Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach Nourishment
Fort Taylor was one of the seacoast defense posts constructed as part of the Third System of
fortifications to protect strategic harbors following the
War of 1812. Funding was appropriated by
Congress in 1844 and construction began in 1845.
Fort construction was difficult due to the remote
location requiring materials and the work force to be
shipped from the mainland. Work crews were
hampered by numerous outbreaks of Yellow Fever,
the subtropical climate and storms. Congressional
appropriations were sporadic which caused repeated
suspension of work.
One year after the building of Fort Taylor had begun;
the project was halted due to a violent hurricane
striking Key West. Of the 601 buildings in the town,
594 had been greatly damaged or leveled. The fort’s
cisterns, smithy and stable were spared but four
They were among the 50 people
who lost their lives in Key West. The lighthouses on
Key West and Sand Key, seven miles southwest of
Key West, were toppled. Those who had taken
refuge in the lighthouses drowned.
When Fort Taylor was planned, the Corps of
Engineers decided that the best place to put the fort
would be off shore on the southwestern side of the
island. A little more than 60 acres of land was
purchased to build piers and supply areas.
Engineers constructed a dam and pumped out ten
feet of water. They then established the foundation
of granite. The three-tier fort would be connected to
Key West by a wooden causeway spanning 1,000
feet. By 1851 the walls had risen 10 feet. By 1859
crews had much of the fortress completed. They
installed the drawbridge and tidal flush latrines.
Cannon had been shipped down and mounted in
casemates on two levels and on barbette mountings
on the very top of the fort. Toward the end of 1860
the fort was ready for occupancy.
Fort Taylor was one of three forts in Florida to be held
by Union forces throughout the Civil War. Fort
Jefferson remained in Union hands as did Fort
Pickens in Pensacola. The main role of Fort Taylor
during the war was to serve as headquarters for the
Union Navy East Gulf Coast Blockading Squadron.
Close to 300 vessels were captured by the squadron
and forced to anchor in front of Fort Taylor. Over the
years the fort was modified with new coastal artillery
until its military role came to an end in 1947. The
property was then transferred to the Navy as part of
the naval facilities in Key West. Although the original
fort was surrounded by water, over the years the
Navy placed dredge spoil from channel and harbor
deepening projects so that by the late sixties the
entire fort was encompassed by fill material. The fill
material consisted of large rocks and coral fragments
which does not make a very attractive recreational
beach. The Department of the Interior took over the
property until it was deeded to the State of Florida in
1976. Fort Taylor which is a National Historic
Landmark includes the largest collection of civil war
armaments in the U.S.
The southernmost state park in Florida, Ft. Zachary
Taylor State Park now has one of the best beaches in Key West. The beach attracts locals, tourists, and cruise
ship passengers, with a projected attendance of over
450,000 visitors for 2008. The projected attendance figure,
based on the first 7 months of 2008, is much larger
compared to previous years. Attendance for 2005, 2006 and
2007 was 281,413, 269,777 and 314,639 respectively. The
lower attendance for those years is due to the tourist industry
recovering from the storms of 2004 and 2005. The increase
in attendance beginning in November 2007, when the
nourishment project was under construction, is evident from
review of the data through July of 2008.
The 0.3 mile of beach at the Park is critically eroded and
requires periodic maintenance due to its southernmost
location and exposure to coastal forces. Shore protection is
enhanced with a series of four breakwaters and a terminal
groin. The truck haul beach nourishment was completed in
December 2007 to restore the beach after the hurricanes of
2004 and 2005 which also damaged the coastal structures.
Prior to the beach nourishment, a carbonate sand source
investigation was completed in October 2005, and the most
economic upland sources of sand were identified since no beach compatible sand sources were available in the Florida Keys. The
DEP Bureau of Design and Recreation is responsible for Florida State Park projects, and the Bureau implemented the Park beach
nourishment with 100% funding support from the DEP Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems.
The Park beach nourishment project was designed and permitted by Coastal Systems International as part of the ongoing beach
management program at the Park. American Earth Movers was awarded the construction contract after a competitive bid process.
The contractor hauled approximately 3,600 cubic yards of sand from Ortona mines in Central Florida for a total contract value of
$412,000. The contractor was able to take advantage of a unique opportunity in the sand mining industry in Florida with the
availability of the sand source at the Conrad Yelvington rail yard near Ft. Lauderdale. The sand was hauled by trains from the Ortona
mines and then trucking was only required from the rail yard in Ft. Lauderdale south to Key West. Despite ongoing road expansion
construction on the Overseas Highway north of Key Largo, the contractor was able to complete the project in approximately 1 month,
averaging 40-50 trucks of sand placed per day. The project included selected invasive species removal, and the Park has planted
several areas of native dune vegetation as part of the ongoing Park beach management program.
The beach nourishment was completed in December in time for the peak winter tourist season and prior to marine turtle nesting
season in May. On July 27th and 28th the park had 99 Loggerhead turtle hatchlings emerge from their nest in the newly placed fill
material. This is the first viable marine turtle nest in the park since 2003. Bird watchers can see Gray Kingbird, Caribbean Shorteared
Owl and trans-Gulf migrants. The breakwaters for shore stabilization were constructed in the late 1980’s, and they also provide
habitat for corals and tropical fish. The park has facilities for parking, shady picnics, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, and concessions.
For more information on the park, please visit the DEP Parks web site: http://www.floridastateparks.org/forttaylor/default.cfm
|Aerial photo durng construction.
|Construction nearing completion.
|Shoreline condition in 1983