Inside the Gulf Islands National Seashore lies a treasure trove of military history. Four Forts; Fort Pickens, Fort McRee, Fort Massachusetts, and Fort Barrancas, were built to protect Pensacola Bay. Located on the tip of Santa Rosa Island is Fort Pickens. Named for Major General Andrew Pickens it took five years, 1829-1834 to build the fort. An estimated 21.5 million bricks were used for the original building. The walls are three deep in most places. I’m pretty impressed that it only took the five years with no machinery to aid the process. The fort saw some fighting during the civil war, despite being in the deep south Fort Pickens remained in Union control during the entire war. It also held some rather famous prisoners. October of 1886 through May of 1887, Apache war chief, Geronimo was held captive along with several other apache warriors. While researching I found an interesting story, on June 20, 1899 a small fire was burning inside the fort. The fire reached Bastion D magazine that contained 8,000 pounds of ammunition powder ignited. The resulting explosion killed one man and sent bricks from the bastion wall flying more than 1.5 miles away. Fort Pickens was further fortified with ten concrete gun batteries between the 1890’s and 1940’s in responsive to newer technologies in weaponry. The fort saw its last days in 1947, too outdated against the threat of missiles and atomic bombs.
Fort Pickens is now run by the United States Park Service and open daily for tours. It is mostly wheelchair and stroller friendly, and a great place to explore. There are sidewalks for the main section of the fort, but it’s also located on a barrier island, lots of sand. The oldest section of the fort is built entirely out of bricks, the floors are uneven and rough. Archways separating the open rooms are massive and green with moss from the continuous dripping water. Several rooms were flooded, and I found multiple tiny tunnels leading nowhere. Our footsteps echoed loudly as we explored. Pensacola Battery located in the parade grounds is one of the “newer” gun batteries, all concrete and rusted metal. The doors are gated with metal bars, more commonly seen in prisons and jails. Fort Pickens and the surrounding batteries are enough to spend the day exploring and offers stunning views of Pensacola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It was an enjoyable day even with no prior knowledge of military history.
Next week we visit The Ministers Treehouse.
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