Copyright, RD Payne

National Park Service History Electronic Library & Archive

The NPS History Electronic Library & Archive is a portal to electronic publications covering the history of the National Park Service (NPS) and the cultural and natural history of the national parks, monuments, and historic sites of the (U.S.) National Park System. Also included are documents for national monuments managed by other federal agencies, along with a collection of U.S. Forest Service publications.

The information contained in this Website is historical in scope and is not meant as an aid for travel planning; please refer to the official NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Website for current/additional information. While we are not affiliated with the National Park Service, we gratefully acknowledge the contributions by park employees and advocates, which has enabled us to create this free digital repository.


New eLibrary Additions
Featured Publications
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cover only

Mission 66
Modernism and the National Park Dilemma
(Ethan Carr, 2007)

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cover only

Canyon Village in Yellowstone
The Model for Mission 66
(Lesley M. Gilmore, 2017)

Master Plan, Moores Creek National Military Park (1969)

Mount Rainier National Park: Preliminary Master Plan (1973)

John Day Fossil Beds: A Study (Preliminary) (1967)

San Juan Island National Historical Park: A Master Plan (June 1968)

A Master Plan for Nez Perce National Historical Park (June 1968)

General Management Plan, Reconstruction Era National Historical Park (May 2024)

"When the War Come Up": Historic Resource Study, Pea Ridge National Military Park, Arkansas (Theodore Catton, June 2024)

Historic Structure Report: Quincy Mine Office, Keweenaw National Historical Park (Mundus Bishop, November 1, 2019)

Cultural Landscape Report: Old Mine Road North, Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area (WLA Studio, April 2024)

Historic Structure Report: Old Grand Canyon School, Grand Canyon National Park (September 2007)

Historic Furnishings Report: Moton Airfield, Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Mary Grassick and Carol Petravage, 2006)

Special Resource Study: Z-Bar (Spring Hill) Ranch, Chase County, Kansas (March 1991)

Historic Resource Study: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Hal K. Rothman and Daniel J. Holder, 2000)

Forensic Analysis of the Abraham Lincoln Assassination: An On-Site Study of the Presidential Box at Ford's Theatre (Theodore N. Pappas, Sven Swanson and Michael M. Baden, extract from The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, Vol. 45 No. 2, June 2024)

Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact Statement: Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail (March 2004)

The History of Fortress Rosecrans (Edwin C. Bears, December 1960)

Historic Resource Study (Historical Component): Volume I, Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island National Monument, New York (Harlan D. Unrau, September 1984)

Historic Resource Study (Historical Component): Volume II, Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island National Monument, New York (Harlan D. Unrau, September 1984)

Historic Resource Study (Historical Component): Volume III, Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island National Monument, New York (Harlan D. Unrau, September 1984)

Historic Structure Report/Historical Data: Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York/New Jersey (Harland D. Unrau, May 1981)

Historic Structure Report: Ellis Island Seawall, Ellis Island, State of Liberty National Monument (Naomi Kroll, July 2003)

Historic Resource Study: Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Line Scranton to Slateford Junction (A. Berle Clemensen, August 1991)

Historic Structure Report, Part I: Central Railroad of New Jersey, Suburban Coach No. 1157 (Mark L. Morgan, April 1993)

Historic Structure Report, Part I: Central Railroad of New Jersey, Combination Car No. 303 (Mark L. Morgan, March 1993)

Historic Structure Report, Part I: Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, Boxcar No. 43651 (Mark L. Morgan and Thomas H.E. Campion, July 1996)

Historic Structure Report, Part 1: Spang, Chalfant & Co. Locomotive No. 8 (Mark L. Morgan, August 1996)

Historic Structures Report: Lackawanna Heritage Valley Trolley Museum, Silk Mill Building, Steamtown National Historic Site (Leung Hemmler Camayd, John Bowie Assoc., Borton-Lawson Engineering, November 1995)

View from the Dunes: The Official Publication of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Summer 2000)

Historic Furnishings Report: Russian Bishop's House, Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska (Katherine B. Menz, 1986)

Traditional Tlingit Use of Sitka National Historic Park (Thomas F. Thornton and Fred Hope, July 31, 1998)

Wallpaper and Wallcoverings: The Russian Bishop's House, Sitka National Historical Park (Barbar A. Yocum, September 2003)

Occupied Corinth: The Contraband Camp and the First Alabama Regiment of African Descent, 1862-1865 (Joseph E. Brent, February 1995)

Special Resource Study: Corinth Unit, Shiloh National Military Park, Mississippi-Tennessee (December 2003)

The Siege and Battle of Corinth: A Strategy for Preservation, Protection and Interpretation (September 1991)

Historic Structure Report: The Fortifications of San Juan National Historic Site, Vol. 1: Summaries, Conditions Survey, Recommendations, Glossary, Bibliography, Selected Historic Drawings, Appendices (Joan Berkowitz, E. Blaine Cliver, Richard Crisson, Billy Garrett, Judy Jacob, Frank Matero and Barbara Yocum, 1991)

Historic Structure Report: The Fortifications of San Juan National Historic Site, Vol. 2: El Fuerto de San Cristóbal (Joan Berkowitz, E. Blaine Cliver, Richard Crisson, Billy Garrett, Judy Jacob, Frank Matero and Barbara Yocum, 1991)

Historic Structure Report: The Fortifications of San Juan National Historic Site, Vol. 3: Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, The City Walls, An Investigation of the Materials Used, Cultural Landscape Report (Joan Berkowitz, E. Blaine Cliver, Richard Crisson, Billy Garrett, Judy Jacob, Frank Matero and Barbara Yocum, 1991)

Historic Structures Report - Historical and Architectural Data and a History of Ownership: Ironmaster's House, Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, Massachusetts (John Albright, November 1977)

Historic Structure Report: Sagamore Hill, Home of Theodore Roosevelt, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (Marie L. Carden and Richard C. Crisson, written 1988, published 1997)

Historic Furnishing Report, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Volume I: Historical Data (David H. Wallace, 1989)

Historic Structures Report, Update: Aspet and Little Studio (Judith Q. Sullivan, 2007)

Cultural Landscape Report for Roger Williams National Memorial: Site History, Existing Conditions, Analysis and Evaluation, Treatment (John Auwaerter and Karen Cowperthwaite, 2010)

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form: Mount Rushmore National Memorial Historic District (Additional Documentation and Boundary Increase) (Melissa Dirr Gengler and Liz Sargent, July 2013)

The Treasures of the Yosemite (John Muir, extract from The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Vol. XL No. 4, August 1890)

Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park (John Muir, extract from The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Vol. XL No. 5, September 1890)

The Most Splendid Carpet (Susan H. Anderson, 1978)

Gaslighting in America: A Guide for Historic Preservation (Denys Peter Myers, 1978)

Beyond the Fireworks of '76: A Summary Report of Thirty Sites Determined to be Significant in Illustrating and Commemorating the Role of Black Americans in United States History (The Afro-American Bicentennial Commission, December 1973)

Beyond the Fireworks of '76: A Summary Report of Thirty-One Sites Determined to be Significant in Illustrating and Commemorating the Role of Black Americans in United States History (The Afro-American Bicentennial Commission, December 1974)

Program Comment for Regular Maintenance, Capital Projects, and Leasing of National Park Service Mission 66-Era Facilities (1945-1972) for Compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act: Conceptual Overview (October 2023)

Program Comment on Stewardship and Management of National Park Service Mission 66-Era Facilities (1945-1972) for Compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act: Outline/Plan (April 2024)

Mission 66-Era Facilities Program Comment: Sample Images for Consultation (October 2023)

The Quest for Gold: An Overview of the National Park Service Cultural Resources Mining Inventory and Monitoring Program (CRMIM) (Becky M. Saleeby, 2000)

An Archeological Survey Plan for the Pacific Islands Cluster, Pacific West Region, National Park Service: NPS Systemwide Archeological Inventory Program Western Archeological and Conservation Center Publications in Anthropology No. 76 (Susan J. Wells and Robert J. Hommon, 2000)

A Selected Bibliography of the Florida-Louisiana Frontiers with References to the Caribbean, 1492-1819 Spanish Colonial Research Center Publication Series No. 2 (Joseph P. Sánchez, William H. Broughton, Eva D. Gallegos, Jerry L. Gurulé and Rebecca Steele, 1991)

Ranger: The Journal of the Association of National Park Rangers (Vol 39 No 3, Summer 2023; ©Association of National Park Rangers)

Prairie Zephyr: Newsletter of the Southern Plains Network (April 2024)

The Birds of Yellowstone National Park (Milton P. Skinner, Roosevelt Wild Life Bulletin, Vol. 3 No. 1, February 1925)

The Relation of Wild Life to the Public in National and State Parks (Charles C. Adams, Roosevelt Wild Life Bulletin, Vol. 2 No. 4, February 1925)

The Big Game Animals of Yellowstone National Park (Edmund Heller, Roosevelt Wild Life Bulletin, Vol. 2 No. 4, February 1925)

The Food of Trout in Yellowstone National Park (Richard A. Muttkowki, Roosevelt Wild Life Bulletin, Vol. 2 No. 4, February 1925)

The Beaver in Yellowstone National Park (Edward R. Warren, Roosevelt Wild Life Annals, Vol. 1 Nos. 1-2, October 1926)

Notes on the Beaver Colonies in the Longs Peak Region of Estes Park, Colorado (Edward R. Warren, Roosevelt Wild Life Annals, Vol. 1 Nos. 1-2, October 1926)

Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site NPS Science Report NPS/SR-2024/124 (Tim C. Henderson, May 2024)

Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Fort Larned National Historic Site NPS Science Report NPS/SR-2024/125 (Michael Barthelmes, May 2024)

Bibliography of Water-Quality Studies in Gateway National Recreation Area, New York and New Jersey U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2024-1035 (Philip Savoy,, Maria Marionkova and Christopher Schubert, 2024)

