The Old West Martello Tower is
the perfect Key West hideway
West Martello Tower, Joe Allen Garden Center is Fort Taylor Tower # and is located at Atlantic Blvd and White St.
Certainly one of the more unusual Key West museums in terms of fate, this facility carries the same thread of history as it's sister fort and Fort Jefferson Dry Tortugas.
Like them, it never served the purpose it was intended for, and it never was completed. From the very beginning it was plagued with numerous setbacks and unexpected circumstances.
West Martello Tower is one of the Fort Zachary Taylor Towers
Photo Courtesy of Teresa Smith
Key West's African Cemetery
One of the more unusual and historical features about this fort is that Higgs Beach became the site of an African Cemetery.
This cemetery was an unexpected and quickly created burial ground due to unforeseen events.
In 1860, 3 slaves ships arrived in Key West and when they landed, their human cargo was set free.
African Cemetery at Higgs Beach
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, Dale M. McDonald Collection
However the slaves were in severely weakened condition. Within 85 days of their freedom, 295 of them succumbed to the harsh and varied diseases plentiful in the area.
The sudden rash of bodies had to be promptly interred, and so their remains were buried on the southern shore of the Island.
It was during the construction of the West Tower that Union soldiers began to uncover the bodies of the African slaves. This prompted the immediate relocation of the majority of the remains into new, shallow graves, about 40 feet further down the beach.
The Union soldiers continued to build the Fort until 1866. Then for no apparent reason, construction was halted and the Tower was abandoned.
This began the cycle of disrepair. Gunnery soldiers used it for target practice from their Fort Zachary Taylor
location. Adding to the damage, bricks from the Tower were harvested by Key West residents and soldiers.
Beautiful Gardens at West Martello Tower
Photo Courtesy of Teresa Smith
Before it was completely dismantled brick by brick, a cigar manufacturer purchased it. He turned the Tower into a stable and living quarters for several families.
In 1898, during the Spanish American War, the army again occupied the Fort to protect the beaches against invasion. During World War II, the Army returned and mounted an anti-aircraft battery at the Tower.
After the war, the Fort was again abandoned and was eventually deeded to Monroe County. Due to it's disrepair and lack of functionality, the facility was scheduled for demolition.
However, Joe Allen, then County Commissioner was unhappy with this new turn of events, and he worked diligently to save the old historic Fort. He approached The Key West
Garden Club, and successful arrangements were made between the County and the Club.
The dedicated Key West Garden Club has worked hard to clear and restore the ruins. They have turned the old Fort into a popular lush, tropical setting that is considered to be one of the most relaxing places on the island.
The old West Martello Tower #1, like it's sister East Martello Tower #2,
was a project that never fully developed. It suffered a long history of neglect but it's now found new purpose.
In the process it has yielded up significant archaeological finds from beneath it's grounds, adding to it's historic importance and value. For more hours and additional information you can call 305-294-3210.