The Happily Ever-Aftering Fort
The fort, made of brick, constructed and completed in 1834 by slaves, was designed to be impregnable to attack. The walls are many feet thick of solid brick, made, cut, and laid by slave hands. The arches and the underground reverse arches needed to support the weight, are engineering genius.
It was built after the War of 1812 to defend the harbor in Pensacola. It was in continuous service through the Mexican-American War, and again in January 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War. It was only one of four southern U.S. forts to remain in Union hands throughout the war. In 1886, following the Civil War, Geronimo and several of his warriors were imprisoned at Fort Pickens before being removed to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Batteries were added early in the 20th century during the First World War, and again in 1942, when German U-Boats skulked around in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II. Fort Pickens, named for a Revolutionary hero, was closed as an army installation in 1947. It reopened to the public as a state part in 1976.
The fort has a large number of historical guns in their placements from various eras, some are rare, and all are well-preserved. The brick floors are worn smooth and the incredible architecture is intact with arches rivaling ruins in Rome.
It’s quiet at the fort. Sea grasses whisper all around. Across the water stands the Pensacola Lighthouse. The ancient guns are silent, the brick walls echo our steps. I imagine the sounds of boots marching. Looking out barred windows, I need to learn more about Geronimo’s imprisonment here. Who in 1830 would have guessed that 186 years later tourists would be stumbling through these tunnels, taking pictures with ipads, and remarking how advanced this workmanship was? This fort has been happily aging here on the Florida coast for 186 years and continues its life ever after, ruins telling their story.