Network Embedding for Understanding the National Park System through the Lenses of News Media, Scientific Communication, and Biogeography (Felber J. Arroyave, Jeffrey Jenkins and Alexander M. Petersen, extract from Annals of the American Association of Geographers, January 8, 2024)

Research alignment in the U.S. national park system: Impact of transformative science policy on the supply and demand for scientific knowledge for protected area management (Felber J. Arroyave, Jeffrey Jenkins, Steve Shackelton, Breeanne Jackson and Alexander M. Petersen, extract from Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 357, March 28, 2024)

(My heartfelt thanks to Steve and Jeff for their contributions this month for the following collection of brochures)

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park: 196519942000

Acadia National Park: 19671968

Andersonville National Historic Site: 1991

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site: 1968

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: c1987

Bandelier National Monument: 2022

Big Hole National Battlefield: 19891992

Blue Ridge Parkway: 196819691992

Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site/Tupelo National Battlefield: 1995

Bryce Canyon National Park: 2024

Buck Island Reef National Monument: 1968

Cape Hatteras National Seashore: 2003

Cape Lookout National Seashore: 2015

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 1969

Chicago Portage National Historic Site: 1991

Chickasaw National Recreation Area: 1992

Coronado National Memorial: 2019

Cowpens National Battlefield: 1968

De Soto National Memorial: 196719681990

Dry Tortugas National Park: 1969

Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site: 2014

Everglades National Park: 1968196919901993

Fort Donelson National Battlefield: 1969

Fort Matanzas National Monument: 196719951999

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site: 1967

Friendship Hill National Historic Site: 2011

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park: 19681989199920002009

Gateway National Recreation Area: 2023

George Washington Birthplace National Monument: 1968

Glacier National Park: 2023

Hampton National Historic Site: 2023

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park: 196719911999

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park: 1995

Hot Springs National Park: 1968

Jewel Cave National Monument: 1967

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial: 19682014 / Old Courthouse: c19622004

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Chalmette Unit): 1968

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument: 2023

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park: 19672000

Kings Mountain National Military Park: 1968

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial: 19681994

Lowell National Historical Park: 1999

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park: 1997

Minute Man National Historical Park: 1967

Mojave Trails National Monument: 2023

Moores Creek National Battlefield: 2023

Natchez Trace Parkway: 19952009 / Meriwether Lewis Park: 1966 / Emerald Mound: 1968

North Country National Scenic Trail: 2020

Ocmulgee National Monument: 1970

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: 2023

Pullman National Historical Park: 2023

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park: 2024

Rocky Mountain National Park: 2023

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park: 2022

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area: 2019

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument: 2023

Saratoga National Historical Park: 2021

Seal Islands National Historic Landmark (St. Paul Island)

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: 1969

Shenandoah National Park: 1968c1980s

Shiloh National Military Park: 19682023

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: 1973200520162023

Steamtown National Historic Site: 2023

Theodore Roosevelt National Park: 2023

Tupelo National Battlefield: 1961

Valley Forge National Historical Park: 2022

Virgin Islands National Park: c1960s1968

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site: 2023

Kennecott Mines (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve)

Wright Brothers National Memorial: 19692002

Yellowstone National Park: 1968

Our National Parks: A Conference (American Association of Landscape Architects, extract from Landscape Architecture, Vol. VI No. 3, April 1916)

The Proposed National Park Service (Richard B. Watrous)

National Parks, Monuments and Forests (Warren H. Manning)

A Bill to Establish a National Park Service (William Kent)

Danger of Over-Exploitation of Our National Parks (James Sturgis Pray)

The Distinction Between National Parks and National Forests (Frederick Law Olmsted)

The Forest Service and the Preservation of Natural Beauty (E.A. Sherman)

American Society of Landscape Architects and Our National Parks (James Sturgis Pray)

The National Parks on a Business Basis (Stephen Tyng Mather, extract from Review of Reviews, Vol. LI No. 4, April 1915)

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Annual Reports: 202120222023

National Historic Trails Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide: Across Oregon (June 2023)

Popular Trails featuring trails in: North Cascades National Park & Ross Lake National Recreation Area (Hugh Dougher, Tim Manns, Kelly Bush, Joanie Lawrence and Sarah Welch, 1994)

Santa Fe Trail: A National Scenic Trail Study (Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, July 1976)

Bison Management Plan Final Environmental Impact Statement, Yellowstone National Park (June 2024)

Manzanita Lake Development Concept Plan/Environmental Assessment, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California (May 2024)

Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools Special Resource Study (May 2024)

Fort Hunter Liggett Special Resource Study (December 2006)

Shenandoah Valley Civil War Battlefields Assessment Draft (September 30, 1993)

Lower Mississippi Delta Region Heritage Study/Environmental Assessment: Volume 1 Draft (February 1998)

Lower Mississippi Delta Region Heritage Study/Environmental Assessment: Volume 2 Draft (September 1998)

"Stories of the Delta" — Lower Mississippi Delta Symposium (Shapins Associates, Inc. and Sylvia Angell Written Communications, 1996)


Lava Ridge Wind Project

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 1 (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 2 (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 3 (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 4a (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 4b (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 4c (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 4d (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 4e (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 4f (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 4g (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 5a (BLM, June 2024)

Lava Ridge Wind Project Final Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 5b (BLM, June 2024)

Draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 1: Executive Summary and Chapters 1-4, Bears Ears National Monument (March 2024)

Draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement — Volume 2: Literature Cited, Glossary, and Appendices, Bears Ears National Monument (March 2024)

Last Chance Canyon 1869 Apache/Calvary Battle Site, Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico (Christopher D. Adams, Diane E. White and David M. Johnson, January 2000)

Historic Facilities of the Lochsa Ranger District: A Historical Review of the Administrative, Protection & Management facilities on the Locsha Ranger District, Clearwater National Forest 1904-1966 Cultural Resources Report No. 5 (Louis F. Hartig, June 1981)

(Thanks to Discover Your Northwest for granting us permission to host these old recreation/trail guides)

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Trail Guide (1994)

Mount Baker District Guide (Debra Paul, 1995)

The Mountain Loop National Scenic Byway (1994)

North Bend Ranger District Recreation Guide (Louise Suhr, 1993)

White River Ranger District Recreation Guide (1996)

Darrington Ranger District Hiking Guide (1992)

Road Trips: Methow Valley Recreation Guide (1993)

Winthrop Ranger District One-Day Trails Recreation Guide (c1993)

Cle Elum Ranger District Trail Guide (1994)

Naches Ranger District Trail Guide (1998)

Hood Canal Country Recreation Guide, Olympic Peninsula (1996)

Gold Beach Ranger District Trail Guide (1997)

NPS Reflections

Lighthouse at Fort Jefferson National Monument, Florida in 1994 (NPS photo)


Prehistoric Occupation of the Dry Tortugas

There are no recorded prehistoric sites in the Dry Tortugas, and aboriginal occupation or use of the islands is not documented in historical records. The scarcity of readily available fresh water would likely have been a limiting factor, impeding extensive or long-term habitation. The possibility, however, that prehistoric or early historic period activity did occur may be borne out through further ethnographic research and, perhaps, controlled archeological surveys. However, previous ground disturbances, both from human activities and natural events, have likely obliterated or obscured any land-based prehistoric remains that may have existed.

Despite the lack of terrestrial discoveries, many archeologists consider it reasonable to assume that submerged prehistoric artifacts and sites are present in the area. Paleo-Indian hunters and gatherers, for example, are known to have been in south Florida approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years before the present (B.P.). Sea levels at the beginning of that period were considerably lower (by 60 to 100 meters), and the region encompassing the Tortugas was then connected to the mainland peninsula by dry limestone uplands of the Florida continental shelf. Access to the Tortugas would therefore have been possible for these early nomadic peoples.

At the beginning of the Archaic cultural period (c. 8,500 B.P.) seawaters had risen to within 25 meters of the current coastline. Archaic period people took advantage of the increased biological diversity that accompanied the period's warmer and wetter climate. They relied on an abundance of shellfish and other coastal resources, and supplemented fishing with intensive hunting and plant gathering. Populations increased significantly, and village communities were in existence by 7,000 B.P. in south Florida. They also used watercraft to travel between regional islands and mainland areas for cultural exchange and subsistence purposes.

Protected bay and cove prehistoric sites have been found at Buck Island Reef National Monument and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve in the Virgin Islands. It is likely that prehistoric peoples visited the Dry Tortugas, given the islands' proximity to areas known to have been occupied or utilized, yet it is quite possible that visitors or inhabitants left little or no readily identifiable archeological evidence. It is also possible that traces were left but have long since been obliterated or are simply undetectable by traditional survey approaches.

Fort Jefferson aerial looking east (NPS photo)

Early History of Garden Key, 1513-1825

The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Léon visited the coral keys at the western end of the Florida Reef in 1513 and named them "las Tortugas"—the Turtles—for their abundance of sea turtles. Because there is no fresh water on the islands, the name was later changed to the Dry Tortugas. Ponce de León earlier landed on the east coast of Florida and named it La Pascua Florida, or "Flowery Easter." He returned to Florida with equipment and settlers to start a colony in 1521, but they were driven off by repeated attacks from the native population. In 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine, beginning the first period of Spanish rule of the colony of Florida. An early description of the Dry Tortugas comes from Hernando d'Escalante Fontaneda, who was shipwrecked in the Florida Keys around 1545 and lived with keys Indians for seventeen years. In his memoir, he states:

To the west of these islands is a great channel, which no pilot dares go through with a large vessel; because, as I have said, of some islands that are on the opposite side towards the west, which are without trees, and formed of sand. At some time they have been the foundations of cays [keys], and must have been eaten away by the currents of the sea, which have left them thus bare, plain sand.

They are seven leagues in circumference, and are called the Islands of the Tortugas; for turtle are there, and many come at night to lay their eggs in the sand.

