I had tried a few times unsuccessfully to come to Fort Pickens when we first moved to the Florida Panhandle in 2008. The first attempt was cut short due to torrential downpour that had Mom and I taking shelter at the Gulf Breeze Starbucks until the rains calmed down enough for us to drive back home. Second time, I was hoping to visit Fort Pickens while Mom was away visiting her sister in Georgia. I ran an errand in Pensacola but as was heading to the airport to pick up my tickets for my Alaskan vacation, I got a flat tire and had to spend the rest of the day waiting for a tow truck to put my donut tire on and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the WalMart on Creighton Road in Pensacola getting a new tire. I guess three times was the charm and the afternoon of October 28, 2011, we were on our way to Fort Pickens.
Fort Pickens was constructed from 1829-1834 because the War Department and Army felt that all American ports needed protection after the War of 1812 that had several ports (Baltimore, New Orleans, etc.) invaded by the British Army. Fort Pickens was named for Revolutionary War hero and General Andrew Pickens and was constructed mostly of brick and with slave labor. Several slaves died from accidents or illness during the five years Fort Pickens was under construction. Fort Pickens is 850 acres and is in the shape of a pentagon. It is the largest fort in Pensacola and one of three forts in the area (Fort Barrancas and McRee are the other forts in the area).
The US Army occupied Fort Pickens for the duration of the Mexican-American War (1845-48) and until the beginning of the Civil War, it was unoccupied. On January 8, 1861, the War Department felt that Fort Pickens needed to be protected from Confederate attacks and a platoon under the command of Lieutentant Slemmer occupied Fort Pickens shortly afterwards. The history books say that the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina was the start of the American Civil War, but many locals in Pensacola will tell you other. Shortly after the US Army occupied Fort Pickens, a group of locals loyal to the Confederacy tried to attack Fort Pickens but were held off by the Union garrison. Fort Pickens was one of the few forts in the southern USA that remained in Union hands throughout the whole Civil War.
After the Civil War, Fort Pickens remained a garrison for the army but also became a prison for Native Americans captured during the battles with the Army during the late 19th Century. One of the captives was the Apache leader Geronimo and several of his warriors. Geronimo was separated from his family and was sent to Fort Pickens with his warriors and spent seven months as a prisoner in Fort Pickens before being sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma where he died in 1909. Geronimo's family had been sent to Fort Marion while he was incarcerated in Fort Pickens. Dad, Uncle Dave and I saw his cell while we were there, and it was small with a window overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
Throughout the years, Fort Pickens underwent some changes along with new gun batteries and the Fort within the Fort that was used for training of soldiers in the early 20th Century. An explosion of ammunition occured at Fort Pickens in 1899 injuring two soldiers and in 1906, a hurricane destroyed many buildings in Fort Pickens. Today, Fort Pickens is part of the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the National Park Service.
Dad, Uncle Dave and I spent a couple of hours enjoying Fort Pickens from the inside and out. I walked the fortress walls outside taking pictures of the fort and the views from the Gulf. Dad and Uncle Dave looked at the many displays and cannons in Fort Pickens. My word of advice when seeing Fort Pickens is to definitely wear sneakers or any thick soled shoe or boot. I had my flip flops on in the car on the way over but changed into my boots. Good thing I did because there are many burr or goathead plants throughout the fort and those nasty things can go through a thin soled shoe or flip flop and make your time at Fort Pickens a real pain. When I got back to the car, I was whacking my boots on the curb near the car to get the burrs off the bottom of my boots. Also Fort Pickens does not have any shady areas so bring sunblock with you to avoid a sunburn while you are exploring the fort's exterior.
The $8 admission price that Dad grumbled about is by the carload and the pass will last you a month. I would have been glad to go back to Fort Pickens on my own with the pass after Dad and Uncle Dave headed to Arizona but that didn't happen. I hope to return there again in the future and I highly recommend that you make a visit to Fort Pickens if you are ever in the Pensacola, Florida area.
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by Wildcat Dianne
April 7, 2012
From journal More Pensacola Fun!
September 19, 2002
From journal Relaxing in Pensacola
La Crosse, Wisconsin
June 29, 2001
Location - Pensacola Beach, Florida the very west end of Santa Rosa Island.
The fort was originally constructed to guard the mouth of the harbor and the Navy Yards within. It has also served as the prison for Indian warrior Geronimo.
An explosion in a gunpowder storage area destroyed a corner of the fort in 1899. For WWI and WWII modifications were made that take some of the Civil War Era ambiance out of the fort. I prefer Fort Barrancus on the mainland when I want to show my kids a "real" fort.
However, Ft. Pickens is on the westernmost point of this barrier island, and that means better beachcombing. The tides seem to deposit more shells here than on more eastern portions of Santa Rosa Island. So take a break from the fort tour to visit the beach. Don’t expect to find any dandies, as professionals stop every morning to check out the best spots. Still, the shells you find will probably be better than those at crowded beaches like Ft. Walton.
From journal Florida Gulf Coast with Local Guides – Pensacola a