Virtual Field Walk

David Richardson’s classes went to visit historic Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West. The old fort is now run as a state park. In February and March, they host a Heritage Days Festival. People re-enact how life was during the 1850s and 1860s. They dress in the costumes of the period and perform crafts and daily chores that they would have done at that time. There is also an army encampment on hand to demonstrate army life.

The fort was originally surrounded by water and entrance could only be gained across a drawbridge and through the sally port. The area has been filled in and only a moat is there to give some idea as to the way the fort was originally. The drawbridge has been removed and the original entrance sealed. The wall has been breached on the southern section for access. The sally port currently houses a sectional model of the fort as it originally was. There are also models of the different kinds of armament that were used in the fort.

Proceed To Virtual Tour Of Fort Zachary Taylor


Construction on 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 Zachary Taylor was slow due to yellow fever, shortages of materials and men, the remoteness of the site, and hurricanes.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Capt. John Brannon 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 Zachary 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 Zachary 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 198 and a large supply of ammunition were on hand to secure the fort.

In the years that followed, Fort Zachary Taylor was again used during the Spanish-American War. In 1889, 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 Zachary 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 Zachary Taylor was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Two years later, the fort was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1976, the Florida Park Service began managing the fort, which was officially opened to the public in 1985.

Copyright © 2010 The Florida Geographic Alliance