The History at Egmont Key...
Egmont Key State Park is a barrier island and a wildlife preserve, and is at the main entrance to Tampa Bay. Currently a Florida State Park, the island is host to what was formerly Fort Dade, established during the Spanish-American war around 1900. It is a sight to see, especially the portions of it which are now sunken ruins after giving in to the Gulf's waves over the years. This beautiful island is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Wildlife Refuge and a state park.
Egmont Key's most prominent feature is the lighthouse, sitting on the north end of the island, toward the entrance channel. The lighthouse was originally built in 1848, primarily because of Tampa Bay's notorious reputation for shallow sandbars and shoaling, and constantly changing seabed. Many ship captains struggled to get their vessels safely into port because of these navigational hazards, and would often run aground. The ships from centuries ago would often sink or become significantly damaged from running aground. In 1848, the Egmont Key Lighthouse was finally erected to help guide ship captains safely through the channel.
In 1848, the year the Egmont Key Lighthouse was originally erected, the Great Gale of 1848 made landfall in September of that year. With winds estimated at 135 miles per hour, and a 15 foot storm surge, the lighthouse was all but destroyed. History has it that the lighthouse keeper, Sherrod Edwards and his family, rode out the storm in a rowboat tied to a palmetto tree. After the weather cleared, the lighthouse keeper rowed his boat up the bay to Fort Brooke, and tendered his resignation. The remains of the lighthouse were torn down, and a new lighthouse was built in 1858, but at a location on the island that was 90 feet more inland. This is the lighthouse that currently stands today.
It was in 1827 that the United States finally gained control of Egmont Key from the Spanish and English. The island is actually named after a British royal, John Perceval, the Earl of Egmont, and First Lord over all British Naval Admirals of Her Majesty's Naval Service. For a time, Egmont Key was used during the Seminole Indian Wars of the mid 1800s, in part as an internment camp. Later on, during the Civil War, Egmont Key was occupied for most of the war by the Union Navy, though the occupation was contested by the Confederate Navy, resulting in the confiscation of the lighthouse beacon by the Confederate Army.
Fort Dade was established in 1899 on Egmont Key to help protect the entrance to Tampa Bay from Spanish battleships during the Spanish American War. A settlement was built on the island to house the approximately 300 U.S. Army personnel and officers’ families. The fortifications on the island were built in response to a need for coastal defense during that time. The fort included more than 70 buildings comprising a guard house, barracks, mess hall, officers quarters, a school, a firehouse, a power plant to generate electricity, a hospital and morgue, a post office, a gymnasium, and a railroad system to facilitate delivery of the vast supplies that needed to arrive by boat. Fort Dade also included 5 gun batteries, fitted with battleship sized guns of 8 inches, 5 inches and 3 inches. None of these guns were ever fired in anger or combat, as the Spanish Navy never did present itself at Tampa Bay.
Fort Dade was decommissioned around 1922, after a fire and another powerful hurricane struck Egmont Key, and partially destroyed the fort. At that time, given the reduced threat from foreign enemies, and the high cost of repairing and maintaining the fort, the US Government decided it was no longer made sense to keep the base active. The personnel were withdrawn, and gradually the buildings have fallen victim to weather and time. Nevertheless, fascinating remnants remain on Egmont Key.
Historical photos are courtesy of
USF Digital Library