82. East Martello Fort

Historic Marker number 82 islocated at 3051 South Roosevelt Road next door to the Key West International Airport.

When John Simonton purchased the island of Key West in 1822, many people believed that Key West would be the "Gibraltar of America", protecting America's shipping lanes and coasts from foreign danger because of its strategic location. Understanding the need to protect the nation's financial and military investments, the U.S. government commissioned the construction of a series of fortifications in Key West in 1845, to guard the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico.

The first of these island based fortifications was Fort Zachary Taylor, whose construction took 21 years. To protect the fort from ground assaults construction began on two twin Martello forts in 1862. During the Civil War, the Union used the forts as a stronghold and rallying point for the blockade of Confederate supply lines.

Martello Fort design dates back. The architectural design is a Martello Tower, a Genoese defense system originally from the island of Corsica dating from the 16th century. The masonry structures are round at the base and three to four stories tall. The walls were 8 feet thick and built to support heavy gunnery on the flat roof of the fort. Cannons could be swiveled 360 degrees to fire on threats from any direction.

The rounded wall design was effective at defraying cannon fire.

The reasons that the citadel or central fortification of both forts is not round reflect the time and circumstances the three forts were built in. The country was on the verge of a civil war and the forts were part of a vital ring of defensive structures.

Square buildings are significantly easier to build and generally more cost efficient. The remote location of the structure, on the shoreline surrounded by salt ponds, called for additional fortification. Both the East and West Martello Towers were designed with casement walls as a first line of defense.

If the forts were attached by land the brick casements could be used to repel any land based threat with the knowledge that defenders could always fall back to the security of the citadel tower if they were overrun.

In their storied history, neither of the Martello Forts needed to fire a shot or had a casualty caused by war.

Fort East Martello suffered from a number of problems from the onset. Outbreaks of yellow fever delayed work along with the hurricane of 1864. Work continued despite tension between the slaves, free blacks, factions of the pro-Confederate population and the US Army.

Further setbacks hindered progress, the most significant of which was a devastating hurricane in October 1865 that destroyed components at both forts and threw the remaining construction plans into limbo. A little over a year later, construction on both forts halted, leaving both in an unfinished state.

The fort remained empty for decades but was put to military use during the Spanish American War, WWI, and WWII.

The Fort is currently a museum and is open to the public.