Defender of the Florida Coast
The 6-inch Armstrong rapid-
fire guns on display at Fort
DeSoto are the last in the U.S.
Fort De Soto, Flrida
The surviving emplacements
are well-preserved and offer
interpretive displays.
Fort De Soto - Pinellas County, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Fort De Soto Park, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Fort De Soto Park, Florida
Rare Artillery at Fort DeSoto
The 12-inch seacoast rifled mortars at Fort DeSoto
are the only surviving weapons of their type in the
continental United States.
Historic Defenses of Tampa Bay
It is a little known fact today that the historic
city of Tampa, Florida, was once a major
center for smuggling weapons into the island
nation of Cuba.

This made Tampa Bay a likely target for
attack when the United States went to war
with Spain in 1898. In a flurry of construction
activity, the U.S. Army sought to defend the
important Florida port by building powerful
seacoast fortifications around the entrance to
the harbor. The best preserved of these
defenses can still be seen at Fort De Soto
Park on Mullet Key.

Easily accessible from nearby
St. Petersburg
by car, Mullet Key has a rich history dating
back hundreds if not thousands of years.
Tocobaga and other Indians fished and
harvested shellfish in the waters around the
key for centuries before the Spanish ships of
Panfilo de Narvaez and Hernando de Soto
passed within site of its shores during the
1500s.

The island was surveyed by Bvt. Colonel
Robert E. Lee and three other U.S. Army
engineers in 1849 and recommended as a
site for coastal defenses. Although the key
played a minor role in the blockade of Tampa
Bay during the Civil War, it would be nearly 50
years before the government acted on Lee's
recommendation and fortified the island.

With the onset of the Spanish-American War
in 1898, the army moved quickly to fortify
Mullet Key. The smuggling and filibustering
activities launched from Tampa had angered
the Spanish. The port city also served as a
major concentration points for U.S. troops
preparing to invade Cuba.

Work on the island began in November of
1898 and within six months construction
teams had built a long wharf, offices, mess
hall, quarters for workers and even a narrow-
gauge railroad. The building of the massive
mortar emplacements began the following
year and Fort De Soto was an active battery
by 1900.

A part of Fort Dade, the part of which stood
on nearby
Egmont Key, Fort De Soto mounted
eight 12-inch seacoast rifled mortars. The
last four guns of this type in the continental
United States can still be seen at the fort.
Only minimally garrisoned during World War
I, Fort De Soto was evacuated by the army in
1923 and only a caretaker left to supervise
the works. One of the two powerful batteries
was washed away during the 1930s and
Mullet Key served only as a bombing range
during World War II. Pinellas County bought
the island from the U.S. Government in 1948.

Fort De Soto Park was established in 1963
and the fort itself was listed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1967.

To reach the park from St. Petersburg, follow
State Highway 682 (Pinellas Bayway) to State
Highway 679 (Anderson Boulevard), turn left
and follow 679 to Mullet Key and the fort.

In addition to its historic sites, the park offers
outstanding beaches, nature trails, boat
ramps, campgrounds, picnicking and more.
Please click here to visit the park's official
website.
Preserved Mortar Battery
The battery once guarded
Tampa Bay, but never came
under enemy attack.
Relic of the War with Spain
The fort was built to counter
the threat of a naval attack
during the Spanish-American
War.
Photos by Lauren Pitone
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.