History & Culture
The rich cultural heritage of the Dry Tortugas all begins with its location 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. The seven keys (Garden, Loggerhead, Bush, Long, East, Hospital, and Middle) collectively known as the Dry Tortugas, are situated on the edge of the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean. The strategic location of the Dry Tortugas brought a large number of vessels through its surrounding waters as they connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Early on, the shipping channel was used among Spanish explorers and merchants traveling along the Gulf Coast.
Linda Friar, National Park Service
Fort Jefferson on Garden Key
Fort Jefferson, the largest all-masonry fort in the United States, was built between 1846 and 1875 to protect the nation's gateway to the Gulf of Mexico. Supply and subsidence problems and the Civil War delayed construction. The fort was never completed because of fears that additional bricks and cannon would cause further settling and place more stress on the structure and the cistern system. Distinguishing features include decorative brickwork and 2,000 arches. Time, weather, and water continue to take their toll, necessitating ongoing stabilization and restoration projects.
Fort Jefferson and a Harbor Light
Did You Know?
Snorkeling is a great way to immerse yourself in the underwater world of the Dry Tortugas. Many wrecks and patch reefs lie in relatively shallow water and are easy to access. Be sure to ask for more information at the visitor center!