor was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1971 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973.
You can experience a guided tour daily or check the calendar for some of the Civil War reenactments held at the Fort. The weekend preceding Halloween, the Fort is transformed into a haunted fort.
It took several trips before I chose to check out Fort Zachary Taylor. Once I did, trust me, it won’t be my last. The view from the top of the fort is breathtaking.
(credit: keywesthistoricmarker.org, wikipedia.org, fortzacharytaylor.com)