Named for John Perceval, the second Earl of Egmont, the Key has had both Spanish conquistadors and nuclear submarines pass its shores. In the 1830s, as shipping increased so did the number of ship groundings leading Congress to authorize funds to construct a lighthouse -- the only one between St. Marks and Key West. In 1848 the Great Hurricane, with tides 15 feet above normal washed over the island, damaging the lighthouse. A following storm prompted Congress to appropriate funds to rebuild the lightkeeper's residence and a lighthouse that would `withstand any storm'. At the end of the Third Seminole War, the island served as a camp for captured Seminoles and was later occupied by the Union Navy during the Civil War. In 1898 as the Spanish-American War threatened, Fort Dade was built and remained active until 1923. In 1926, the Tampa Bay Pilots Association set up operations on the island to assist approaching ships to navigate the harbor, helping to decrease groundings and protect the bay from environmental damage.
A lighthouse keeper's job could be a lonely one, often located far from neighbors and friends. The residence of Egmont Key's first lighthouse keeper is seen in this picture situated to the right of the dock and boathouse and surrounded by scrub. The lighthouse is to the left.
Egmont Key was occupied by military forces several times in the course of its history. At the end of the Third Seminole War (1855-1858), the United States Army detained Indian prisoners here including, it is believed, the well-known Billy Bowlegs. Confederate troops and later the Union Navy occupied the island during the Civil War. At the outset of the Spanish-American War in 1898, temporary hospitals such as the one shown in this image were used to treat soldiers wounded in the war.
Once the Civil War was over, the lighthouse keeper and his family again became the only inhabitants on Egmont Key until 1906 when construction on Fort Dade was completed.
Fort Dade was established on Egmont Key in 1898 as a means to safeguard the Tampa Bay area from the imminent Spanish American-War. Construction on the fort was completed in 1906. The city had more than 300 residents and featured brick roads, electricity, telephones, a hospital, jail, movie theater, bowling alley and tennis courts. The fort was deactivated in 1923 and the Tampa Bay Pilots Association set up operations on the island in 1926. The pilots association currently inhabits the island, along with one Florida State Park staff member.
The Coast Guard took over operations of the lighthouse in 1939, leaving the keeper's residence vacant. The decision was made to demolish the two-story home and replace it with a one-story barracks building. Today, the island is once again inhabited only by its caretakers. Nonetheless, its beaches, lighthouse and the ruins of long gone Fort Dade welcome visitors to walk the grounds and discover the past.