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3 "Forts" of Key West

Most people know Key West as a great place to go bar-hopping, people-watch, and enjoy some much-needed warm weather during the coldest months of the year. But it's also a city with a lot of history. One bit of that history you can visit involves the three "forts" of Key West - Fort Zachary Taylor, Fort East Martello, and Fort West Martello.

Fort Zachary Taylor

Thanks to its strategic location at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico and along the Caribbean shipping routes, the military has always viewed Key West as an important location from which it can help defend American interests. In 1845, the U.S. Army constructed Fort Zachary Taylor approximately 1,200 feet offshore from Key West. A long causeway connected the fort to the island. For over 100 years and through several major wars, Fort Zachary Taylor protected Key West's harbor. During the Civil War, Key West remained in Union hands - a literal island in the Confederacy - because the Union supporters stationed in Key West at the outbreak of hostilities took control of the Fort.

During the 1960s, the Navy filled in the water around the fort, land-locking the former island/fort and transferred the obsolete fort to the State of Florida. Today, Fort Zachary Taylor is part of Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and is open to the public for a small fee. At the park, you can explore the remains of the fort or swim at the park's beach, one of the largest on Key West (if a little rocky). The park is also one of the best places to view sunset on Key West. Although it can be crowded, it is nowhere near as crowded as the popular Mallory Square Sunset Celebration.

Fort East Martello

Fort East Martello is a defensive fortification constructed during the Civil War near what is today the Key West Airport. Although Fort East Martello and its companion, Fort West Martello, were rendered obsolete even before the end of the Civil War, no one ever bothered to destroy either of the two towers. In 1947, the U.S. Army declared the structures to be surplus, and sold them to Monroe County, the county in which Key West is located. Monroe County, in turn, leased Fort East Martello to the Key West Art & Historical Society. They turned Fort East Martello into a museum, which is home to Civil War relics, exhibits on the wrecking and cigar industries that once flourished on Key West, and Robert the Enchanted Doll, a supposedly haunted doll.

Fort West Martello

Monroe County has leased Fort West Martello to the Key West Garden Club. Upon leasing the fort, the garden club restored the fort and its grounds, turning it into a free garden. The garden is on Higgs

Beach and is open to the public. Although Key West was spared much of the effects of Hurricane Irma in 2017, Fort West Martello and its gardens suffered damage that closed them for several months. However, the gardens are now open and provide an excellent location to spend some quiet time while on the often anything-but-quiet island of Key West.


Interested in learning more about Key West? Check out 101 Travel Bits: Key West, the newest entry in the 101 Travel Bits series.

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