Posting – 29 January 2019:
You are invited to participate in Civil War Heritage Days at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park on February 1-3, 2019. This three-day event portrays the time period of 1861-1862 at a Federal fortress. First person interpretation, weapons demonstrations and camp life are featured on a daily basis. Event highlights include a parade down Duval Street on Friday, School Day on Friday, a sea battle on Saturday, blockade runner’s trial on Sunday and a series of lectures on Saturday. Re-enactors portraying Union and Confederate soldiers, townspeople, craftspeople, performers and sutlers are all part of the festival, which focuses on educating the public by sharing the history of Fort Taylor and life during the Civil War.
Posting – 21 December 2018:
For over 33 years, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park has been a warm and inviting destination for locals and world travelers alike. But many don’t realize the whole story of how this beautiful park came to be.
Friday, December 21, 2018, marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the renaissance of Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida.
In 1968, the park was simply acres of bare marl fill surrounding an old dilapidated brick structure that contained the Navy’s junk yard. But that all changed on Saturday, December 21, 1968, when Howard England and his initial group of volunteers began to excavate what they thought might be a trove of buried Civil War armaments and munitions.
The project began in July 1968 with a question from the Miami Herald’s “Action Line” column to the newly-arrived Naval Base Commander inquiring into the historic value of the brick structure on the Naval Station. Acting on this question, Howard England and a team of several others were directed to investigate the history of the structure.
After six months of research and onsite probing, the team concluded that there were likely Civil War armaments (both cannons and ammunition) buried in 1898 in front of Battery Osceola, one of the Endicott Period additions to the Fort. Howard England then requested permission to further explore the ruins by digging into the fill on top of the South Face of the Fort.
On the morning of Saturday, December 21, 1968, Howard England, his two sons Edward and Thomas, and three others gathered on the top of the South Face of the Fort to begin digging into the fill that had covered the South Face of the fortress for almost 70 years. Whitey Keevan, his company foreman, and one of his crane operators of Keevan Construction Company, were recruited by England to assist with the initial excavations.
Using a clam shell bucket that reached over the South Wall, the team began to remove the first portion of the top cover on that December morning. The first several buckets revealed only sand and top soil. However, after an hour of careful digging, the crane’s bucket struck a substantial object that sounded metallic.
They halted the crane’s excavations, and the team attacked the object with shovels. What they uncovered was an iron object that initially appeared to be possibly the muzzle of a cannon. More hand digging revealed that it was an iron wheel approximately 18 inches in diameter and 6 inches thick from a Civil War gun carriage. It was mounted in an iron bracket with an iron bolt. While not a cannon, it was indis-putable evidence that Civil War armaments were buried at the Fort.
From that first morning of excavations, the legacy of Fort Taylor was reveal-ed over an eight-and-a-half-year span. Howard England and his volunteer diggers, whom he called his “Sand Hogs,” excavated some 50,000 cubic yards of fill and rubble and discovered 20 cast iron cannons and over 7,000 cannon balls and projectiles.
Recognizing its historic importance, the Fort was declared a National Historic Site in 1971, and in 1973 a National Landmark – all while still a Navy junk yard! With the reduction of the Navy presence in Key West, the State of Florida acquired the prop-erty in October 1976. After nine years of development and prep-aration, the Fort became a part of Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park when it opened formally in July 1985.
Today, some 50 years later, Howard England’s vision of a park for recreation and its historic site are on display daily at one of the most popular of Florida’s 175 three-time, Gold Medal-winning state parks.
Posting – 23 October 2017:
Introducing the newest addition to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Scarlett’s Debut in August Scarlett – Up Close
In early August this year, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park welcomed its newest member—a brand new replica of one of the most popular 3-inch field guns of the Civil War. The employees of Fort Zach have named her “Scarlett” following the tradition of gunners who named their weapons over the years. She is a cast iron replica of one of the most prevalent Union Army field guns of the War Between the States—the Griffen Ordnance Rifle. “Scarlett” joins the arsenal of Fort Taylor and provides a welcome complement for the numerous living history re-enactments across the year. This is the first cannon owned by the Park Service since the Park was formally opened in 1985.
