Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Ruins of Fort Zachary Taylor

I love Fort Zach, but until this week, my love was for its beach – Key West’s hands down best swimming beach.

Now, I have met the ruin of Fort Zachary Taylor - and the reason Key Westers and visitors have access to the gorgeous southwest point of the island. The ruins boast the largest cache of Civil War era seacoast cannon – most of which is yet to be unexcavated. The discovery of this large cache of armament led to the declaration of FZ as a national treasure. Shortly thereafter, the Navy gave the area to Florida for a state park.

Construction on the brick fort started in 1845 and completed in 1866 – supply problems and the toll of yellow fever on workers – soldiers and slaves leased from local citizens to the government – led to building in the winter when there was no fever.

Fort Zachary was held by the Union through the Civil War, as was Fort Jefferson, some 70 miles to the west at the Dry Tortugas. They proved pivotal in blocking shipping to the Confederate States through the Gulf of Mexico. Holding the forts didn’t win the war, it is said, but certainly shortened it.

The fort, which also saw service in both world wars, was originally built some 1200 feet off the waterfront of Key West. During the 1940s the Navy dredged the channels into Key West and filled in an area of several square city blocks. It was used as a scrap metal yard and allowed to fall into ruin.

Circa mid 1880s from the Monroe County Library Collection

Navy Fleet in Key West Harbor in 1873,
taken from the walls of Fort Zach.
From Harper's Weekly of April 11, 1874.
Monroe County Library Collection

View to the west today:

Fort Zach is also an excellent place to watch the nightly sunset show in Key West.

Looking north toward Sunset Key and Wisteria Islands. Sunset Key, originally filled for the Navy's fuel depot, was called Tank Island until it was developed into Key West's most upscale neighborhood in the 1990s. To the right is another Navy dredge island - Wisteria or Christmas Tree Island. The private island hosts many homeless squatters - an ironic juxtaposition of some of our most disadvantaged residents to the wealthiest:

More on Fort Zachary Taylor History.

Florida State Park Fort Zach brochure: PDF.