Fort Taylor has proudly served the United States of America since it was placed into service in 1861 at the beginning of the War Between the States (otherwise known in the North as “The Civil War”).
Construction on what would become Fort Taylor began in 1845 and continued through the Civil War until 1866. At the end of the war, the Army left all of the 198 guns that had been in or near the Fort and over 500,000 rounds of ammunition in place where they remained untouched for a number of years. The Fort was left in a caretaker’s custody and seldom used until the early 1890’s when a series of modifications were initiated under designs from the Endicott Period. These modifications resulted in the majority of the guns and ammunition being buried in the South Face and in Battery Osceola. They became the “hidden treasure” of Fort Taylor.
It has been said that General Zachary Taylor “won the battle” but “lost the War.” This happened when the Fort, named for him in 1850, was re-designated Battery Osceola in 1899. Earlier in his career Colonel Taylor defeated the followers of Indian Chief Osceola at the Battle of Lake Okeechobee in December 1837 during the Second Seminole Indian War. But he “lost the war” when the main new Spanish American War gun emplacement was named Battery Osceola displacing the Fort Taylor name to the Army reservation on the island of Key West.
This name swap was so ingrained in the history of Key West that almost 70 years later when he was tasked to investigate the brick ruin surrounding Battery Osceola, Howard England had no idea that it was the original Fort Taylor. Howard grew up in Key West but only knew of the Fort as Battery Osceola. Even the Naval Station map that he drew as late as 1965 called out Battery Osceola for what we now know was the original Fort Taylor.
The Fort as it looks today is a result of the 1898-1904 modifications which reduced it from two and a half stories to one and a half and all Civil War ammunition and cannons were buried either in the earth fill ahead of Battery Osceola or in the concrete foundation of the Battery. The hard work to bury the armaments from the Civil War ensured that the legacy of Fort Taylor was preserved until now.
The Army owned the Fort until 1947 when they pulled out of Key West. They deeded the Fort and the adjacent Fort Taylor Reservation to the Navy. In the 1950’s the Navy chose to use the Fort as a repository for surplus military equipment and junk metal (basically a “junk yard”). It wasn’t until July 1968 that the “hidden treasure” was discovered by Howard England. Over the next 8 and a half years, Howard England and his team of volunteer “Sand Hogs” unearthed some 20 of the buried guns and over 7,000 rounds of ammunition.
From 1976 until his retirement in 1984, Howard England worked to prepare the property to become the fine State Park that visitors and natives of Key West enjoy each day. On July 4th 1985, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park opened to the public and has become one of the showcase attractions in all of the Florida Park System!
October 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of the transfer of ownership of the Park property from the Federal Government to the Trustees of the State of Florida. All of what you see today is a result of Howard England’s vision and hard work and the dedicated work of the numerous Park Rangers and volunteers over the years.