Thursday, August 6, 2015

Gulf Coast Adventures: Fort Pickens ( History Corner )


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I am blessed to have a child that doesn't want to stay on the beach all day, but wants to head out and explore. On our recent Florida trip, since we were already out at the Fort Pickens preserve area enjoying the quiet beach,it only took us about 18 minutes to get out to Fort Pickens. I knew it's arches and open spaces would appeal to her inner explorer!

Driving out to the Fort is a lesson in itself, with natural beaches and a road covered with sand, that takes you back 100 years, before you even see the Fort!


fort pickens blast arch

Fort Pickens is the largest of the 4 forts that were built to protect Pensacola Bay. Begun in 1809, completed in 1834 and was kept in use until 1947! Over 215 MILLION bricks were used to build the Fort, which was built by slave labor from NOLA. 

This broken Bastion above was caused by 8,000 pounds of black powder exploding in 1899. The debrid fallout was over 15 miles away! 

fort pickens window

Interesting fact: Fort Pickens was one of only 4 coastal forts that remained in Union hands during the Civil War While the Fort did see some action in 1861, it remained under Union control.

This window is from one of the officer's rooms, that had it's own fireplace, with a marble mantlepiece! The room later in 1861, and then housed some of the Apaches in 1887.

fort pickens interior cannon mounts

Everywhere in the Fort there are 2 things- light and shadow. Light comes in from windows open to the sea air, the shadows from the arches and underground sections of the Fort, These casemate rooms show where some of the Fort's 200 cannons were supported by the heavy circles on the floor. 

The tunnel systems at Fort Pickens are VERY tight, and admittedly a bit spooky, an once held 1,000 pounds of gunpowder in each of the three mine chambers! 

fort pickens window interior

The arches are prevalent over the fort, Its most modern change was in 1898, when the metal battery was installed over half of the internal parade ground, and the cannons were swapped from smooth bore to modern rifled cannon. 

The openness of the windows is to allow for cannon smoke to go out and not suffocate the men working the cannons.

fort pickensinterior arches

Even with the decay, the majesty of the building remains. With the ants. The do NOT stand still or they will be all over your feet ants! Too bad the dry moat no longer exists to keep them out! But it is a reminder of how much nature has taken back of the Fort. 

fort pickens st joe brick

AHA, a local icon, St Joe brick (and the obligatory cute toes shot!).

fort pickensbeach vista

Can you imagine coming from the desert and seeing this view?

And yet, that is what Geronimo and the other Apaches, who were forced to Fort Pickens saw. Literally. This view is what Geronimo would have seen from his Southern facing room at the Fort. 

fort pickens inside view 2

It is amazing to think that this view has NOT changed in 150 years. 

This was an important part of Native American history that I wanted Miss Grace to understand- the taking of Native Americans as prisoners for defending their way of life and fighting not to be forced into a way that they knew would tear their culture apart. 

Standing where Geronimo and his fellow Apaches stood helped to bring home to Miss Grace how desolate and unsettling Fort Pickens was to them. What you learn in a history book can never replace the emotion of setting and place.

fort pickens row of arches

Standing under these arches, you can hear the wind howl, the birds squawk and the surf pound.  take away the modern noise of fellow visitors and you are transported back in time. Seeing HOW we once defended our country and how our soldiers lived is an important party of our history.

To say that 'memorials' and places made from slave labor should now be taken down, is to not only remove our history, but to allow us to forget what the past was like and WHY we moved on from it. Visiting locations like Fort Pickens allows our children to understand our past in ways that words in a book can not.

fort pickenscannon and miss grace

She could NOT believe how BIG the top Bastion cannon was. It really brought to life what military life in the late 1800s was, as well as naval warfare! 


new jr ranger 1

Did you know that your child can become a Junior Ranger at ALL the National Parks?

Yup! Every park has a guide you can download, and when your child completes the allotted activities, they can bring their completed form to that park's Ranger Station. There they will be sworn in as a Junior Ranger, and receive a custom etched WOODEN badge! So Cool!

new jr ranger 2

Can you tell from that smile how thrilled she was to get her Junior Ranger badge? Mom had to buy her a hat to put it on of course.

And while Fort Pickens may have been under Union control, Miss Grace's ancestors fought (and died) for the South, so a Rebel hat it was! 


All in all it took us about 2 hours to tour the Fort itself, then the museum (which you need to drive over to, as aforementioned ants will assault you badly if you try to walk over to it), which is set in the camping area of Fort Pickens, and then back to the office for her swearing in and shopping. FYI, the shop has some of the best prices I saw for 'beach' and local history souvenirs. Plus you know your money is going to upkeep of the Fort. It does take about 20 minutes to drive out to the Fort, as the speed limit is 20 mph through much of the area, due to being a bird sanctuary and preserve, and the same back, so allot for that extra time if you go. But the views are amazing and the ride is part of the natural wonders of the area!  We highly recommend visiting the Fort with your kids the next time you're on the Gulf Coast!





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