We love old forts. The history, the architecture, the sheer size, all of it makes for a fascinating visit. Fort Picken is located in the Gulf Island National Seashore – a barrier island along the panhandle of Florida. The seashore also stretches into parts of Mississippi, although somehow skips Alabama? Still not sure about that.
When We Visited: December 2013
Ages of Kids: 8, 6, 3
Fort Pickens is the largest of 4 forts that once guarded the Pensacola Bay and the Navy Yard. It definitely seemed bigger than Fort McHenry, mostly because we could crawl through smaller places and explore more inside the walls of the fort. We started out by picking up our Jr. Ranger Books at the visitor center and then sat down on benches for the ranger tour. In the middle of the history of the fort, the ranger stops and points out this guy walking across the grounds:
Armadillo! I was ridiculously excited. Sam had seen a few around camp, but I hadn’t had the privilege yet. These things are so awesome looking.
Fort Pickens is built on a giant sandbar. Turns out, forts are rather heavy and they were worried about the whole thing sinking into oblivion. To help with the weight, under every arch, they also built a reverse arch to help distribute the weight from underneath the pillars. There were only a few excavated so we could see the result. Pretty impressive.
Fort Pickens played a critical role in the Civil War. The Fort was reinforced the day after Fort Sumter surrendered, preventing the Confederates from seizing control and using the nearby Navy Yard. At one point, the batteries on the fort even fired on nearby Forts Barrancas and McRee, the navy yard, and several independent batteries spread along the bay shore. Heavy damage caused the Confederates to withdraw.
We also *finally* found our kids their Jr. Ranger Hats. We had promised them hats after their 5th Junior Ranger Badge, but that number came and went before we found a National Park Store that had them in stock. We finally came through on our promise. Total excitement ensued.
Nothing makes history come alive like standing where it all happened. If you have not visited a historical site recently, consider this our friendly nudge to get out there!