Unusual Tourist Sites: Fort Jefferson Prison Dry Tortugas Islands Florida Part 1

About the unusual tourist site Fort Jefferson, one of the most dreaded prisons, on Dry Tortugas Islands in Florida, history and information.

Dry Tortugas Islands, Florida

Fort Jefferson ... One of America's most unusual national monuments was at one time the most dreaded prison in the country. Fort Jefferson, located on a tiny coral islet about 120 mi. west of the southern tip of Florida, had a reputation in the 19th century as the most evil of penal institutions.

Actually, Fort Jefferson was not originally built to be a prison, but instead was a military emplacement off the shores of America, designed to strengthen the nation's security. It was to be the Gibraltar of America.

Construction of Fort Jefferson began in 1846. All materials were transported from Philadelphia, 1,300 mi. away by sea. The immense structure became the largest mass of unreinforced masonry ever constructed by Americans. It is a 6-sided structure surrounding a plot of land as big as 20 football fields. The 50'-high walls are built right on the Gulf. Once the structure was completed, the Government shipped in 400 guns, which were mounted in place to "assure the country's well-being."

But Fort Jefferson, built at a cost of $1 a brick, turned out to be a fiasco. The Army discovered much too late that the water around the fort was so shallow that it would be impossible for enemy boats to travel within cannon range of the islet.

Realizing that the fort was useless for military purposes, the Government then decided to turn it into a prison. Beginning during the Civil War, therefore, it was used to house convicts.

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