At the southern tip of Key West, lies Fort Zachary Taylor. Construction started in 1845, and the fort was officially named after President Taylor, a few months after the former war hero died in office. Fort Taylor was one of three forts in Confederate territory but under Union control during the American Civil War. Fort Taylor was the base of operations for the Union’s Navy’s East Gulf Coast Blockade Squadron. The fort never saw hostile action during the war, due to its formidable defenses.
Fort Taylor saw considerable use during the Spanish-American War, as well.
The fort lost its two upper tiers during modifications for more modern weapons in 1889. The original cannons were used as fill.
Fort Taylor saw use during WWI and WWII, mainly as a training ground during the latter. The U.S. Army turned over the fort to the Navy in 1947, although Fort Taylor was once again useful during the Cuban Missile Crisis, with Naval Station Key West next door. Antennas were installed on the old fort, where cannons used to sit.
Originally, the fort was completely surrounded by water, with only a causeway leading to the island. There were 40 cisterns under the fort to collect water.
Fort Taylor has three types of cannon in its casements:
8 inch Columbiad. Fired heavy spherical shells with a heavy powder charge.
10 inch Rodman Gun. Fired spherical shot and shell.
10 inch Army Parrott Rifle. Fired 300 pound, solid, bullet shaped projectile. 15 groove, right hand twist rifling.
The fort volunteers made sure I made it to the back to see the 10 hole privy. “Beats an outhouse in Fairbanks,” I told them.
Three sides of Fort Taylor still has a moat, although the fort has been landlocked since 1965. Dredging the Key West Channel led to the fill being used around the fort.
Fort Zachary Taylor was named a National Historic Landmark in 1973.