About the Dry Tortugas
This information was provided by the National Park Service.
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 finished.
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.