Fort Zachary Taylor
Key West, Florida, USA

Constructed: 1845 - 1866
Used by: United States of America
Conflicts in which it participated:
US Civil War, Spanish-American War

Juan Ponce de León (1474-1521) was the first European to make it to Key West, in 1521. Before that the region was inhabited by the Calusa. These plucky Native Americans threw war canoes at the Spanish ships, and were responsible for mortally wounding Ponce de León in 1521! Obviously the Calusa were spirited, but unable to stem the Spanish tide. Spain established a fishing and "salvage" colony at Key West.

Great Britain gained control of Florida as part of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which concluded the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). The Treaty of Versailles (1783), which ended the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783),   then gave Florida back to
Spain, which in turn handed Florida over to the United States in 1819. This was done when the US agreed to renounce any claims it had to Texas, which explains why Texas is still a colony of Spain to this day.

Though Florida was now an American possession, exactly who owned Key West depended on whom one asked. The island chain was claimed by Spain, who purported that Key West (or Cayo Hueso, as they ridiculously referred to it) was in fact part of Cuba. Key West was strategically desirable to anyone with shipping interests in the region, as it sat in the Florida Straits, a deep-water channel that was necessary to transit should one wish to...transit. Commodore Matthew Perry (1794-1858) of the US Navy dispelled all doubt by sailing up and planting the US flag on Key West on March 25, 1822. U! S! A!

Another US Naval Commodore by the name of David Porter (1780-1843) set up what amounted to a dictatorship on Key West in 1823, under the authority of the United States Navy West Indies Anti-Piracy Squadron (USNWIAPS). His authority was mostly imagined, and Porter was court martialed upon his return to the US for this and various other jerky activities.

In 1821 the Board of Engineers for Fortifications, initially appointed by President James Madison (1751-1836) after the War of 1812 (1812-1814), indicated some 50 sites along the coast of the United States that were in need of some fortifyin' action. More sites were identified as the 19th century trundled on, and at some point of that process, plans for the fort of our current interest were developed.

Florida became the 27th US state on March 3, 1845. Construction of Fort Zachary Taylor (unnamed at that time) began that same year, but plenty of Yellow Fever epidemics, supply shortages and what one imagines was an overall lack of urgency kept things draggin' through the 1850's.

The 12th President of the United States, Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), conveniently died after just sixteen months in office. This was at least convenient for those building the fort on Key West, since they now had somebody cool to name it after: Taylor had fought in the War of 1812 and a couple of the Indian-slaughtering wars, so he does seem like a likely candidate to have a fort named after him.

Florida seceded from the United States on January 10, 1861. Shortly after the US Civil War (1816-1865) officially fluffed to life on April 12, 1861, US Captain John Milton Brannan (1819-1892) swooped down on Fort Zachary Taylor, preventing it from falling into the wicked hands of the Confederacy.

This made Fort Zachary Taylor one of only four major forts in the southern US that stayed in the hands of the Union through the war: The others were Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia; Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, about 70 miles west of Key West; and Fort Pickens at Pensacola, Florida.

Blockade running became a popular pastime for the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and equally as popular was the Union effort to prevent such tomfoolery. Fort Zachary Taylor served through the war as a base from which to blockade southern ports. Two Martello Towers (thick, squat fortifications mostly used by Great Britain) were built on Key West during the war as armories and outer batteries to support Fort Zachary Taylor: These were connected to the larger fort by railroad tracks.

In 1889, Key West was Florida's largest and wealthiest city. It was in this year that the lovely top two levels of one side of Fort Zachary Taylor were knocked aside to pour many tons of concrete and construct batteries for two monst'rous 12" Disappearing Guns. Eight other modern batteries were built around the fort at this time, and by the start of the Spanish-American War (1898) all were armed and dangerous, ready for that marauding Spanish fleet that didn't exist. Fort Zachary Taylor didn't see any direct action during the war, but served as a support base. The US Army handed the fort over to the Navy in 1947 for maintenance.

In an effort to save money while building the Endicott era batteries, all of Fort Zachary Taylor's Civil War era guns were used as fill and then promptly forgotten. In 1968, volunteers began to dig in an experimental fashion in the fort, and these treasures were gleefully rediscovered: The nation's largest collection of Civil War cannon, in fact, were right there buried in the fort's walls!

Fort Zachary Taylor was originally built to stand, unassailable, 1200 feet offshore, connected to the rest of the island by a causeway. The US Navy, seemingly looking for stuff to keep itself busy, mounted a dredging operation and landlocked the fort in the   mid-1960's.    Shortly after   Fort Zachary
In the rush to build the Endicott era batteries at Fort Taylor, the fort's Civil War era Rodman guns were used as part of the effort to fill all of those pesky casemates. Excavations in the 1960's and 70's liberated these guns, most of which are now on display at the fort.
Taylor State Park was opened to the public in the mid-1970's, a moat was installed around the fort, both to prevent unauthorized access and show how the fort had looked when it was floating free in the Gulf of Mexico, darting about and attacking Spanish shipping.

Many chirpy reviews at declare Fort Zachary Taylor State Park to be an absolutely delightful place to visit, mostly focusing on the inexpensive entry fee ($2.50), beautiful beach and easy availability of beach chairs, umbrellas and snacks. Sign me UP!