In 1565, John Hawkins, chief architect of the Elizabethan navy and widely acknowledged to be a pioneer of the English slave trade, replenished his provisions at the Tortugas. In 1566, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés explored the Tortugas and other keys, but this area was known to be a haven for pirates. Over the next two hundred years, the Tortugas remained a distant outpost, mainly visited by privateers and other unsavory types.

The Spanish controlled the colony of Florida until 1763. In treaty negotiations concluding the Seven Years War in 1763, Spain ceded the colony of Florida to Britain. The British reorganized this territory into the provinces of East Florida, which consisted of most of the present-day state of Florida, and West Florida, bounded by the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain on the west, by the 31st parallel on the north, and the Apalachicola River on the east.

During the Revolutionary War, the Spanish, then allied with the French (who were actively at war with Britain), took advantage of the distraction and recaptured portions of West Florida, including Pensacola. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1784, ended the Revolutionary War and returned all of Florida to Spanish control. In 1815, the Spanish government awarded Key West to Juan Pablo Salas for meritorious service.

The United States acquired the colony of Florida from Spain under the terms of the Adams-Onis Treaty, signed in 1819. In return, the United States renounced all claims to Texas. The United States took control of Florida in 1821. At this time, John Simonton purchased Key West from Juan Pablo Salas.

Continued problems with pirates in the Caribbean finally forced the United States to take action. In 1822, Commodore David Porter accepted a command to suppress piracy in the West Indies and restore order to American and Caribbean waters. Porter arrived at Key West in 1823 with his "Mosquito Fleet" of small, shallow-drafted vessels that were more easily able to maneuver the shallow reefs of the Florida Keys. Over the next two years, Porter's ffeet virtually eliminated pirates in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Commodore Porter explored the Dry Tortugas in December 1824 and January 1825. He was looking for a site for a naval station, but he reported that the Tortugas were unfit for any kind of naval establishment: "they have a good inner harbour for small craft and a tolerable outer one for ships of war; but they have no fresh water, and furnish scarcely enough land to place a fortification and it is doubtful if they have solidity enough to bear one." With pirates eliminated from the Dry Tortugas, however, the need for a lighthouse to warn ships away from the dangerous shoals and reefs of the most westerly of the Florida Keys resulted in the construction of a lighthouse on Garden Key in 1826.

Colorful coral reef (NPS photo)

Strategic Importance of the Dry Tortugas, 1829-1844

Shoreline defense was fragmented and weak when the British burned the nation's capital during the War of 1812. At the time, coastal defenses were composed of a haphazard assortment of batteries and outposts, the so-called Second System of fortifications. In response to lessons learned in the War of 1812, a new coastal defense system was designed, meant to provide a comprehensive program of coastal defense with advanced armaments. Called the Third System, it was an attempt to protect critical United States shorelines.

In 1816, Congress appropriated over $800,000 for the Third System, the most ambitious American fortification construction program to date. Begun under peaceful conditions, the works were built more methodically and were permanent in nature. President James Madison appointed a Board of Engineers for Seacoast Fortifications, which visited potential sites and prepared plans for the new works. Its first report in 1821 suggested a chain of forts from Maine to Texas, and Dry Tortugas was the logical spot for the bottom link in the chain.

The strategic importance of the Dry Tortugas as the key to the Gulf of Mexico was linked to concerns about protecting ships carrying commerce from the growing Mississippi Valley, which sailed the Gulf to reach the Atlantic. Ships had to pass through a narrow channel known as the Straits of Florida, bounded on the south by Cuba. Enemy seizure of the Dry Tortugas would cut off this vital traffic, and naval tactics from this strategic base could also be effective even against a superior force. In addition, Britain was developing her West Indies possessions, there was trouble in Cuba, and the new republic of Texas seemed ready to form an alliance with France or Britain. The United States needed good harbors that would afford a point of refuge for both naval and cargo ships near the entrance to both the Gulf and the Caribbean.

Commodore John Rodgers and a team of engineers visited the Gulf Coast in May 1829. They were sent to examine the Pensacola Navy Yard and select a site for a naval hospital and other facilities. On his return to Washington, Commodore Rodgers stopped at Dry Tortugas to examine the anchorage, which combined a suficient depth of water for ships-of-the-line with a narrow entrance of not more than 120 yards. He found the geographic location ideal, stating that no other site presented the "same facilities in communicating" with ports in Cuba and the Mexican Gulf coast. The disadvantages were no fresh water or firewood.

In 1829, Lieutenant Josiah Tattnall completed a detailed survey of the Dry Tortugas. In reporting his findings, he wrote:

A naval force, designed to control the navigation of the Gulf, could desire no better position than Key West or the Tortugas. Upon the very wayside of the only path through the Gulf, it is, at the same time, well situated as to all the great ports therein. It overlooks Havana, Pensacola, Mobile, the mouths of the Mississippi, and both the inlet and the outlet of the Gulf.

The Tortugas harbors afford shelter for vessels of every class, with the greatest facility of ingress and egress. And there can be no doubt that an adversary, in possession of large naval means, would, with great advantage, make these harbors his habitual resort, and his point of general rendezvous and concentration for all operations of this sea. With an enemy thus posted, the navigation of the Gulf by us would be imminently hazardous, if not impossible; and nothing but absolute naval superiority would avail anything against him. Mere military means could approach no nearer than the nearest shore of the continent.

It is believed that there are no harbors in the Gulf at all comparable with these,that an enemy could resort to with his larger vessels. ... By occupying two (or at most three) small islands, the harbors of the Dry Tortugas may be thoroughly protected.

Nothing was done at this time to establish a naval base at the Dry Tortugas. The focus eventually shifted from the Navy to the War Department in an effort to fortify the Florida Reef.

In 1844, Secretary of War James M. Porter asked Chief Engineer Joseph G. Totten of the Corps of Engineers and Quartermaster General Thomas S. Jesup to submit position papers relative to the protection of the Florida Reef. Both men agreed that such fortifications were needed to command the Straits of Florida entrance into the Gulf of Mexico. After reviewing these documents, Congress appropriated $50,000 and preparatory surveys were ordered.

Colonel Totten charged Captain John G. Barnard with making a detailed reconnaissance of Key West and the Dry Tortugas. Barnard concluded that the Tortugas and Key West were strategic necessities that must be fortified. He proposed a series of seven batteries on the sand keys. After receiving Barnard's report, Totten convened a four-man board to prepare a plan for the defense of the Florida Reef. They decided on Garden Key as the location for a "bombproof caserne arranged in bastioned fronts along the water's edge and embracing in their total length about 2,000 feet with cisterns under them and a parapet and terreplein over them."

Grave of Major Joseph Sim Smith in parade ground (NPS photo)

The Building of Fort Jefferson, 1846-1876

Horatio G. Wright Command, 1846-1856

Major Hartman Bache and several others from the Corps of Engineers began a topographical survey of Garden and Bird keys in 1845, which they completed early in 1846. They found the lighthouse keeper and his family living there, as well as a group of unsavory salvage crews. The engineers' survey included borings of the coral sand subsoil, which they examined in order to determine the island's load-bearing capacity.

After gaining statehood in 1845, Florida ceded jurisdiction of the Dry Tortugas to the United States. President James K. Polk's executive order of September 17, 1845, made the Dry Tortugas a military reservation. In May 1846, Chief Engineer Totten assigned Captain William D. Fraser as the Superintending Engineer for the construction of the work on Garden Key. Part of the $200,000 appropriated by Congress in 1846 was being used to construct a fortification at Key West, but the remainder would be "devoted to the commencement of a still larger and more important work on Garden Key."

The fortification was designed and its construction supervised by General Joseph G. Totten. Lieutenant Montgomery C. Meigs prepared drawings for the fort, a hexagonal casemated structure with two sides shortened to conform to the shape of Garden Key. The two short walls measured 325 feet and the remaining four walls measured 477 feet. Chief of Engineers Totten's casemate design allowed the guns inside them to track to either side and included smaller embrasures (gun ports) in the casemate walls through which the guns fired. To minimize the risk of a penetrating attack while a gun was being reloaded, he designed heavy iron shutters that rebounded to the closed position after the guns were fired. Two tiers of casemates would be protected using the iron-framed embrasures. Additional guns would be mounted on the terreplein. At each corner of the fort there was a bastion containing gunrooms, magazines, and a circular granite staircase.

The United States declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846, and Captain Fraser was ultimately assigned to join the invasion force of Brigadier General John Wool in San Antonio, Texas. Lieutenant Horatio G. Wright replaced Fraser and took command of the Garden Key project, arriving at Dry Tortugas in December 1846. One of his first tasks was to determine the effect of an October hurricane on Garden Key. The lighthouse keeper reported that one of the wharves had been wrecked, several small buildings ffattened, and all vessels in the harbor damaged. Although parts of the shore had been altered, Wright did not believe it would make construction of the fort more difficult.

The Engineer Department contracted with the firm of Norton and Parker to erect several temporary buildings that would be needed during the construction process. Since Garden Key was devoid of any kind of building supplies or fresh water, the structures were to be prefabricated and reassembled on site. When Norton and Parker went bankrupt in early 1847, the Army awarded Andrew B. Vennard the contract to complete the buildings by July. Vennard was unable to meet the original schedule due to mismanagement and the primitive working conditions on Garden Key. The eight temporary buildings were finally completed during the fall, after the end of the 1847 fiscal year on September 30.

By October 1847, Lieutenant Wright felt that a suficient number of mechanics and laborers were on site to start construction of the permanent buildings. A section of the officers' quarters and three detached kitchens were begun. By the spring of 1848, the three kitchens had been completed and the walls of the officers' quarters raised and the building roofed. Congress did not appropriate any additional funds for Fiscal Year 1848, as the war with Mexico was seen as a higher priority.

In February 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended hostilities with Mexico. Congress appropriated $25,000 for the Garden Key project for Fiscal Year 1849, and Lieutenant Wright proposed using it to complete the officers' quarters and begin construction of the counterscarp. Funding for Fiscal Year 1850 and 1851 was $50,000, which was used to continue construction of the counterscarp and to begin raising the scarp front. Wright estimated that an additional $1.2 million would be needed to complete the fort, not including the buildings on the parade.

