Fort De Soto is among the Gulf Coast barrier islands, Florida
Fort De Soto Park is located just outside the city of St. Petersburg, Florida. This park, operated by Pinellas County, is made up from 5 offshore keys, or islands:
- Madelaine Key
- St. Jean Key
- St. Christopher Key
- Bonne Fortune Key
- the main island, Mullet Key
All 5 islands are now connected by land to each other.
Fort De Soto island group is accessible by toll road from the mainland.
The park is a 'gateway site' for the Great Florida Birding Trail. The 2000 mile (3200 km) long Great Florida Birding Trail (GFBT) is a collection of more than 400 locations in the state of Florida (http://floridabirdingtrail.com).
History of Fort De Soto
In 1849, Brevet Col. Robert E. Lee (the famous American Civil War commander) surveyed the area and recommended Mullet and Egmont Keys become fortified. Both keys could only be reached by boat. Union troops were stationed on the two keys during the Civil War (1861–1865) to aid in the Union blockade of Tampa Bay.
A quarantine station for aliens was established on Mullet Key in 1889. By 1925 the station operated with fifteen buildings.
The main operation on Mullet Key became Fort De Soto in 1900, named for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. The Army post was officially a subpost of Fort Dade, which was constructed on Egmont Key. These posts contained batteries of artillery and mortars to protect Tampa Bay from invading forces. Construction of Fort De Soto began in 1898 and was completed in 1906.
The post consisted of 29 buildings - large barracks, a hospital, a guardhouse, a blacksmith and carpenter shop, an administration building, and mess hall with kitchen, a bakery, and a storehouse. The post was active from 1898 to 1910. Mosquitoes were a constant problem and the post was very hot in the summers.
Tropical storms and hurricanes severely damaged the buildings on the post. The Army attempted to sell the post, but there was little interest. In 1938 Pinellas County bought the areas on Mullet Key for $12,500. Two years later the War Department decided it wanted Mullet Key back for use as a bombing range. In 1941 the key was purchased back from Pinellas County for $18,404. In 1948 Pinellas County again purchased the key and it permanently remained county property.
In 1962 a toll road, the Pinellas Bayway (state road (SR) 682), was completed to the mainland, enabling island visitors to arrive by car. Fort De Soto Park opened the same year.
The quartermaster storehouse was reconstructed to become the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum.
As of 2011, the historic fort is undergoing restoration and is closed to the public.
In 2005, Fort Desoto's North Beach was named the top beach in America by "Dr. Beach".
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There is a ferry from Fort De Soto to Egmont Key, site of Egmont Key State Park.
Most barrier islands continually change shape, like shifting sandbars, but Egmont is different. A firm bed of limestone supports the north end of the land mass and keeps the shape of the key relatively stable. Egmont Key also has historical significance. During the Third Seminole War, captured Seminoles were imprisoned there.
Fort De Soto Park: Traveler Reviews