Visited 27 Dec 2009 – 8 Jan 2010 – Fort Zachary Taylor is a Third System fort, used during the U.S. Civil War, converted and expanded for Endicott Period batteries and further modified and expanded for World War II use. There were a total of ten Endicott batteries built on the Fort Taylor Reservation but only two were built inside the old fort itself. The old fort conversion for the two Endicott Period batteries in the 1890′s was particularly destructive because the top level of casemates was removed to reduce the profile of the fort down to the height of the Endicott Period batteries and the barracks were reduced to a single level.
Of the two Endicott Period batteries inside the old fort, only parts of Battery Osceola are open to the public and access to the parapet level is limited to a small area above emplacement #1. Battery Adair is not open to the public at all and you cannot get a good view of the emplacements from any angle. I particularly wanted access to emplacement #2 to check out what should be a WWII Battery AMTB #5 mount but I couldn’t get a clear shot even with a telephoto lens.
The remaining Third System casemates and armament displays are great, they have some great Parrot rifles and Rodman cannons and restored 10 position latrines. A real high point is the partially uncovered Rodman cannons and Parrot rifles still in the fill used to fill the voids when Battery Osceola was built. The one story barracks look like they are being restored, but I saw no activity during my visits.
The real tragedy of Fort Taylor is the missed opportunity to preserve some really significant batteries outside the old Fort Taylor and to make them accessible to the public. Mortar Battery Seminole and WWII Battery 231 are now on the grounds of the Trueman Annex of NAS Key West and not open to the public.
Battery 232 is intact but being used by the airport as a storage area and not open to the public. Both the East and West Martello towers are in private hands and accessible for a fee, but the West tower has been repurposed as a garden exhibit by the Key West Garden Club. The East tower is operated as a combination museum and pop art gallery. The two AMTB #6 gun pads are still on the beach West of the West Martello Tower but they have been converted to gazebos. Six other batteries have been completely destroyed with no traces left. The old Key West Barracks is now a modern Navy housing area with only the grounds of the old cemetery to remind people of it’s historic past.
I made my way to the Monroe County Library, Florida History Section, in Key West to get more information on the batteries that no longer exist and to see if any photos existed of the WWII batteries. The Florida History guy is Tom Hambright and he knew exactly where to find what I wanted. We managed to find a 1945 aerial photo of Battery 232 fully armed with the BC/CRF tower in view and many other gems. While researching at the library, another patron happened to mention that he had movies of the Fort Taylor batteries actually being fired in the 1920′s. Tom now has the VHS copy of this film and will convert it to DVD. I hope to be able to show this at the CDSG meeting in April. Many thanks to Tom for all his help.
This post was written by JohnStanton on January 10, 2010