In 1850, the fort was officially named Fort Jefferson in honor of the third president. Over the next few years, construction at Fort Jefferson was slowed and even suspended due to lack of funds. Congress failed to appropriate any money for Fort Jefferson for Fiscal Year 1852, and the project was closed down for more than a year, beginning in May 1852. Congress finally appropriated $100,000 for Fiscal Year 1854 and $50,000 for Fiscal Year 1855. Lieutenant Wright proposed using all available money to raise the remainder of the scarp wall to water level, excepting a small sum for repair of the wharf. By December 30, 1854, masons were on site and materials were finally arriving in a timely manner, enabling Lieutenant Wright to accomplish his goals for the fort. Workers completed two large concrete cisterns, made considerable progress on the casemate cisterns, and began work on the sewer system.

Fiscal Year 1856 brought a large increase in appropriations for Fort Jefferson. A crisis in relations with Spain, brought about by William Walker's filibustering activities in Nicaragua and southern expansionists' interests in Cuba, led to an increase of $150,000 for Fort Jefferson. General Totten advised his superintending engineers that all forts should be in condition to defend against attack. On May 1, 1855, Lieutenant Wright reported that the portion of Fort Jefferson "below water" was essentially complete and the construction on the first tier had begun. He felt that after serving over eight years at Fort Jefferson, he should be given a new assignment. The Department finally granted Wright, who had been promoted to Captain, a new duty station in December 1855.

Daniel P. Woodberry Command, 1856-1861

On March 22, 1856, Captain Daniel P. Woodberry took command of the construction of Fort Jefferson. Construction reports indicate that by September 30, 1856, all six bastions were at 8 feet high and casemates and walls were between 10 and 11 feet. Once ammunition magazines and the arches over some of the casemates were completed, Fort Jefferson could mount the first tier of guns. Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1857 were again $150,000. Work completed included putting up embrasure irons in the lower tier casemates, raising the bastion magazines and stairway tower walls up to elevations varying from 8 feet to 16 feet, and raising the scarp walls to heights varying from 10 feet 6 inches to 16 feet 8 inches above low water. Also fourteen casemate cisterns had been paved and made watertight.

Woodberry proposed using the $300,000 appropriation for Fiscal Year 1858 to raise the fort to 20 feet and complete the work below that level. By July 1, 1858, Woodberry advised the Department that, with slight exceptions, the scarp stood at 19 . feet above mean low water. By September 23, the first tier had been enclosed, covered, and made defensible. All first tier embrasures, with the exception of four left open for roadways, had been positioned. All first tier guns could be mounted, if on hand. General Totten inspected the fort in February.

For Fiscal Year 1859 congress appropriated $150,000. Woodberry's proposal was to continue work on the scarp and piers and to turn the arches of the second tier. By June 30, 1859, the masonry stood at 30 feet, the bastion towers had been raised higher, and the magazine arches adjacent to the towers had been formed.

Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1860 were cut to $95,000, which Woodberry planned to use "to continue the erection of the upper casemate arches as far as the means will go." By June 30, masons raised the scarp to 32 . feet. The stairway towers reached the upper landings and all 24 casemate arches had been formed, as well as 86 of the 122 curtain arches.

The Civil War Years, 1861-1865

By Fiscal Year 1861, Captain Woodberry had finally secured a transfer to another post. Replacing him was Captain Montgomery C. Meigs, who arrived at Garden Key on November 8, 1860. During his trip to the Tortugas, Captain Meigs was alarmed to hear many southerners express hostility and rebellion towards the Union. At Fort Jefferson he found

not a single gun, and I doubt whether among the seventy or eighty persons, white and black, employed or permitted on the island half a dozen fowling pieces could be found. The embrasures of the lower tier are ready for their guns. Magazines exist for ammunition. The walls are thirty feet in height, and the armament of the ffanks by a few howitzers and the placing of one or two big guns on each curtain, with a proper supply of ammunition and small-arms, would enable a single company of artillery, with the aid of volunteers . . .to hold this extensive and important work.

After Florida seceded from the Union on January 10, 1861, Meigs ordered the workmen to close up the 200 openings in the scarp wall with brick and timber and put up a drawbridge and gate at the sally port. Priority would next be given to making a number of the second tier arches bombproof to protect the magazines and fort garrison, who arrived on January 18, 1861. Major Lewis G. Arnold took command of the fort, and the troops of Company C, 2nd U. S. Artillery were housed in the frame structures on the parade. An annotated 1861 plan of Fort Jefferson shows that casemates were also being used to house the garrison, as well as women's quarters for laundresses.

The mounting of the first armament for the fort, six Columbiads and four field guns, occurred on January 25, 1861. Captain Meigs reminded General Totten that all lower tier casemates were ready for their cannon and large pivot guns could be mounted on the terreplein. Meigs strengthened the fort's armament on February 9 by borrowing several cannon from Fort Taylor in Key West. The Department was ready to send 36 Columbiads, 36 howitzers, their casemate carriages, and 6 additional Columbiads that would be mounted en barbette on the bastions.

On April 1, 1861, Lieutenant James St. Clair Morton replaced Captain Meigs as Superintending Engineer at Fort Jefferson. Work accomplished during Fiscal Year 1861 included raising the scarp from 35 to 42 feet, constructing much of the breast-height and parade ground walls, constructing three tower magazines, constructing temporary buildings for storerooms and shops, and outfitting casemates and wooden buildings as barracks and quarters. Fiscal Year 1862's appropriation of $75,000 would be used on the parapets and terreplein of the fort and to begin construction of the permanent barracks. Construction funds for Fort Jefferson increased by $100,000 when money was reprogrammed from coastal forts seized by Confederate forces. Captain Morton reported to the Department that he estimated an additional $1 million would be needed to complete the parapets and terreplein, officers' quarters No. 1 and 2, barracks, second tier casemates and magazines, a Navy storehouse, four parade magazines, and a permanent wharf and horse railway.

Congress appropriated $100,000 for Fiscal Year 1862 and $200,000 for Fiscal Year 1863. On March 5, 1862, Lieutenant Walter McFarland was named Superintending Engineer for the Florida Reef. Residing at Key West, McFarland gave responsibility for day-to-day supervision of Fort Jefferson to Chief Clerk Pearsall. In July 1862, McFarland contracted yellow fever and was unable to continue his duties until September. During this outbreak, twenty-six of his men died. Work continued on Fort Jefferson with McFarland managing the project through assistants.

During Fiscal Year 1863, workmen completed roofing the casemates and tower magazines of the second tier, outfitted the curtain magazines of the first tier, and completed the masonry and roofs of the stair towers and various other details. On the parade, construction of the enlisted men's quarters was progressing and one hot shot furnace was completed. In March 1863, Civil Engineer Edward Frost wrote McFarland that "many, indeed almost all, casemates not provided with guns are at present occupied as quarters, or for storehouses and miscellaneous purposes."

Fiscal Year 1864's $300,000 appropriation funded continuation of work on the enlisted men's quarters and officers' quarters, on the sewer system, on the counterscarp wall, on the barbette tier and four lower tier casemates, and on moat excavation. Long-time Chief Engineer Totten died in April 1864; his replacement was Richard Delafield. Congress failed to appropriate any funds for Fort Jefferson in Fiscal Year 1865.

A depleted workforce hampered efforts to complete the fort during Fiscal Year 1865, but limited work continued on the casemates, the officers' quarters and enlisted men's quarters, and ditch excavation. The sewers were completed but could not be used because of the unfinished condition of the moat. Four enlisted men's quarters' kitchens and two double kitchens for the officers' quarters were built and foundations laid for four others. Concern over subsidence caused the Engineer Department to suspend work on the second tier.

Post-Civil War Construction, 1866-1876

Relief came in Fiscal Year 1866, when Congress appropriated $100,000. Work occurred almost entirely on the permanent buildings on the parade, mainly repairs due to damage from an October 1865 hurricane. The rear third-story wall of the officers' quarters had to be rebuilt, as well as one of the double kitchens. Two single kitchens and a double kitchen were completed and privies attached to the kitchens. Work continued on the enlisted men's quarters, small and large magazines, curtain casemates, and moat excavation. The number of guns mounted in the fort increased significantly to 175.

Fiscal Year 1867's appropriation was $50,000. McFarland found he needed all of the money to continue work on the enlisted men's quarters and officers' quarters. Yellow fever struck Fort Jefferson in August 1867, resulting in thirty-eight deaths. A Board investigating the causes of the outbreak recommended that the enlisted men's quarters be completed as soon as possible so that troops could be removed from the casemate quarters, which were described as "damp and unhealthy." The Board also recommended that priority be given to completion of the counterscarp and moat so that tidal ffows could ffush out the sewers.

Colonel James H. Simpson replaced McFarland as superintending engineer of Forts Jefferson and Taylor on January 1, 1868. A reduced appropriation for Fiscal Year 1868 was mainly used for construction of the enlisted men's quarters and officers'quarters, as well as for moat excavation.

During Fiscal Year 1869, Colonel Charles E. Blunt replaced Colonel Simpson as superintending engineer of the Florida Reef. Although Congress failed to appropriate any funds for Fort Jefferson, work continued on the officers' quarters, enlisted men's quarters, and on the moat and counterscarp walls. During Fiscal Year 1870, Blunt concentrated his limited resources on the enlisted men's quarters. The emplacement of twenty-nine additional 10-inch Rodman's occurred during this time. Work was suspended in Fiscal Year 1871. According to an 1870 report, part of the garrison was quartered in casemates, four men to each casemate, as the enlisted men's quarters was not finished and was "but partially occupied. The officers' quarters were described as "well-finished and conveniently arranged."

