HISTORY...

Located on one of those islands, Garden Key, is historic Fort Jefferson. Built in the mid-1800’s, with over 16 million bricks, this is America’s largest coastal fort. Originally constructed to protect the important Gulf of Mexico shipping lanes, Fort Jefferson was used as a military prison during the Civil War. During this time, it was "home" to Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was convicted of complicity in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

The Islands were first discovered by Spaniard Ponce De Leon in 1513. First named Las Tortugas (The Turtles) due to the abundance of sea turtles. The word 'Dry' was soon added to mariners' charts to warn of the lack of fresh water. Since the days of Spanish exploration, the reefs and shoals of the Dry Tortugas have been a serious hazard to navigation and the site of hundreds of shipwrecks. U.S. military attention was drawn to the keys in the early 1800's due to their strategic location in the Florida Straits. The first construction on Garden Key, in 1825, was a lighthouse to warn sailors of rocky shoals. Construction of Fort Jefferson began in 1846 but the fort was never completed. The United States knew it could control navigation to the Gulf of Mexico and protect Atlantic bound Mississippi River trade by fortifying the Tortugas. Construction continued for over 30 years but the Fort, which covers 11 of the key's 16 acres, was never finished. During the Civil War the fort was a military prison for captured deserters. It also held the 4 men convicted of complicity in President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865, the most famous being Dr. Samuel Mudd. The Fort was plagued with construction problems and Yellow Fever epidemics. The invention of the rifled cannon made the Fort obsolete, as it's thick walls could now be penetrated. The Army finally abandoned Fort Jefferson in 1874. In 1908 the area became a wildlife refuge to protect nesting birds from egg collectors. In 1935 Fort Jefferson was proclaimed as a National Monument but it was not until 1992 that Dry Tortugas reached it's current status as a National Park to protect both the historical and natural features. Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the sites featured in Along the Georgia/Florida Coast, a travel itinerary from the National Register of Historic Places that explores America's past through visits to historic places. Please click here for more information about Ship Wrecks...

There is now a self-guided tour of the Fort set up by the National Park Service, tour time is approx. 45 minutes.

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