“Scarlett” was manufactured by the Miller Wagon and Cannon Company of Parrotsville TN – a well-known company with almost 30 years’ experience. They made both the gun carriage and the limber. The gun tube was cast by Hern Cannons, part of Hern Ironworks of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. They have been custom casting fine replica iron cannons since 1971.
Next time you’re in Key West, check out Fort Taylor and see “Scarlett” in person. I know she will be making her voice heard this next Civil War Heritage Days in February!
Background of the Griffen Ordnance Rifle
The following background on the Griffen Ordnance Rifle comes from the article “John Griffen’s Ordnance Rifle at the Battle of Gettysburg” from the December 2014 issue of Military Heritage magazine.
The Griffen was one of the safest, most reliable, and most accurate cannons of the Civil War. Invented by John Griffen who was the superintendent of Safe Harbor Iron Works in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of the Phoenix Iron Company. Mr. Griffen wanted a light-weight, sturdy, and reliable field piece and chose to make his gun from wrought iron rather than cast iron. The process he invented employed five layers of alternately spiraled wrought iron strips wrapped around a core of wrought iron rods. When the layers of iron had been welded together, layer by layer, the core was removed and a plug installed in the breech. The Griffen-process created a finished product with uniform strength throughout the gun tube.
Griffen Guns weren’t designed for close action like the M1857 Napoleons which were more effective in repelling infantry charges. They excelled in long-range fire against enemy troop formations and artillery. Their reliability is attested by the fact that there was only one recorded failure of a gun tube at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. That failure was due to the gun crew firing double cannister while desperately trying to repel a Confederate infantry charge.
Photos by: Ranger Kevin Bowes, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Posting – 29 May 2017:
Howard England worked for over 16 years to make Fort Taylor a State Park, but when he retired in 1984, the Park was still not accessible to the public. It would take another year to build the “temporary” road that was used for almost 37 years. Planning for the new entrance began several years ago and has resulted in the type of Park Entrance that Howard England envisioned so many years ago.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 4, 2017
Florida Park Service Opens New Entrance to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
~Representatives from the Florida Park Service joined the city of Key West, NAS Key West and other local representatives for the ribbon cutting~
(L to R) Matt Mitchell, Florida State Parks assistant director; Captain Bobby Baker, commander, NAS Key West; Erin Muir, assistant to Representative Holly Raschein; Jim Scholl, Key West city manager; and John Mael, Florida State Parks District 5 bureau chief.
KEY WEST, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service joined Naval Air Station Key West, the city of Key West and other local representatives for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new entrance to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. The new entrance includes a new access route for pedestrians and vehicles leading into the park, a new ranger station and a new ticket booth for pedestrians and bicyclists. Other improvements that were part of the $1.7 million project include a new road, sidewalks, bike lanes, the installation of a new entry gate, an ornamental security fence and new lighting.
“I’m excited to open this new entrance that will improve access and convenience at Florida’s southernmost state park,” said Florida State Parks Assistant Director Matt Mitchell. “Many thanks to all of our partners on this project including NAS Key West and the city of Key West, as well as our staff and volunteers who made this project a reality.”
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973, Florida’s southernmost state park is popular for recreation, as well as U.S. military history. The fort was one of a series built in the mid-1800s to defend the nation’s southeastern coastline. Completed in 1866, Fort Zachary Taylor played important roles in the Civil War and Spanish-American War. Key West’s favorite beach, located at the southern end of the park, provides opportunities for picnicking, swimming, snorkeling and fishing.
CONTACT: DEP Press Office, 850.245.2112, DEPNews@dep.state.fl.us
Posting – 21 December 2016:
England Historical Enterprises is proud to announce the publication of a new, first-ever Guidebook to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. It is titled, The Fort Zach Guidebook and will be available in early January.
I was puzzled for a number of years when I would meet locals in Key West and ask them if they knew about their State Park. If you used the term, Fort Zachary Taylor, many drew a blank. But they really knew it, only they called it simply, “Fort Zach.”
But even many “locals” don’t realize all that lies beyond the entrance to the State Park. They think of it as only a nice place to ride their bikes, go for a swim, or catch a few rays . . . but it is so much more.
Do you know . . .
- Where the best beach is in Key West?