Funding for Fort Jefferson resumed in Fiscal Year 1872. Attention was focused on the counterscarp with some work accomplished on the enlisted men's quarters. This same work program continued in Fiscal Year 1873, with the addition of adapting the barbette tier for heavier armament. International confficts with Great Britain and Spain led to a program to quickly modernize the weaponry at Fort Jefferson. This effort, which included reinforcing the traverse magazines and adding wooden galleries, as well as infilling the terreplein with sand to form a parapet, allowed six 15-inch Rodmans to be mounted during the 1872.1873 construction season. At the bastions, it was necessary to remove one smaller gun emplacement to each side of the bastion to mount the big guns. On Fronts 5, 6, and 1, four 10-inch Parrotts replaced smaller guns.

The completion of the counterscarp wall and moat finally occurred in 1873. Another outbreak of yellow fever struck Fort Jefferson in August 1873. As a result of this latest yellow fever outbreak, the fort's garrison was transferred to Fort Barrancas in January 1874, leaving only a few soldiers to look after the armament and ordnance stores. The garrison's commander, Captain Langdon, charged that the outbreak was caused by the "filthy condition of the engineer premises" and that several of the temporary frame buildings should be razed. The Engineer Department strongly disagreed, although problems with the sewers had not been resolved. To make matters worse, a hurricane in October 1873 damaged the roofs of the quarters of the enlisted men and officers and swept away a large latrine outside the fort.

During Fiscal Year 1874, Congress approved $50,000, which was programmed for modifications to the magazines and continuing construction of the unfinished section of the enlisted men's quarters. In response to complaints about the temporary structures, six were razed and several others repaired. On January 1, 1874, Captain Jared A. Smith replaced Colonel Blunt as superintending engineer for the Florida Reef. The Engineer Department asked him to investigate complaints about water in the moat being "foul and offensive." Major Smith sent the following recommendations with his annual report:

In view however of the probability of the work being regarrisoned at some future time it is recommended that the officers and soldiers quarters be completed, as well as magazines and other unfinished work of the barbette tier. It is also desirable to reconstruct the privies, with cisterns or other arrangements for their cleansing. It is recommended that an appropriation of fifty thousand dollars be asked for these purposes.

As the second tier of casemates at this work has remained for some years incomplete, it is suggested that some method of closing the scarp wall for cover of guns or other purposes should be devised.

No construction monies were appropriated for Fort Jefferson for Fiscal Years 1875 and 1876. A September 1875 hurricane battered the 1825 light tower and damaged the lantern. During this time period, a fort keeper was hired to provide for the maintenance and preservation of the property with day laborers hired to assist him.

Beginning in Fiscal Year 1876, Congress stopped making annual appropriations for seacoast defense construction. Fort Jefferson continued to use its contingency money to fund a keeper. In March 1876, an inspection of Fort Jefferson by Colonel Horatio G. Wright, Colonel Zealous B. Tower, and Major Smith occurred. They reported that the fort was essentially complete, except for the second tier embrasures. During this same time, the U. S. Lighthouse Service erected a new wrought-iron lighthouse over the stair tower near Bastion C (present-day 6) and demolished the old tower.

Fort Jefferson Work Force

Over the years of Fort Jefferson's construction, the Engineer Department drew on three primary sources of labor: slaves from Key West, white contract labor, and military prisoners. As work on the fort progressed, many Key Westers purchased slaves to realize income from their labor, which included quarrying coral aggregate on site. The Engineer Department also profited from the use of slave labor. Unlike white workers from New York, enslaved workers were mostly immune to tropical disease due to their exposure as children. They could be employed year-round, while most of the white workers left during the summer months when outbreaks of yellow fever were more common. Superintending engineers had to deal with skeleton work crews during the summer months or suspension of work altogether. After the fort was garrisoned in 1861, fatigue parties were also assigned construction duties.

Fort Jefferson discontinued the use of slave labor in 1863 after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves in regions "in rebellion" free. Although the Florida Reef was technically exempt from provisions of the Proclamation, since it was occupied by Federal troops, 100 free blacks were recruited from Louisiana for work at Garden Key in December 1863.

Fort Jefferson's use as a military prison, however, would eventually supply the largest workforce. Policy changes by the Lincoln administration in 1864 substituted hard labor in the Tortugas for execution as a punishment in the military system of justice. Most of the prisoners sentenced to Fort Jefferson were convicted by court-martial for desertion, cowardice, mutiny, and other offenses against the laws of war. In 1865, there were more than 800 men imprisoned at Fort Jefferson, a portion of whom were employed at hard labor excavating the ditch on the land fronts. Captain McFarland reported that there would be work for 200 prisoners for several years. One soldier commented: "The only use, it would seem to me, that is or can be made of the fort, is that which it really serves at present—as a prison. But whether it was, in the first place, worth while to erect such a structure, for such a purpose, in such a climate, entailing also the necessity of a battalion of soldiers, equally prisoners with those they guard, I leave to wiser heads to determine."

Fort Jefferson's most famous prisoners were the four Lincoln conspirators, including Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who arrived on July 24, 1865. Another state prisoner was Colonel George St. Leger Grenfell, who arrived on October 8, 1865. Grenfell, a British soldier who served with the Confederacy as adjutant to General John Hunt Morgan, was convicted by military tribunal of involvement with the "Chicago Conspiracy" to free Confederate prisoners of war from Camp Douglas, Illinois. He was one of the few prisoners to escape the prison at Fort Jefferson, although he was never heard from again and was presumed to have perished with three other prisoners in a severe storm the night they escaped. By January 1867, the number of prisoners had dropped to fifty-six. The three surviving Lincoln conspirators were pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869.

Yellow Fever

Constant fear of yellow fever outbreaks during the summer months plagued the workforce during the construction of Fort Jefferson. Although true yellow fever did not strike Garden Key until 1854, a malady that was called "break-bone" fever struck the fort nearly every summer. It was thought at the time to be mild form of yellow fever, as it was rarely fatal, but was later identified as dengue fever.

The first recorded outbreak occurred in 1854, when Lieutenant Wright brought yellow fever from Key West back to Fort Jefferson. It quickly spread through the officers' quarters. Thirty cases were reported, with one death.

One of the first victims of the 1867 outbreak was Dr. Joseph Sim Smith, the Fifth Artillery's surgeon. Two companies of soldiers were moved to Loggerhead Key. Of those that remained at Fort Jefferson, thirty-eight died. Dr. Samuel Mudd volunteered his services and was placed in charge of the post hospital until the arrival of Dr. D. W. Whitehurst from Key West. Dr. Mudd wrote his wife: "I cannot refrain from letting you share the gloom which surrounds this seeming God-forsaken isle. Although three-fourths of the garrison have been removed, the epidemic seems to increase with unabated fury."

In August 1873, yellow fever returned to Garden Key. Post Commander James E. Bell died on September 11. The healthy soldiers were evacuated to Loggerhead Key. Of the thirty-seven stricken with yellow fever, fourteen died.


Hurricanes were not unusual for the Tortugas, given their location in the Florida Reef. In fact, a hurricane struck Garden Key in October 1846, just before the arrival of Lieutenant Wright in December, changing the configuration of the shoreline. When the storm was at its height, the lighthouse keeper reported that the surf swept over most of the key.

A hurricane of August 1856 destroyed the fort's schooner Activa but left the Engineer Department property on Garden Key relatively unscathed. The next major hurricane struck in October 1865. Serious damage occurred to the unfinished officers' quarters and to some of the frame structures. The rear wall of the officers' quarters collapsed onto a kitchen building, killing two soldiers. Major Wentworth reported: "At the time the wall fell it was blowing a fearful Hurricane; the oldest residents of the Key say that they had not as severe a gale since 1846."

Another hurricane struck in October 1870. Most of the damage was to the wharves, but the roof slates were blown off the old section of the officers' quarters. Much more damaging was the hurricane of October 1873, which carried off part of the barrack's iron roof, ffooding the building. The roof of the officers' quarters was also damaged, and a bakery and brick oven on the parade could not be repaired. Numerous livestock were washed away.

A September 1875 hurricane battered the Florida Reef, but the Engineer Department property at Garden Key escaped damage. The U. S. Lighthouse Service property, however, was not so fortunate, as the tower and lantern sustained major damage. An iron light tower, constructed over the stair tower near Bastion C (present-day 6), replaced the original tower in 1876.

Masonry arches, Dry Tortugas National Park, 2015 (NPS photo)

Maintaining Fort Jefferson, 1877-1888

On December 16, 1876, Captain William B. Heuer replaced Major Smith. No construction occurred during Fiscal Year 1877. The fort was inspected on April 24, 1877. During Fiscal Year 1878, repairs occurred to the officers' quarters and enlisted men's quarters from a surplus on hand from the 1874 appropriation.

No new work occurred at Fort Jefferson during Fiscal Years 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882, and 1883 beyond its "protection, preservation and repair." In 1883, the fort mounted 132 guns, although the six 15-inch Rodmans were unserviceable because of worm-eaten platforms.

Captain Thomas Turtle replaced Captain Heuer as superintending engineer on February 1, 1884. He reported that the lower tier of casemates were "generally in good condition." In places the scarp wall had not been completed, the parapet not being entirely embanked. He also reported that most of the traverses were incomplete and suffering from deterioration through loss of material.

For Fiscal Year 1885, Captain Turtle requested money to rebuild the principal wharf, in addition to money for the keeper's pay. The Department denied his request for construction funds. Captain William T. Rossell replaced Captain Turtle on August 31, 1884. The Department suggested that the fort's keeper be laid off, since an ordnance sergeant was stationed at the fort.

In March 1885, Captain Rossell notified the Department that hurricanes had damaged the roofs of structures on the parade. Many of the gun carriages and embrasure irons were rusted and the ninety 10-inch Rodmans emplaced in the casemates and on the barbette tier were in bad condition. Cisterns and sewer outlets needed cleaning. He requested $5,365 for fort repairs but only received $350. Repairs completed included minor repairs to the ordnance sergeant's quarters, cleaning out the sewers, construction of a temporary postern at the sally port, and shoring up of the temporary casemate partitions.

