April 8 – Fort DeSoto (just south of St. Petersberg, FL)

This past week was pretty much as the last several, with the exception of a day photo-trip I took to Fort DeSoto, a County Park south-southwest of St. Petersburg and located on Mullet Key. 

Photo from the Internet

My drive to reach Fort DeSoto took me across one of the areas signature landmarks, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

The land that would later become Fort De Soto on one of Florida’s barrier islands was inhabited by Native Americans from about 1000 to 1500 A.D. thanks to the plentiful fish, clams, conch, oysters and whelks from the Gulf of Mexico, supplemented by occasional game food as well as the wild plants they gathered.   

In 1529, the Spanish explorer Panfilo de Nafvaez investigated the barrier islands after his expedition landed near present day St. Pete Beach.  Ten years later, Hernando De Soto came ashore somewhere near the southern part of nearby Tampa Bay.

In 1849, a detachment of US Army engineers, including Robert E. Lee surveyed the area. They recommended Mullet and Egmont (an island off Fort De Soto) become fortified as appropriate site for coastal defense installations.  Both keys could only be reached by boat since they were islands off the mainland. Although no fortifications had yet been built, Union troops were stationed on the two keys during the Civil War (1861–1865) to aid in the Union blockade of Tampa Bay with the Egmont Key Lighthouse acting as an observation tower.

The keys were again abandoned by the military until 1882 when military reservations were officially created on the two keys.  However, it would be several years before actual permanent construction would commence as a result of defense considerations linked to the Spanish-American War.

The main operation on Mullet Key, however, became Fort De Soto in 1900, named for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. The Army post was officially a sub-post of Fort Dade, which was constructed on Egmont Key. These posts were to contain batteries of artillery and mortars to protect Tampa Bay from any invading forces.

Construction of Fort De Soto began in November 1898 and completed in 1906. The foundation was constructed of a seashell concrete formula, and the walls and ceiling used a seashell, stone, and concrete mix.

Arriving on the Mullet Key, you are struck by the enormous American flag at half-mast … in honor of the tragic death of U.S. Capitol police officer Brian D. Sicknick.

A right turn

takes you north and to the remains of Fort DeSoto

The main attractions at the completed post were the artillery and 12-inch coast defense mortar batteries, Batteries Laidley and Bigelow.

Two of Fort De Soto's remaining four 12-inch coastal defense mortars of Battery Laidley. The battery originally had 8 of these guns, two in each "pit"; these guns are in Pit "A". These M 1890-MI breech-loading and rifled mortars, which were built by Watervliet Arsenal of Watervilet, NY had a maximum range of 1.25 miles at a 70° elevation and 6.8 miles at 45°. It took a crew of 12 men to operate them.  Only four of these mortars still remain and these are the only two in North America.

One of Fort De Soto Park's two 6-inch 40-caliber rapid-fire Armstrong guns. Originally located at Fort Dade on Egmont Key, the guns were refurbished and remounted for display at Fort De Soto in 1980.  These were installed to fend off smaller and faster boats.

The tops of the ventillation shafts which cooled the ammunition magazines are visible atop the earthen berms.

Observation towers were constructed on both Egmont Key

Egmont Key's Lookout Tower also serves as a lighthouse

and Mullet Key

Still can not figure out how anyone climbed to the top of this lookout tower

where a nest of Ospresy keep watch to this day.

In November 1922 the Army announced it would soon close both Forts De Soto and Dade. On May 25, 1923, the forts were officially abandoned, and only one caretaker remained at each post.  A number of tropical storms and hurricanes severely damaged the buildings on the post.  A few were destroyed, as was Battery Bigelow in 1932. The Army attempted to sell the post, but there was little interest. In September 1938 Pinellas County bought the areas on Mullet Key for $12,500.

For many visitors, the main attraction is the Gulf Bay Fishing Pier

Although others prefer to wading just off the beach for their fishing experiences

while a lonesome kayaker with a fishing pole trailing behind paddled by the end of the pier.

This was the only evidence of any fish over a few inches actually being caught.

For others the park boasts miles of magnificent white sandy beaches and turquoise and emearld green water …


and teeming with Osprey,

Great Blue Herons,

Snowy Egrets,

Pelicnas and Anhingas,

and other wildlife!

Before exiting the park, I drove to the east end where yet another distant view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was visible from a near-deserted beach where I ate a picnic lunch Debie had packed for me.

On my way back to Sarasota, I took a brief detour to Cortez, a quaint area known for its commercial fishing, white pelicans (although I've photogrpahed them there before, I saw none today) and several "RV Resorts" (most look in need of major upgrades.).

Nearby, were several abandoned boats in desperate need of repairs.

My final shot of the day was of the largest Seahorse I've ever seen … it's gotta be 15-20 heigh!.

This entry was posted in Egmont Key Florida, Fort DeSoto - St. Petersburg FL. Bookmark the permalink.

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