Fort Taylor - History and Facts | History Hit

Fort Taylor

Key West, Florida, United States

Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida is a nineteenth century Third System fortification.

Peta Stamper

10 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Fort Taylor

Fort Taylor in Florida, United States, was originally constructed following the War of 1812, in a plan known as the Third System in order to defend America’s coasts. Construction began in 1845 and was completed in 1866, although further changes were made to Fort Taylor during the Spanish-American Wars.

named for President Zachary Taylor, Fort Taylor was not the site of any significant battles in the American Civil War and was under Union control. Today, Fort Taylor is part of a Florida State Park, with ranger guided tours of the fort available daily at noon and 2:00pm.

Fort Taylor history

Construction of the fort began in 1845 during a plan to put up defences along the southeast coast after the War of 1812 with Great Britain. In 1822, Thompson Island was chosen to build the fort at the tip of Key West. The fort would also gain several supporting batteries including Martello Towers, giving Fort Taylor further coverage. Named for the US President Zachary Taylor in November 1850, months after his sudden death in office, the limestone foundations were laid.

Fort Taylor boasted 5 foot thick granite walls that rose 50 feet above the low tide and featured impressive barbette guns at the top. The sea-facing bastions each contained 42 guns on 3 levels and troop barracks were cut into the gorge facing the land, with a capacity of 800 men. At either end of the barracks was a large gunpowder magazine.

When the American Civil War broke out, Union Captain John Milton Brannan moved his 44 men from Key West Barracks to Fort Taylor in an attempt to prevent it falling into Confederate hands. The fort became a strategic place to threaten blockage runners.

In 1898, the fort was reduced to the second floor and a substantial battery and yet still heavily used during the Spanish-American War and later the World Wars. In the 1960s, volunteers excavated Civil War artefacts, discovering the largest collection of Civil War cannons. Fort Taylor was therefore placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Fort Taylor today

Today, wander the red-brick halls of Fort Taylor, passing cannon and gun ports. You can catch a tour guided by a state park ranger or follow the interpretive description panels that explain the fort’s role in the Civil War and Spanish-American War.

On the third weekend of every month, local re-enactors conduct historical demonstrations to bring history alive for visitors. Key West also offers beautiful beaches – the perfect spot for a picnic, swim, snorkel or paddle at the end of a long day exploring the historic fort.

Getting to Fort Taylor

Located just of highway US-1 that reaches out from the southernmost tip of Florida, Fort Taylor is best reached via car. From Miami, follow the US-1 for around 3 hours to Truman Avenue in Key West. There is plenty of parking on site.

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