For Fiscal Year 1886, Captain Rossell requested funding to hire four laborers to continue repairs at Fort Jefferson. He received $7,985 for projects at Fort Jefferson and Fort Taylor.

In 1885, the Engineer Department established District Offices. On November 15, 1885, Major William B. Heuer was placed in charge of the New Orleans District, which included Forts Jefferson and Taylor. Congress refused to appropriate any funds for Fiscal Year 1887 for the upkeep and preservation of the seacoast fortifications considered obsolete after the Endicott study in 1885, which recommended construction of modern reinforced concrete fortifications and the installation of large breech-loading artillery and mortar batteries and electrically controlled mine fields.

Consequently, the fort keeper and watchman were discharged, leaving the ordnance sergeant in charge of the department property at Fort Jefferson. Heuer's annual inspection showed cracks in the scarp wall, serious damage to the officers' quarters, and a rotten wharf and bridge.

In 1888, Captain Walter L. Fisk replaced Major Heuer. On his first visit to Garden Key, he found conditions exactly as described by Major Heuer in his 1887 annual report. No money had been spent or allotted at Fort Jefferson for twenty-two months. In Fiscal Year 1888, the War Department transferred the Garden Key sand spit west of the Engineer wharf to the U. S. Lighthouse Service, who erected a wharf, buoy, and blacksmith sheds.

The last major hurricane before Garden Key was transferred to the Treasury Department occurred in August 1886. Most of the piazzas fronting the officers' quarters were torn off and the galvanized metal roofs damaged. The wharf was left in very bad condition.

Sea turtle, Dry Tortugas National Park, 2015 (NPS photo)

Quarantine Station at Dry Tortugas, 1888-1900

On August 2, 1888, Garden, Bird, and Loggerhead Keys were set aside as the site of a national quarantine station, the Marine Hospital Service, under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department. The War Department had no objections to the transfer, providing that the defense works were left unchanged and that the site be returned to the War Department when needed. Captain Fisk was directed to secure all property belonging to the Department within the casemates. Not included in the transfer were the lighthouse tower, the lightkeeper's house, and lighthouse wharf, buoy, and coal shed.

In Fiscal Year 1889, the Treasury Department secured funds for construction of a new wharf at Garden Key. The Marine Hospital Service chose the officers' quarters as the location of the bacteriological laboratory that was being established to investigate the causes of yellow fever. A hospital for non-contagious patients was also located in the officers' quarters. The roof was repaired and painted, but on an inspection trip in November 1890, Dr. Walter Wyman noted that problems with the sewers continued, and the moat was filled with stagnant water. Patients with infectious diseases were placed in ffoored tents outside the scarp wall, west of the sally port.

The construction of the new wharf occurred in Fiscal Year 1892, with a coal shed added in 1894 and more mooring space in 1895. Repairs were also made to the chapel/office cistern and to the cistern outside the fort. A section of Bird Key was set aside for infectious patients in the summer of 1895. During Fiscal Year 1896 and 1897, repairs continued to the officers' quarters and kitchens.

The Spanish-American War began on April 25, 1898, following the destruction of the U.S.S. Maine. Merchant-marine quarantine was suspended at Garden Key, but the station was kept open for treatment of infected warships and troop transports. On May 8, the Army returned to Fort Jefferson, setting up camp on the parade. The fort's armament at this time was six 15-inch Rodmans, ninety 10-inch Rodmans, three 300-pounder Parrotts, eight 200-pounder Parrotts, twenty-six 24-pounder howitzers, two small mortars, and a few cannon without carriages. Hostilities halted in August of that year, and a treaty ended the war in December.

During Fiscal Year 1899, Garden Key continued as a quarantine station. The Navy began construction of a coaling station in August 1898, which included extensive dredging of the harbor. Construction was intermittent between 1898 and 1901 due to the continuing operation of the quarantine station. The transfer of the Dry Tortugas military reservation to the Navy occurred on April 7, 1900. Operation of the Dry Tortugas Coal Depot was turned over to the Navy on July 11, 1901.

Dry Tortugas Coal Depot, 1901-1916

A marine garrison arrived at Fort Jefferson to guard the coal depot in May 1901. An appropriation of $5,000 was spent to clean out the moat and address problems with the sewer. A distillery to provide water for the Marine garrison was completed in 1902 and a wireless radio station in 1904. The Commanding Officer of the U. S. Naval Station, Key West, inspected the coal depot on August 23, 1904, and reported:

The general appearance of Fort Jefferson is good, though somewhat dilapidated; but the spacious quarters, still habitable, afford good accommodations for the officers, marines, and employees at Garden Key. If it is contemplated to maintain and increase the present establishment, repairs and alterations to a considerable extent would be required.

On July 1, 1905, only a Sergeant's guard remained at Fort Jefferson. The Navy withdrew all personnel except for two laborers to maintain the coal plants in June 1906. The transfer of the Dry Tortugas to the Department of Agriculture as a designated breeding ground and sanctuary for native birds occurred in 1908.

A devastating hurricane struck the Dry Tortugas on October 17, 1910, causing massive damage. Navy mate and fort custodian George C. Short reported:

I am sorry to inform that Tortugas is a wreck. Both coal rigs down and in falling smashed sheds and shifting bridge. North breakwater completely destroyed. South breakwater about half destroyed. Officers quarters; a great number of slates and chimneys gone, one at each end. Enlisted men's quarters entirely stripped of tin and some of sheathing; windows missing. Gutters of all buildings nearly gone. Sheds on entrance of wharf from Fort, down. Blacksmith shop broken up. Approach to North dock gone. Weather Bureau tower wrecked and twisted up, lying inside of fort. All water on island ruined. Parade ground ffooded. Launch sunk in 18 ft. water

The Navy decided not to rehabilitate the coal depot and to transfer what could be salvaged to the Key West Naval Station.

Fire struck Fort Jefferson on January 12, 1912, and destroyed the enlisted men's quarters and the lightkeeper's dwelling and its outbuildings. Unfortunately, the 1910 hurricane damaged the barrack's galvanized roof, exposing the wooden sheathing beneath. When fire struck in 1912, the sheathing quickly caught fire and spread. After the fire, arrangements were made for a non-attended automatic light at Garden Key.

In the period 1914-1916, only minor repairs were made at Fort Jefferson, such as to the moat bridge. During this time, the Boston Iron and Metal Company removed most of the iron and steel from the coal sheds and enlisted men's quarters. The Commanding Officer of the Key West Naval Station suggested a plan to salvage bricks from Fort Jefferson, but the cost of removing the bricks proved prohibitive.

The Intervening Years, 1917-1934

After the onset of World War I in 1916, the wireless station at Fort Jefferson was rehabilitated and a seaplane base established in 1917. The role it played as a seaplane base was very brief, and after 1918, Fort Jefferson was abandoned. Fire struck again in 1927 when the officers' quarters burned. Very little is known about life on Garden Key at this time. One account by Charles I. Park, the warden on Bird Key, stated:

When I went there in 1929, Bird Key had already started to wash away. The house which the former warden had occupied was considered unsafe so I lived on Garden Key and commuted by boat to the other keys.

National Park Service Administration, 1935-Present

Park Development Era, 1935-1941

On January 4, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the Dry Tortugas a National Monument. The Florida Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) provided the funds to maintain Fort Jefferson, with Fred O. Eberhardt in charge of the project.

In September 1935, Hillory O. Tolson, Arthur E. Demaray, and Verne E. Chatelain of the National Park Service (NPS) met with M. E. Gilfond and Julius F. Stone of the Florida Works Progress Administration (WPA) to discuss a project to preserve and restore Fort Jefferson. In July 1936, FERA discontinued its funding for Fort Jefferson, although two workmen were kept at the fort through September to protect the property until adequate funding could be obtained from another source. In November 1936, a WPA project was approved for Fort Jefferson.

The WPA project began in January 1937. Philip C. Puderer was appointed Acting Superintendent, and he submitted a detailed report on existing conditions with recommendations on April 15, 1937 to Thomas C. Vint, Chief Architect, NPS. During the period from February through June, work included an intensive clean-up of Garden Key in order to put the area in a safe, sanitary, and habitable condition. Although a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) side camp was approved in June 1937, Fort Jefferson's remote location made acquisition of a seventy-five-foot boat to transport workers back and forth to the mainland a prerequisite before the project could be approved.

Willard H. Morris replaced Philip Puderer as Acting Superintendent on October 1, 1937. The WPA project was finally approved on February 28, 1938. The Coast Guard transferred a boat to the NPS for use in transporting workers. The program for 1938 was proposed as a general cleanup of the parade ground, construction of quarters for the superintendent in the second tier casemates, work on the water system, and repairs to the engineer officers' quarters.

In October 1938, NPS inspector Carl Vinten and Philip Puderer, now resident landscape architect, visited Fort Jefferson as part of the procedure for getting Public Works Administration (PWA) projects underway. Where to locate the living quarters received a great deal of discussion. Newly appointed Superintendent James Felton disagreed with Mr. Puderer's plan for developing the southwest bastion as quarters. Since arriving at the fort, he and his wife felt that none of the existing structures were suited to rehabilitation as living quarters and preferred the construction of a new residence. The group finally agreed to rehabilitate two of the engineer officers' quarters buildings. It was also agreed to use the chapel/office cistern as the permanent place for water storage and to build a brick structure on the parade ground for public toilets and showers. It was reported that the general clean-up of the old brick and construction debris was complete except for the enlisted men's quarters, which required a scaffolding.

1938 Master Plan. The 1938 Master Plan recommended that Fort Jefferson be preserved as a ruin, with no real attempt being made at restoration. All visitor accommodations were to be placed so that no modern intrusions would degrade the historic scene.

An early point of discussion centered around the disposition of the ruins on the parade ground. In a memo to Arno B. Cammerer, Director, NPS, on February 19, 1938, Hillory A. Tolson stated that the NPS might be severely criticized if the buildings were completely removed and suggested leaving the low corners in place to interpret what was once there. The 1938 Master Plan recommended that none of the buildings on the parade ground be dismantled, since they played an important part in telling the history of the fort construction and life at the fort thereafter.