- Where can you see reef fish without hiring a guide boat?
- Where can you get the best hot dog and French fries on the island?
- Who those guys are running around in dark blue wool coats in the hottest weather?
- Who Wendell Gardiner was?
- What happened to all the guns at Fort Taylor?
- What happened to the Fort’s third story?
- Who was the Sherlock Holmes of Fort Taylor?
Those and many other questions are answered in this first-ever Guidebook to the many hidden beauties and treasures of Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park – including the Civil War Fort from which it derives its name.
Posting – 27 September 2016
News Release for 40th Anniversary of Acquisition of Fort Taylor by State of Florida
October 7, 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the acquisition of Fort Zachary Taylor and surrounding land from the U. S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. The State of Florida acquired the Fort for the purpose of creating a new state park in Key West.
The formal ceremony for the transfer of the former U. S. Navy property to the State was held on Friday, October 15th. Over 100 dignitaries and citizens attended the ceremony which was held in the Sally Port of the Fort. Mr. Howard England, the volunteer crusader who led the seven-year quest to bring the property to public notice, served as Master of Ceremonies for the event. He was followed by a series of individuals who recognized the significance of the acquisition and the outstanding contributions of Mr. Howard England. The photograph at right shows Congressman Dante B. Fascell congratulating England after the ceremony.
Remarks about Howard England and his dedicated work included those by Key West Mayor Charles “Sonny” McCoy; Captain McCardle, Commanding Officer, U. S. Naval Air Station; and Congressman Fascell, the Principal Speaker. Congressman Fascell was the sponsor of the legislation in Congress that made the transfer possible. Following Congressman Fascell’s remarks, the audience gave England a standing ovation.
The concluding portion of the event was the formal turnover of the property to the State of Florida. Mr. Harmon Shields, Director of the Department of Natural Resources, accepted the property on behalf of then Governor Reuben Askew from Mr. John Crutcher, Department of the Interior. Upon completion of his remarks, Mr. Shields presented the U. S. Army Color Guard a Florida State Flag, which was then hoisted on a new flag pole on the Parade outside. The photograph on the left shows the title certificate transfer.
The new park was originally named Fort Zachary Taylor State Historic Site. This was changed in 1985 to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park when the site first opened to the general public on July 4, 1985. The photograph on the right shows the original sign erected on the new property in November 1976. Picture at right are Ranger Lee Crabb from Bahia Honda State Park and England, the original curator and custodian of the Fort Zachary Taylor National Landmark. Ranger Crabb was assigned to assist England during the first two years of work on preparing the site for its eventual opening as a state park. England transitioned in November 1976 from a volunteer to an hourly OPS employee. In 1979, England became the first permanent park ranger at the site.
Posting – 30 August 2016
The first seven panels of the new Fort Taylor Interpretive Marker Program have been installed in the Fort. There are four more remaining to be installed. When these are finally installed, they will complete a three-year effort to enhance the interpretation of the Fort.
The Self-guided-tour page on this web site has been added to showcase the new panels as well as enable the reader to take a virtual tour of the Fort and its history.
This effort was begun in 2013 by Edward England when he wrote to the Director of the Florida Park Service inquiring about the possibility of placing a historical marker at the Fort commemorating the work of his father, Howard England. The Director challenged Mr. England to think bigger than a single marker. What transpired over the next year was the creation of a commemorative marker for Howard England that would fit into a larger interpretive program. That first marker was donated in August 2014 and installed in January 2015. Over the next 18 months, the remainder of the markers were designed, produced, and are being installed.
Such an interpretation effort was originally visualized by Howard England in 1972 when he wrote an Interpretive Prospectus for the Fort when the original research committee was pursuing creation of the Fort into a National Park. Now some 44 years later, Howard England’s vision has finally been realized.
Posting – 30 August 2016:
England Historical Enterprises continues work on a new publication for Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park titled, “The Fort Zach Guidebook.” An important part of the Guidebook will be a section providing a self-guided-tour of the Fort. This section will use the newly installed Interpretive Markers in the Fort as the stops along the tour.
