|Almost 70 miles
/ 112.9 km west of Key West lies a cluster of seven coral reefs called the
Dry Tortugas. These reefs along with surrounding shoals and waters make up
Dry Tortugas National Park. Known for its famous bird and marine life, and
its legends of pirates and sunken gold. Dry Tortugas National Park
includes the largest of the 19th century American coastal forts.
First named The Turtles, Las Tortugas, by Spanish Explorer Ponce de
Leon in 1513, these reefs soon read "Dry Tortugas" on mariners
charts to show they had no fresh water. In 1825 a lighthouse was built on
Garden Key to warn sailors of rocky shoals; in 1856 the present light on
Logger Key was built. By 1829 the United States knew it could control
navigation to the Gulf of Mexico and protect Atlantic-bound Mississippi
River trade by fortifying the Tortugas. Fort Jefferson's construction
began on Garden Key in 1846 and continued for 30 years but was never
During the Civil War the fort was a Union military prison for
captured deserters. It also held 4 men convicted of complicity in
President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865. The Army abandoned Fort
Jefferson in 1874, and in 1908 the area became a wildlife refuge to
protect the sooty tern rookery from egg collectors. President Franklin D.
Roosevelt proclaimed Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935. The
Monument was redesignated on October 25, 1992 as Dry Tortugas National
Park to protect both historical and natural features. Not least among the
natural treasures are its namesakes, the endangered green sea turtle and
the threatened loggerhead turtle.