If you need a break from the jam of tourists on Duval Street, there’s a nice history lesson awaiting you, just a few blocks away. Fort Zachary Taylor State Historic Park is located on the western tip of Key West, providing visitors with a glimpse of military life on the island 150 years ago.
Fort Zachary Taylor is located just beyond the U.S. Naval Station. You have to pass through the Navy’s installation to get to the old fort, which is, quite literally, as far west as you can go on a paved road.
Fort Zachary Taylor is surrounded by a thick concrete wall. Originally, the fort was also surrounded by water on all sides, with a walkway connecting it to land.
The fort featured elevators, which could raise and lower ammunition from the storage areas below.
The fort was remodeled in 1889 to allow for more modern weapons, and in the process, some of the old cannons were buried in the concrete. Excavation began in 1968. Fort Zachary Taylor is believed to hold the largest collection of Civil War-era cannons — although most remain buried.
On top of the fort, you can still see the spaces once occupied by weapons. You also have a great view of the Gulf of Mexico.
The bowels of Fort Zachary Taylor are an architectural treat. Brick archways open into large chambers…
… and passageways that stretch on and on…
… and on and on.
Be sure to look inside some of the small concrete rooms inside the fort, to see leftover items such as this pile of cannon balls.
Outside the fort, you can take a walk through a small “hammock” — a patch of forest that’s elevated above the rest of the landscape, allowing trees to grow here. The trees provide a welcome patch of shade, after you’ve spent a while on the beach.
As I mentioned earlier, Fort Zachary Taylor used to be surrounded by water — the beach was added later. It’s a great addition, and certainly one of the best places on Key West to enjoy some sand.
Down here, you’re a long way from anywhere.
Walk down the beach to the westernmost point, then turn north. The sand is replaced with rocks, which are not nearly as comfortable for sitting. Why on earth did I wear those boots?