Posted by:Keywester, 2:55 PM GMT on September 24, 2009
Fort Jefferson & The Dry Tortugas
At the southernmost tip of the Continental United States lies the island paradise Key West with its own unique charm and laid back lifestyle - Famous for Hemingway, sunset celebrations and much more. However the end of US 1 is just the beginning, let the Dry Tortugas Ferry or the Seaplanes of Key West take you a further 70 miles (112.9km) west of Key West, Florida, out over the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico to America's most inaccessible National Park - The Dry Tortugas - Fort Jefferson on Garden Key
The Dry Tortugas National Park consists of seven tiny islands composed of coral reefs, white sandy beaches and the surrounding tropical waters. The area is known for its famous bird and marine life, and its legends of pirates and sunken gold, and sheer unspoiled beauty. Ft. Jefferson, the largest of the 19th century American coastal forts is a central feature. When Ponce De Leon originally discovered these islands (in 1513) he named them "Las Tortugas" (meaning "the turtles" in Spanish) because of the abundance of sea turtles that provisioned his ships with fresh meat, but there was no fresh water - the Tortugas were dry. Even though hunting drastically reduced their numbers, many varieties of the species are still present in the area. The Dry Tortugas National Park is dominated by its’ central feature, the majestic Fort Jefferson - the largest 19th century coastal fort. It's time to step back in time and explore the history that is Fort Jefferson, sunbathe on a remote palm tree lined white sand beach or snorkel the living reef in the warm crystal clear waters of this beautiful Paradise.
History: The Tortugas were first discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513. Abundant sea turtles or "tortugas" provisioned his ships with fresh meat, but there was no fresh water-the tortugas were dry. 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 1800s due to their strategic location in the Florida Straits. Plans were made for a massive fortress and construction began in 1846, but the fort was never completed. The invention of the rifled cannon made it obsolete. As the military value of Fort Jefferson waned, its pristine reefs, abundant sea life and impressive numbers of birds grew in value. In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt set aside Fort Jefferson and the surrounding waters as a national monument. The area was redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992 to protect both the historical and natural features.
Fort Jefferson: Active Use: 1860s - 1930s The fort remained in Federal hands throughout the Civil War. With the end of hostilities in 1865, the fort's population declined to 1,013, consisting of 486 soldiers or civilians and 527 prisoners. The great majority of prisoners at Fort Jefferson were Army privates whose most common transgression was desertion while most civilian prisoners transgressed by robbery. However, in July 1865 four special civilian prisoners arrived. These were Dr. Samuel Mudd, Edmund Spangler, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O'Laughlen, who had been convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Construction of Fort Jefferson was still under way when Dr. Mudd and his fellow prisoners arrived, and continued throughout the time they were imprisoned there and for several years thereafter, but was never completely finished. Mudd provided much-praised medical care during a yellow fever epidemic at the fort in 1867, and was eventually pardoned by President Andrew Johnson and released. By 1888, the military usefulness of Fort Jefferson had waned, and the cost of maintaining the fort due to the effects of frequent hurricanes and the corrosive and debilitating tropical climate could no longer be justified. In 1888, the Army turned the fort over to the Marine Hospital Service to be operated as a quarantine station.