Fort Pickens, FL

Fort Pickens is a 19th century fort at the mouth of the Pensacola Bay. It saw battle during the American Civil War, was refitted with ten concrete gun batteries during the first half of the 20th century, and came under protection of the National Park Service in the 1970s. The fort is a popular tourist destination and I was happy to have it almost entirely to myself during my time there. After visiting the fort I walked a way down the Florida National Scenic Trail, which begins at the fort and goes 1562 miles to the Everglades.

I arrived at the fort in the morning. Not too early, I was lazy and travel weary, but early enough that I was there before the person who opens the visitor center. Compared to what Iíd been through it was a warm, pleasant day, but Iím sure the locals felt otherwise. The place was deserted. I picked up a self-guided tour pamphlet and began walking through the fort.

The fort itself is small, but interesting. It shows hundreds of years of evolution in military thinking, from the fortís star design first used in the 1500s to the Battery Pensacola constructed in 1898 in response to the development of rifled artillery. Battery Pensacola, of which I have no photos, is dropped without any aesthetic regard into the middle of the inner parade ground of the fort. It is perhaps the ugliest thing Iíve seen here in Florida.

Outside the fort proper a dry moat and counterscarp once provided added protection from shelling. For visitors, they provide a wide courtyard in which to mill about and admire both architecture and nature.

Inside the fort I came to an area where the upper level was supported by these arches. Whatís even more interesting Ė the arches continue under the sand. The ground here is so unstable that the architects had to build arches below the ground to spread the weight of the fort itself so that it would not sink unevenly and crack. If I remember correctly, the area beneath these arches was used to house prisoners, including the Native American war leader Geronimo. This information isnít on the website or in the pamphlet I have, but I believe I read it on a sign at the fort. In any case, the arches are interesting architecturally and visually.

After leaving the fort I began to walk down the Florida Scenic Trail, which begins here in the fort's parking lot. As the trail continues it goes east of the fort and enters a sort of short, thin forest. Itís nothing like northern forests, but it does seem similar to what Iíd seen at Gulf State Park in Alabama. The trail passes near a decommissioned gun battery after a mile or two. These ruins are just west of the battery and probably part of it. The batteries were added to the fort beginning in the late 1800s because rifled artillery had rendered the old fort walls obsolete. Instead of a single large fort, these decentralized, smaller batteries could be better armored.

I continued walking down the trail, saw a campground and more of the trail that you see in the pictures in this gallery, and eventually turned back around. That would be it for Fort Pickens.


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