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Dry Tortugas National Park

The History of Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas National Park houses one of the largest coastal forts in the world. In 1840s, the United States government chose one of the islands -- Garden Key -- as the site of a massive fortification (the largest coastal fort in the country) designed to control access to the Gulf of Mexico. Construction of Fort Jefferson was begun in 1846 and continued for 30 years but was never completed.

The Dry Tortugas were declared a wildlife refuge by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.
©2006 National Park Services
The Dry Tortugas were declared a wildlife refuge by President Theodore
Roosevelt in 1908. Fort Jefferson National Monument was created in 1935;
it was upgraded to a national park in 1992.

During the Civil War, it was used as a military prison by the Union Army. Among its most infamous inmates was Samuel Mudd, the doctor who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The fort was abandoned in 1874, and the island and surrounding area were declared a wildlife refuge in 1908.

The ruins of several structures--including the officers' quarters, soldiers' barracks, and magazine--are preserved by the fort's parade ground.
©2006 National Park Services
The ruins of several structures -- including the officers' quarters, soldiers'
 barracks, and magazine -- are preserved by the fort's parade ground.

The fort's brick walls -- some of them eight feet thick and 50 feet high -- and the ruins of several buildings may be viewed on a self-guiding tour. Garden Key also offers a small visitor center, a boat pier, and the park's only campground.

Of course, there is much more to do at Dry Tortugas National Park than tour Fort Jefferson. The park is a favorite of divers and snorkelers, as well as beachcombers. In fact, the celebrated author and sports enthusiast Ernest Hemingway once fished for Atlantic marlin in these seas. Who says you have to travel to Micronesia to see a pristine reef? A short boat ride from the easily accessible islands of Key West will bring you to a reef system that is just as spectacular.

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