We have added a new feature to our web site under the “Self-Guided-Tour” menu item which uses the text and marker panels from the Guidebook. The “tour” begins with the Fort Taylor Historic Marker installed in 2008. It then continues down the way as you enter the Fort and winds up on top of Battery Osceola where the final marker panel, “Hidden Treasures,” overlooks the top of the South Curtain where the original excavations began in December 1968.
The marker panel graphics are identically those used for the Interpretive Marker program at the Fort. They were designed by Park Specialist Kevin Bowes working with Edward England of England Historical Enterprises LLC. The original “Sherlock Holmes of Fort Zachary Taylor” marker (number 7 on the tour) was donated by the England family in August 2014 on the occasion of the celebration of the centennial birthday of Howard England, the original explorer and first park ranger at Fort Taylor.
Posting – 23 August, 2016:
Recently, the staff at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park began the installation of the recently completed interpretive markers around the Fort. This is a series of 11 markers that detail the history and contents of the Fort from the Civil War to the World War II eras.
The following are pictures of four of the installed markers at the Fort:
Photos by: Jackie Revoredo – Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
England Historical Enterprises is proud to have begun this effort in 2013 and contributed along the way with historical research, illustrations, and photographs. By the end of August, this series of new exhibits will be complete and significantly enhance every visitor’s tour around the Fort. The 11:00 a.m. daily tour will emphasize the markers, but you can take your own tour any time the Fort is open.
Very shortly, forttaylor.org will feature a Self-guided Tour page that will allow you to take a virtual tour around the Fort and appreciate its features before visiting the Park.
Posting – 29 July, 2016:
On Thursday, 28 July, it was our joy to visit the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum in Allentown, PA. We had two purposes in visiting: first, to be able to research the extensive historical holdings of Lewis Schmidt which the Museum holds; and second, to be able to see the Ceremonial Sword presented to Col. T. H. Good of the 47th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers in July 1863.
As you can see from the accompanying picture, we definitely accomplished the latter. Mr. Joseph Garrera, Executive Director, and Ms. Jill Youngken, Chief Curator, were so kind as to retrieve this unique artifact from their archive vault. They provided our family with a private showing of this precious treasure that came from Key West and a singular connection between Allentown PA and Key West.
The sword was presented to Col. Good by the citizens of Key West in recognition of Col. Good’s intervention in the planned deportation of over 700 residents of the island who had either Southern sympathies or had a relative in the armed forces of the Confederacy. The citizens were to have been taken to Savannah, Georgia, where they would have been forced to settle after their deportation.
After the April 1863 order by Col. Good stopping the deportation, the grateful people of Key West took up a collection of over $700 to purchase the sword from Tiffany’s of New York. The citizens of Key West had the sword engraved with a personal message thanking the colonel for his “merits as a gentleman and soldier” in protecting the populace of Key West.
While this sword has been in Key West in the past during Civil War Heritage Days at Fort Taylor, the Museum expressed reservations that it would likely be allowed to be taken to Key West any time in the future. The sword is in excellent condition and is a fine example of the generosity and Conch spirit of Key West.
The England family is very proud to have been allowed this generous gesture of friendship and goodwill by the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Museum. We were also given access to the extensive holdings that historian Lewis Schmidt donated to the Museum over the past 30 years. Mr. Schmidt passed away in April 2016. He was a noted Civil War historian from Allentown who researched the Civil War in Florida as well as the history of the 47th Regiment who were from the Allentown region.
Posting – 28 July, 2016:
On Wednesday, 27 July, the England family visited the U. S. Army’s Military History Institute at Carlisle PA. It is a part of the U. S. Army Heritage & Education Center (USAHEC) which is a key part of the U. S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks. We were there as part of our ongoing research into the archives of Fort Taylor. The Institute’s library has a number of one-of-a-kind holdings related to the building of Fort Taylor between 1847 and 1858. Most notably, they have a series of original letters between Army Corps of Engineers individuals at Fort Taylor and Fort Jefferson that give a behind the scenes look at the business of building the Forts.
We were provided access to these original letters and selected a number to photograph which we will be transcribing in the near future. We plan to return to Carlisle in the future to photograph the remaining documents so that we can continue to build up the archives of Fort Taylor in the future.
Forttaylor.org will continue to provide updates on the progress of our research into the history and people that made Fort Taylor so unique.