The location of the superintendent's quarters was changed from the second tier casemates to the former engineer officers' quarters on the parade ground. Other points of the master plan included a septic system, a water collection system, repair of the lighthouse, and development of the south coaling pier as a docking place for the proposed concessionaire's houseboat, which was expected to provide overnight accommodations for visitors.

On December 21, 1939, Director Arno B. Cammerer approved a memorandum regarding recommendations for the future development at Fort Jefferson. This memo followed a conference with Washington office officials about problems at Fort Jefferson, particularly concerns about hazards and safety to employees and visitors. Regional Director M. R. Tillotson pointed out

[T]he hazards of the job are such that the work cannot be continued with even a reasonable guarantee of safety to life and limb of employees. This is especially true in view of the lack of medical and hospital facilities and adequate two way radio communication. Injured employees must be taken by most undependable boat transportation to Key West, a distance of 65 nautical miles over open water, subject at all times to severe storm conditions.

The memo called for temporary repairs only to the south wharf to accommodate potential visitor vessels and running a temporary water line to the dock. The memo suggested securing the assistance of the Navy in reconstructing the main wharf. Other projects under construction included the water system, sewerage system, and superintendent's residence.

On June 10, 1940, NPS inspector Carl R. Vinten wrote a follow-up memo addressing the status of the work at Fort Jefferson. Temporary repairs were completed to the south wharf, which was being used as a supplemental docking space. The park had no definite information regarding visitor boat services. The sewer and water systems were complete except for work on the parade ground water system, which was expected to be finished by the end of June. The first unit of the superintendent's residence was expected to be ready by the end of June. Surveys were being prepared for an electrical supply system. Plans had been received for repairs to the main wharf.

On November 27, 1940, a meeting was held in the Richmond Regional Office to discuss the development program at Fort Jefferson. Among those in attendance were Thomas C. Vint, Chief of Planning, Ronald F. Lee, Supervisor of Historic Sites, and Roy E. Appleman, Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites, as well as Acting Superintendent Felton and Associate Engineer Mikell. A discussion ensued about the location of quarters and visitor accommodations and operating facilities for the concessionaire. An investigation of construction details and a review of the work necessary to accomplish effective waterproofing on the terreplein convinced the group that all living quarters should be removed from the fort. Acting Superintendent Felton pointed out the futility of attempting to maintain dry quarters in the fort even if the terreplein could be effectively waterproofed. It was decided that the Carnegie Institution buildings on Loggerhead Key would be the best choice for concessionaire housing and that the work on Garden Key would proceed in accordance with the current master plan, to include a public comfort station, water treatment plant, electric power plant, store rooms and shops in the southwest face of the fort, and restoration of small parade ground buildings as additional employee quarters.

World War II, 1941-1945

In October 1941, ERA work was terminated at Fort Jefferson. America's entry into World War II in 1941 meant that NPS funding for major projects was shifted to the war effort. The NPS stationed a superintendent as a custodian on Garden Key, but the fort was closed to the public during the war. From 1942 to 1944, Robert R. Budlong served as Superintendent of Fort Jefferson. His monthly reports of life on Garden Key described weather, wildlife, and the constant struggle to maintain the parade ground and keep up with backlogged projects with only one employee. Numerous military ships visited Fort Jefferson during the war, and Budlong mentioned testing taking place for the Chemical Warfare Service. The typical isolation of Fort Jefferson was further pronounced during this time, although members of the 106th Observation Squadron dropped newspapers for Budlong and his family in March 1942. One of his last reports described the scene:

Early June brought cooling breezes, fresh and restful, bearing with them the soft fragrance of the blossoms of the sea-grape and bay cedar; days were bright and work was pleasant; nights were cool and sleep was restful. Later June brought days of dead calm, days with not a trace of breezes, days and nights both hot and steamy, damp and sticky, most oppressive. ... And the moisture gathered thickly on the stone walls of the fortress; dank and gloomy lay the fortress, full of rust and mould and mildew, steadily disintegrating, dark and brooding, vast and silent, ghostly in the quiet starlight.

Post-World War II, 1946-1956

Deterioration of Fort Jefferson continued during this period. No money was appropriated to remedy the situation. Visitors to Fort Jefferson declined from 9,000 in 1946 to 5,000 in 1956. There was no reliable scheduled transportation between the Dry Tortugas and Key West, as prospective operators of boats had abandoned plans as being uneconomical.

Mission 66, 1956-1966

Mission 66 efforts were seen as the perfect opportunity to do something about the rapid deterioration of Fort Jefferson and the need for concessionaire planning. In March 1957, Everglades landscape architect W. T. Ammerman completed a development analysis of Fort Jefferson. He concluded that complete restoration of the fort was "neither economically practicable nor is it desirable." He suggested relocating utility and employee housing near the south coaling pier. He based this suggestion on the fact that similar development was located here during the fort construction period. He also felt that overnight visitor accommodations could only be located at Loggerhead Key, although fresh water and other services would have to be provided.

In April 1957, a planning conference that included many of the staff from Everglades and the regional office, as well as Thomas C. Vint, Chief of Design and Construction and Edward S. Zimmer, Chief of Eastern Office of Design and Construction, was held at the park to discuss options for Fort Jefferson. Expanding pressures of Florida development and the need to include Fort Jefferson in Mission 66 programming were the impetus for the meeting. Unlike other planning conferences held in the past, several of the participants represented natural resources. The group agreed that Fort Jefferson's values were 60% natural and 40% cultural, concluding that the top single resource was the coral marine gardens. The group was determined to protect the Dry Tortugas coral reef in view of the depletion of unprotected coral reefs along the Florida Keys.

In terms of cultural resources, the group felt that protection of the fort was the highest priority with an increased emphasis on interpretation second. Any development should be in harmony with the fort. They felt that "the massiveness of the structure as a partial ruin should remain dominant." They did not feel, however, that the entire fort should be kept free from use, particularly given the cramped nature of Garden Key.

Loggerhead Key was the first choice for overnight visitor accommodations, given the limited space on Garden Key. The group finally concluded, however, that logistical problems at Loggerhead could not be overcome. With no fresh water, a roof catchment system would be needed and even then, supplemental fresh water would probably have to be hauled by boat. Also, the lack of a sheltered harbor meant that one would have to be built or a very long pier constructed.

The final recommendation was that overnight accommodations should be at the south coaling wharf. The idea was to build "temporary" housing with minimal capital investment, taking advantage of existing facilities and equipment. Some in the group felt that the Dry Tortugas should not be made too readily available to the general public and should not be exposed to the volume of tourist traffic common to southern Florida. They finally concluded that proper planning needed to be put in place and that it would be several years before the actual work could be programmed.

The group recommended the following projects:

  • Repair of the broken section of counterscarp wall. Rather than attempt an accurate restoration, this part of the wall would be replaced with concrete from the nearby coaling wharf, which would be put in as riprap. Bricks from the reduced quarters would be used to hold and repair the wall.
  • Demolition of the officers' quarters and enlisted men's quarters buildings' walls, leaving the foundations.
  • One wall of the fort to be used as staff quarters and shops, warehouses, utility rooms, etc. The group felt that the superintendent's residence and guest house should be used as park headquarters, given its public exposure.
  • Terreplein to be paved as a water catchment area and cisterns to be reactivated.
  • Water supply piping, sewer lines, and electric system to be redesigned and replaced.
  • Construction of a new wharf.
  • Development of biological and historical exhibits.

Over the next few years the final decision on two issues could not be agreed upon—the location of staff quarters within the fort and how to handle overnight visitor accommodations. Carl R. Vinten, who had been the Coordinating Superintendent for Fort Jefferson for many years, weighed in on the side of caution regarding development:

As for development for the fort and Garden Key, let's preserve it for present and future generations and let the fishermen, tourists and speed boat enthusiasts, including skin divers and those who ffock to Tortugas in future years look to Loggerhead Key for a headquarters for both temporary and permanent facilities. In this way public use of this unique area can be continued under light visitation as at present or under increasing visitation in future years without taking chances with the basic responsibility of the Service which is the preservation of values which are so important but so often intangible.

A prospectus was issued in July 1960 seeking bids from potential concessionaires. In March 1961, General Development Plan 3005 was approved by Director Conrad L. Wirth, who visited Fort Jefferson along with Regional Director Elbert Cox and Superintendent Warren Hamilton in December 1961. The demolition of the ruins of both quarters buildings to the foundations occurred in April 1962. Director Wirth issued a Record of Decision in June 1962 stating that the government would construct all concessioner facilities necessary for visitor accommodation on Garden Key. He asked for a feasibility study that would include accurate cost estimates. The NPS planned to assign a maximum of two bastions in the fort to the concessioner. The present dock would be used jointly. Additional structures and docks would be determined by the feasibility study. The fort would also be used to house park employees. Maintenance buildings would be provided outside the fort walls.

NPS officials deferred any action on the feasibility study, as well as employee quarters, utilities, and dock facilities during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. In early 1964, Robert G. Hall, Chief, Eastern Office of Design and Construction, wrote Elbert Cox, Regional Director, Southeast Region, stating that the study should be undertaken. He also suggested that recent advancements in ship and plane construction might make quick trips to Fort Jefferson possible, minimizing the need for overnight visitor accommodations.

Everglades Superintendent Stanley C. Joseph summarized the various opinions in an April 1964 memo. Concessioner-operated accommodations could be located in one of several places:

  • On Garden Key outside the fort walls. Proponents pointed out that it had a superb view, it was most convenient to visitor activities, and it would confine concessioner activity to a small area outside the fort walls. Opponents feared that development there would detract from the impressiveness of the fort, and that it would be too exposed to storm and hurricane damage.
  • On Garden Key inside the fort walls. The most likely location seemed to be the casemates.
  • On Loggerhead Key. The 1957 conference strongly favored this site but regarded it as not feasible because the extremely shallow water would require prohibitively long piers or extensive channel dredging. Because of the exposed situation of the key, a pier or channel would be required on each side of the island to meet shifting weather conditions. It would be difficult to run and maintain a boat service between Loggerhead and Garden Key.
  • A concessioner-owned and operated vessel that provided accommodations, meal services, etc. in a self-contained unit.

