Spanish explorers first surveyed the island of Key West in 1513. After the Florida territory was transferred to the U.S., the Navy established a small depot here in 1822 to rid the area of pirates. Fishing, salvaging wrecked ships and cigar manufacturing became the driving economic forces behind the island's growth making Key West the richest city in Florida in the 1890s. The U.S. Army began construction of Fort Taylor, named for President Zachary Taylor, in 1845. With secession and the beginning of war in 1861, Fort Taylor remained under federal control -- one of only three fortresses in Florida to do so -- and served as the headquarters for the Federal Navy's East Gulf Coast Blockading Squadron staying on 'active duty' status through 1947. Today, the fort is a National Historic Landmark containing the largest cache of Civil War-era seacoast cannons in the U.S.
The United States built Fort Zachary Taylor to protect Key West Harbor. When finished, it had three floors of gun rooms and a barracks building consisting of three floors. This view shows the fort circa 1898, just prior to the "modernization" project which called for removing the top two tiers of the fort. The fort was completely landlocked in the mid 1960s.
Union troops took control of Fort Zachary Taylor early in the Civil War and maintained it through the duration of the war. They made use of the fort's impressive artillery, including 10-inch Rodman and Columbiad cannons to detain blockade-running ships seeking to supply the Confederacy. In 1968, a large supply of Civil War-era guns and ammunition were discovered in the Fort's buried arsenal. In fact, Fort Zachary Taylor held the largest collection of Civil War-era cannons in the United States.
Get in touch with your inner pirate this December at Fort Zachary Taylor's annual Pirate Fest. Pirates may never have stormed the walls of Fort Taylor, but remote outposts such as Key West bore witness to shipwrecks and sea battles and the rough lives of those who made the high seas their home. Yearly interpretive programs such as Pirate Fest enable park visitors to step back in time and relive days and events that helped shape local history.
Fort Taylor was originally constructed 1,200 feet offshore from Key West. In the mid 1960s, the U.S. Navy mounted a dredging project. Since they controlled the Fort Taylor property, the decision was made to land lock the fortress. This image also shows how the Navy used the fort as a storage yard.
Soon after the park opened to the public, a contractor began the process of digging a moat around the fortress. There were two reasons for the project. One was to prevent easy entry into the structure. The other was to give the illusion of the fort in its early days, surrounded by water. The end result was an attractive division between the fort and the beach and sea beyond.