FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR HISTORIC STATE PARK
FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR HISTORIC STATE PARK
P.O. Box 6560
Key West, Florida 33041
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973, Florida's southernmost state park is popular for recreation, as well as U.S. military history. The fort was one of a series built in the mid-1800s to defend the nation's southeastern coastline. Completed in 1866, Fort Zachary Taylor played important roles in the Civil War and Spanish-American War. A beautiful beach at the southern end of the park provides opportunities for picnicking, swimming, snorkeling, and fishing. Visitors can also enjoy a short nature trail and bicycling within the park. A refreshment stand at the beach offers snacks, cold beverages, beach sundries, and souvenirs. Guided tours of the fort are available daily. Located in Key West at the end of Southard Street on Truman Annex.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is an excellent place for the birding enthusiast. Numerous birds stop to rest and get re-nourished at Fort Taylor during the spring and winter migration. The Loggerhead King Bird, which had never been sighted in the United States, made a visit to Fort Taylor in 2006 and was documented by the Audubon Society. Numerous birds of prey, shorebirds, frigate birds and other unusual and rare bird sighting have been made at Fort Taylor. Fort Taylor is the last stop for many bird species on their migration to and from Cuba and other Caribbean islands. The park is the largest green space in Key West and is on the southern most tip of the continental United States. Migrating birds are most frequently sighted in the tropical hammock area. Many of the plants in the tropical hammock are critical for the migrating birds. The native plants provide the food required for their survival on their long journey. Fort Taylor is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. A list of all birds sighted at Fort Taylor is available upon request.
Construction of the fort began in 1845, shortly after Florida became a state. In 1850, the fort was named after U.S. President Zachary Taylor, who died in office earlier that year. Throughout the 1850s, construction on Fort Taylor was slow. Yellow fever, shortages of material and men, remoteness and hurricanes had slowed down progress.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Capt. John Brannan occupied the fort, placing it in Union hands. Key West was an important outpost for the Union because numerous blockade-running ships were detained at Key West harbor and guarded by Fort Taylor's cannons. The 10-inch Rodman and Columbiad cannons at the fort had a range of three miles. This was an impressive deterrent to the Confederate navy, preventing them from attempting to take the fort or the island of Key West.
Proving to be a severe loss for the South, Fort Taylor remained in Union hands throughout the Civil War. By the time the three-story fort was finally finished in 1866 (21 years after it was begun), there were many impressive features included. Items such as sanitary facilities flushed by the tide and a desalination plant which produced drinking water from the sea were available as early as 1861. A total of 140 guns and a large supply of ammunition were on hand to secure the fort.
In the years that followed, Fort Taylor was again used during the Spanish-American War. In 1898, in an effort to modernize the fort, the top levels were cut down to install newer weapons. Further remodeling also included the addition of Battery Osceola and Battery Adair on the inside of the fort.
With the coming of the 20th century, more sophisticated weapons and eventually radar and other devices took the place of guns. By 1947, the Army turned Fort Taylor over to the Navy to maintain.
Beginning in 1968, through the tireless efforts of volunteers, excavations for old armaments in the gun rooms uncovered a number of guns and ammunition from Civil War times. This represents only a fraction of the buried arsenal, which is the largest collection of Civil War cannons in the U.S. In recognition of this, Fort Taylor was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Two years later, the fort was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Nothing like swimming at Florida's southernmost state park. Water quality is excellent and conditions are usually favorable for a swim at Fort Taylor. Occasionally, there are marine creatures present that you need to be aware of. Just remember to always be careful, be aware of your surroundings, be safe and, most of all, have fun!