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Welcome to Egmont Key State Park

History of Egmont Key

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. This was the only lighthouse 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'.

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.

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 travel offshore to meet large ocean-going vessels and safely guide them through the waters of Tampa Bay.

In the 1970s Egmont key was recognized as valuable habitat for shorebird and sea turtle nesting and on July 10, 1974 it became a National Wildlife Refuge managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Due to staffing limitations and an increase in visitors the US Fish and Wildlife Service entered in to a Cooperative Use Agreement with the Florida Park Service. On October 1, 1989 Egmont Key State Park was created.

Natural and Cultural Resources

During the Spanish American War, five-gun batteries were constructed. These batteries housed large artillery pieces to protect Tampa Bay from invasion. Two of the original batteries were lost to erosion and are now located underwater on the south end of the island. The remaining three batteries are located on the north end of the island and are threatened by erosion. There is only one complete building remaining from the Fort Dade era. The guardhouse was mostly destroyed by fire. Through the efforts of the Florida Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Egmont Key Alliance, this building has been restored. The only other remains from this time period are the brick roads and foundations of the buildings that were part of Fort Dade.

Egmont Key has as many as 50,000 shorebirds that nest on the island each year. Many of the species are listed as either threatened or endangered. The has been as many as 120 sea turtle nest during the nesting season. Park staff and volunteers work diligently to protect these species.