Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is located at the end of Southard Street in Truman Annex.
Fort Zachary Taylor construction began in 1845 and progressed during the 1850’s. Construction was slow due to the Yellow Fever outbreak, material shortages and hurricanes. At the time, it was located 1,200 feet from the shores of Key West. The fort stood three stories tall, held 140 cannons, and was home to 450 soldiers. It was named after President Zachary Taylor who suddenly died in 1850 while in office.
“Fort Zach,” as locals call it, 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. The need for these defenses was a direct outcome of the War of 1812 in which the British burned the U.S. Capital to the ground during a sea-based invasion. Fort Zach and Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas were important defensive structures for the United States. Together, they held command over the waters of the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
Captain John Brannan placed the fort in Union hands during the Civil War. During the War, the fort’s main role was to serve as the US Navy’s East Coast Blockade Squadron. This Squadron deterred Confederate ships from leaving ports in the Gulf of Mexico. Fort Zach never saw any hostile action during the Civil War. The 10″ cannons at Fort Zach had a range of three miles. This served as a deterrent to the Confederate Army to not only take the Fort, but Key West.
The three stories of the fort were finally finished in 1866 (21 years after construction began). Many modern featured are included in construction including sanitation flushed by the tide and a desalination plant that created drinking water from sea water.
By the time the Spanish American War began in 1898, the fort had been reconfigured for two new rifled artillery batteries. From a defensive perspective, the shorter stature of its defensive walls was less of an obstacle and target on the horizon. The top levels of the Fort were cut down in 1889 to add newer weapons.
By 1947, the fort was of no use to the army and it was turned over to the U.S Navy. In 1968 volunteers excavated Civil War guns and ammunition that had been buried in long-abandoned parts of the fort. These efforts eventually unearthed the discovery of the nation’s largest collection of Civil War cannons. Many of these have been refurbished and stand guard in their original gun ports.
As a result of channel dredging in the mid twentieth century, the fort became land-locked. In its current use, it sits in the middle of 87 acres of park land, and is now known for the best beach in Key West.
Fort Zach was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973.
The Fort is open every day for tours, plan a day to tour the Fort and spend time at the best beach in Key West.