Gulf Islands is a park steeped in a long history of settlement, conflict, and abandonment. When Europeans first visited the northern Gulf of Mexico in the early 1500s, they found Native American settlements that were populous and thriving.
Along the Gulf of Mexico, discovery by Europeans was followed by a long struggle for the region's control. Spain, in 1559, established a settlement in Florida on Pensacola Bay, but the place was abandoned soon afterward. Spaniards revived the settlement in 1698, surrendered it to the French in 1719, regained it by treaty in 1722, ceded it to the English in 1763, and repossessed it by force in 1781!
Gulf Islands National Seashore contains one of the most complete collections of publicly accessible structures relating to the evolution of seacoast defense in the United States. It represents a continuum of development from Spanish exploration and colonization through World War II.
Did You Know?
Gulf Islands National Seashore's Fort Massachusetts, on West Ship Island 12 miles off the Mississippi coastline, was covered by the 30-foot storm surge from Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. The fort has been reopened to the public.