Star Fort: Zachary Taylor, Key West FL

anotherlayer

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I had an opportunity to visit Fort Zachary today. The whole thing is a mess and full of holes. This is most certainly a star fort, no worries there. My wife wants to go to the beach, whatever, I'll smash this out right quick and update. So, let's get some quick info out of the way.

  • The Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, better known simply as Fort Taylor (or Fort Zach to locals) is a Florida State Park and National Historic Landmark centered on a Civil War-era fort located near the southern tip of Key West, Florida.
  • Construction of the fort began in 1845 as part of a mid-19th century plan to defend the southeast coast through a series of forts after the War of 1812.
  • In 1898, the fort was reduced down to the second floor and Battery Osceola was added to the south casemate. The battery consisted of two 12 inch artillery pieces. The Civil War-era pieces were used as fill, being buried within the new battery to save on materials. Battery Adair was added to the west casemate and included four 3-inch, 15-pounder Rapid Fire rifles.[3]
  • The fort was heavily used again during the 1898 Spanish–American War, World Wars I and II, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Fort Zachary was the first line of defense for adversaries attempting to strike from Florida’s southern coast. Completed in 1866, and rising over 50 feet above the shoreline, the fort served as a deterrent for Confederacy ships during the Civil War, and a stronghold against the forces of the Spanish-American War in 1898. The fort took 21 years to complete with supplies and construction labor being outsourced from places as far as Germany.
  • In 1812, construction commenced on a series of stone forts overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Twenty-four years in, Col. Totten realized a potentially dire tactical error had been made: An extensive study of our country’s eastern marine border had erroneously deemed Florida’s coastline lacking any deep-water harbor, and as such, no plans for a fortress had been made for any city south of Pensacola.
I'll just throw a couple more quotes from various sites:

While Key West had for years been home to various military garrisons, the city had been gravely overlooked during the original evaluation of defendable harbors. A subsequent inspection deemed the southwest point of the island to be the best location for a fortress.

And thus the construction of Fort Zachary Taylor was begun.

Unfortunately, it would be another 30 years — on Nov. 3, 1866, to be precise —before construction of Key West’s fort would conclude. Decades of inefficiency, plague, extreme weather and human rights abuses would mar the years between the conception of Fort Zach and its anticlimactic completion. The fort was technically never finished; when the bombardment of Fort Pulaski, Ga., by Union forces completely demolished that building, it spurred a shutdown of fortress construction nationwide.

From the moment its construction was approved, Fort Zach proved to be a daunting task for its overseers. The difficulties of sourcing enough granite and brick from New England, coupled with Key West’s annual affliction with yellow fever, meant that building could not continue uninterrupted for very long.

The work was grueling, the wages abysmally poor; to accomplish the most back-breaking work, local slave owners “rented” out their men, whose work earned their masters $1 per day.
Where the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet stands a solitary stone fort overlooking the sea. Looking out from the top of the fort, visitors witness a stunning sunset stretched across miles of pristine, white sand.

Built when our nation was still young - and particularly susceptible to attack - Fort Zachary was the first line of defense for adversaries attempting to strike from Florida’s southern coast. Completed in 1866, and rising over 50 feet above the shoreline, the fort served as a deterrent for Confederacy ships during the Civil War, and a stronghold against the forces of the Spanish-American War in 1898. The fort took 21 years to complete with supplies and construction labor being outsourced from places as far as Germany.
Ok, I will link to some sites at the bottom of this and you can enjoy some head-scratching history yourself. Let me post some images and see what this place looks like.

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I have given a decent look to find information on when this fort was floating out in the middle of the water and when they infilled it. It appears this was done in the 60s. The very same time they dug up the cannons to show you it was Civil War glory.

Key West looked like in 1884:

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Above is the zoomed in view of Fort Zachary Taylor. Note it is floating out there alone. And again below is Fort Zachary Taylor in 1861. This must have been a breeze to build back in 1845. How did they do this? With what population? Am I really supposed to believe that they imported German people to build a star shaped fort using stones imported from New England? I have a million thoughts that I will have to get back to.

One quick story I heard last night from the Ghosts & Gravestones tour we went on (it was awesome, we were the doomed!) that back in 1860, a slave ship arrived on Key West and no one had ever known such things even existed. It was 1,000 child slaves destined for Liberia. I dunno, maybe I misheard the population comment, but I believe the host claimed that Key West had now just doubled its population overnight. So... uh, who built these forts again back in 1845? Oh wait, I guess it was these foundlings!

Again, a shot of Fort Zachary Taylor in 1861 below.

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Ok, so let's get into my photos:

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For some reason they have these chunks of red brick just sitting around. Not sure why, they do not describe them anywhere:

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Not sure why, but you will notice they have painted a lot of the stonework (above the megalithic style foundation)

Here we go with the cannons. These are small rooms inside the walls. I don't understand why the cannon is pointing at me, nice defense.
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Ok, now let's have some fun. Apparently, all of the cannons and guns and artillery was buried sometime in the 1890s. It wasn't until the 1960's where they was rooting around with shovels and they found a few canons in the mud. Neat! So, they decided to turn them into part of the exhibit, leaving them where they dug them up. Cool story, eh?

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Ok, that's gonna have to do it for me for now, but I know you guys love a good cannon blueprint:
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And lastly, from that one photo posted way above with the American flag flying in the middle (I think it's 34 stars or something like that), I noticed that the top was a pyramid. This is not just a wooden flag pole shaved to point, this was a copper pyramid that is attached to the top. Always have to have a leave-behind them masons. I got a kick out of it:

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Links:
Wiki
Forttaylor.org
Florida Weekly.com

My thoughts:

- The population for the entire state of Florida in 1812 was 34,000. The population of Key West in 1882 was 8,000. So, we have this built beginning in 1845 and completed in 1866. By who? I can only assume that in 1845, the amount of men required to pull this off would be enormous. Throw in all the stories about the deaths from disease and accident. I assume there were hookers in town and so you would naturally lose workers routinely. The history states they imported German workers? To build a star fort out of stone imported from New England? In the middle of the water? And mind you, they were building Fort Jefferson (thanks, @JWW427) which is just a 2 hour boat ride from Fort Zachary Taylor. This is a glorious star fort, for sure. And if we are talking Florida star forts, we were damn well aware of Castillo de San Marcos (built 1672–1695). So, we hired slaves and Germans to build a star fort in 1845 that is identical (in theory) to what the spanish were building 200 years prior. 200 years prior! And the British of course built that one in Pensacola 100 years prior which is also identical (in theory).

- I just want to bring this one up again: In 1812, construction commenced on a series of stone forts overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. There is that year again.

- And I was a little surprised that during the Civil War, this was controlled and operated by the Union. I guess I would've just assumed it was controlled by the Confederates, but they didn't teach me shit in school.
 

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