Superintendent Joseph stated the park's position:

To summarize, we feel that a development program at Fort Jefferson, with special reference to Service facilities, is long overdue. We encourage a feasibility study to determine visitor demand and concessioner potential. We recommend careful consideration of a self-contained vessel as an interim measure and as a possible solution to the concessioner problem.

At a meeting held in August 1964, NPS officials finally concluded that "visitor accommodations at Fort Jefferson are to be provided within the transportation media with no overnight visitor facilities on the Monument itself, with the possible exception of limited camping." All concession facilities would be located in the vicinity of the south coaling dock. A visitor comfort station within the fort casemates or one of the bastions and a seaplane ramp were later added to the planning requirements for Fort Jefferson.

Similar discussions occurred regarding additional employee housing. According to a 1954 Master Plan Development Outline, there was already one residence and one guest quarters in two of the former engineer officers' quarters. Two sets of quarters were located in the second tier casemates on the west side of the fort and one set was located on the southwest side of the fort. Locations for the new quarters discussed included houses on the parade ground, houses outside the fort, and apartments in the casemates. Supporters of apartments in the casemates made the following argument:

We finally arrived at a decision that the quarters should be apartments built on the second ffoor of the casemates. This was based on the fact that houses in the Parade Ground would be an intrusion in the historical area and that houses outside the Fort would be subject to destruction by hurricanes. We agreed that apartments in the casemates would be better in the end as they would avoid the disadvantages of the houses and have the advantage of being up out of the Parade Ground and at the same time protected by the walls of the Fort as well as having the advantage of being able to see the view outside as well as the activities outside and thereby improve living conditions and the morale of the employees and at the same time improve protection of the area.

Edward S. Zimmer, Chief, Eastern Office of Design and Construction, concurred with the idea of placing employee quarters in the casemates but withheld approval of the project for FY 1962 until some of the details could be worked out. Supervisory Park Ranger Roy S. Evenson wrote a memo in July 1960 protesting the decision to locate the quarters in the casemates.

Fort Jefferson is a historical landmark, and much of the scenic beauty has already been depreciated by the National Park Service using many of the lower casemates for offices, storerooms, generator rooms, shops and guest quarters. The second tier casemates have three residences, which detract from the beauty of the fort. To build additional new residences, would only add further depreciation of the scenic beauty.

The major reason why the second tier casemates are wrong for residences is the moisture factor. In cold weather the thick, brick walls become cold and hold the cold for days. When warm weather follows the cold, condensation forms on the walls for days. This condensation may become so bad that walls are wet and ffoors slippery for days. ... Methods of painting the walls, plastering, using rubberized bases and moisture absorbing coverings have all failed in stopping the condensation, but PCP B016 does not take these factors into consideration, nor does it offer a solution.

Every residence built in the second tier casemates has a bad history of leakage through the roofs (actually the brick archways). After heavy rains, the bricks act as sponges for the water, until they are saturated, then they release their moisture. The leaks may vary from drips to streams, and whole rooms may be soaked and water standing over a whole residence. A secondary ceiling might retard the leaks, but usually the volume of water coming through the brick archways is too great to be kept out. PCP.16 does not offer a solution for this problem.

The cost of constructing the six apartments also came into question. Although $120,000 was originally programmed for the quarters, final estimates came to $280,000 and would require Congressional clearance. The Cuban Missile Crisis deferred construction projects at Fort Jefferson until 1964, when a Project Construction Proposal was sent forward to restore residence #3 on the parade ground to provide a two-unit apartment at a cost of $35,900. Regional Director Elbert Cox asked that the proposal be deleted from the Project Construction Program in September 1964, stating that General Development Plan 3005 approved in 1961 called for the structure to be retained as a ruin.

A new master plan was developed in 1965 and approved in 1967. It called for as many as twelve new employee quarters to be located in the casemates (which would replace the previously built casemate quarters), a concessioner-owned and operated vessel that provided overnight accommodations, meal services, etc., a new dock to serve both visitors and NPS needs, a seaplane ramp, and limited picnicking and camping sites. A historic structure report (HSR) would be required before any construction could be undertaken within the fort. An interpretive prospectus would also be required before any plans could be prepared that would involve concessioner facilities and services.

The park rehabilitated the main electrical distribution system in 1965.

Post-Mission 66, 1967-Present

As NPS officials considered how best to accommodate visitors and staff, the condition of the fort itself continued to decline, as described in a 1970 physical status report:

It is apparent that continued deterioration of the total structure will occur from several causes. The forces of nature, wind, rain, salt environment, hurricanes, storm tides, etc., will continue to take their toll. In addition to these damages, damage will continue from weaknesses within the structure such as the cracks which permit the leaching out of the mortar.

It might be said that the "point of no return" has been reached for this historic area. Either a strong concentrated effort must be made to stabilize and save this structure or it will surely and eventually crumble into the sea.

The construction of a new reinforced concrete pier and seaplane ramp east of the old timber pier finally occurred in 1968. By this time, a picnic and camping area had been added west of the two docks. The timber pier was replaced in 1980 with a new pier with visitor contact and comfort station. In June 1980, Public Law 96-287 established new boundaries.

The selected and approved treatment of Fort Jefferson, as described in the 1983 General Management Plan (GMP), was stabilization of structurally critical areas throughout the fort (all scarp walls, bastions, outer works, the shot furnaces, magazines, etc.) and selective interpretive restoration of certain limited elements. The importance of the dockside front to the visitor's impressions and experiences would be recognized but emphasis would be placed on stabilizing the entire structure. The GMP called for a historic structure report that included both a historical data section and an architectural data section, which was completed in 1988.

A 1986 report summed up the problems with any large-scale project at Fort Jefferson:

Fort Jefferson NM is one of the most remote and isolated units in the Park Service. Transportation of personnel and supplies by either ffoat plane or sea going vessels, limited quarters and communications, and the harsh, unpredictable marine climate make accomplishing any task at this site extremely difficult.

The fort utility systems were rehabilitated in 1985. Between 1976 and 1991, additional quarters were added in the casemates. Existing quarters were entirely rebuilt between 1978 and 1992. The installation of a pre-fabricated housing unit in the second tier casemates was completed in 1999.

In 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed legislation establishing Dry Tortugas National Park, replacing Fort Jefferson National Monument and recognizing the unique marine natural resources and submerged cultural resources of the park, in addition to Fort Jefferson and the other cultural resources on Garden and Loggerhead Keys.

A terreplein waterproofing project occurred in 1993. An Australian pine eradication program, concentrated on Loggerhead Key, occurred from 1995 to 1999.


The park installed new benches in 2000 and a temporary radio antenna at Bastion 1 in 2003. The reconstruction of the hot shot furnace occurred from 2001 to 2004.

The 2001 GMP Amendment established several long-term goals to protect the resources of Dry Tortugas National Park. They included:

  • Stabilization of all historic structures at Dry Tortugas, including Fort Jefferson and the Loggerhead Key Lighthouse.
  • Restoration of one example of each type of armament and the hot shot oven.
  • Provision of only minimal onsite visitor services and facilities.
  • Establishment of a Research Natural Area (RNA) in the west section of the park (46%) and a natural/cultural zone in the east and south sections of the park (50%). A historic preservation/adaptive use zone (3%) would be applied to Garden Key and the waters around Bush and Long Keys. The central portion of Loggerhead Key would also be designated historic preservation/adaptive use.

In FY 2001, the park received funding for stabilization, repair, and reconstruction work on the right side of Front 2 between embrasures 31 and 35 with the goal of reconstructing 3-4 embrasure openings and associated scarp wall brickwork.

Hurricane Charley damaged the counterscarp, ffoating docks, and finger piers in August 2004. Dozens of downed trees and other plant debris had to be cut up and hauled away. Sand pushed into the campground had to be cleared away.

In December 2004, the park's campground re.opened following more than a year's closure. Significant, heavy rains in June 2002 destroyed the septic system, which required the design of a new waste water system. The park completed its installation and the construction of four composting toilets in the campground to replace those on the dock in 2004.

The rehabilitation of the timber boathouse docks, ramps, and moat bridge was completed in 2005. Phase 1 stabilization of the scarp wall reached ninety percent completion.

The park suffered hurricane damage in 2004, but 2005 was a record year. Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, and Wilma all struck the Dry Tortugas. At Fort Jefferson, damage occurred to the counterscarp wall, docks, employee quarters, the communications tower, and park utilities. After Hurricane Wilma, the park was closed for several weeks to allow staff to repair damages and remove downed vegetation. Finger piers remained partially unusable during 2005.

The park and the Florida State Historic Preservation Office entered into a Memorandum of Agreement in 2003 to guide the fort's stabilization. Phase I stabilization of the fort walls included carefully removing the existing brick surrounding the embrasures on the lower level in order to gain access to the original iron elements and was 90% complete in 2006. In 2007, the park began Phase II of this project to repair the exterior scarp wall in the following areas: the north and east faces of Bastion 3, Front 4, the west and northwest faces of Bastion 4; Bastion 5, Front 6, and the northeast and east faces of Bastion 6, with a projected completion date of June 2011.

The Dry Tortugas Research Natural Area (RNA), a no-take no-anchor marine sanctuary covering 46% of the park, went into effect in January 2007. No consumptive recreational, management, or scientific activities will be permitted in this zone.

The replacement of three employee and two superintendent's quarters within the casemates with pre-fabricated housing units was completed in 2008. Also included was the addition of a modern roof over the units on Front 3.

A multiyear cannon conservation project began in 2007, with the goal of conserving all cannon by 2012.

           Text from Cultural Landscape Report: Garden Key, Susan L. Hitchcock and Beth W. Byrd, June 2011

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