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This historic tower was built in 1862 during the Civil War and is one of three remaining Civil War era structures on the island. Although it was often used for target practice by the United States Navy, the fort was never actually involved in a battle. It is now home to the Key West Garden Club.
Located at Higgs Beach by the White Street Pier, West Martello Tower is a structure conceived by the U.S. Armed Forces as early as 1822 when the Navy first surveyed the island. It’s had a long history and today is home to the Key West Garden Club.
The Tower’s History
Key West was the only southern city allied with the Federal government during the Civil War. This is where the presence of Fort Zachary Taylor and both East and West Martello Towers originated. Fort Zach is located at the southwestern tip of the island, while West Martello is found along the southern coast at Higgs Beach and East Martello is located near the airport.
Fort Zach began construction in 1845 and was completed 21 years later in 1866. The construction of the Martello Towers also took considerable time. In 1836, Colonel Joseph Gilmore Totten originally planned to build nine forts in Key West. Due to budget, this was revised to one fort, being Fort Zach, and two advanced batteries, being the Martellos. It would take nearly 30 years before construction began on the towers. The West Martello battery was completed in 1863, but work ceased in 1873 and the tower was never armed. It became a quarry for residents.
In 1878, two small guns were installed and the tower was used during the Spanish American War for quartering troops, storage, signaling and lookout. During World War II, it was used for radio stations and as an anti-aircraft battery.
By 1947, all Army personnel were released from the island and the two towers were turned over as property of Monroe County. Meanwhile, Fort Zach remained would property of the Navy.
Two years later, when the tower was threatened by demolition, the Key West Garden Club stepped in to preserve the historic site. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and today serves a one-of-a-kind Key West attraction for both history and horticulture buffs.
Must-See Areas at the Tower
Today, the site is maintained by members and volunteers of the Key West Garden Club who have created a beautiful space overlooking the beach. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a quiet moment in paradise.
Tour this meeting and educational facility to learn more about the fort and its history.
The fort structure is highlighted by vaulted ceilings, gun mounts and a conservatory with a rare collection of native and exotic trees and plants, including blooming orchids and bromeliads.
The main courtyard offers a brick path for strolling past rare, tropical plants, sculpture installations and underneath the ancient arches of the fort.
With multiple gazebos dotting the property for shade and relaxation, don’t miss the gazebo at the top of the hill for lovely ocean views.
Another gazebo is located by the water lily pond and waterfall for quiet contemplation and observing the native flora and fauna.
Open 7 days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free.
1100 Atlantic Boulevard at Higgs Beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean
Things to Do Nearby
West Martello is located directly on Higgs Beach, making it the perfect attraction for adding variety to your beach day.
The White Street Pier is Key West’s most prominent fishing pier. While visiting West Martello, don’t miss the opportunity to take a walk out to the end of the pier for beautiful views and to see what the fishermen are catching.
If you’re hungry after a visit to West Martello, stop by Salute! On The Beach, one of Key West’s only beachfront restaurants. This hidden gem serve a menu of fresh seafood in a laid back setting. Seating is available indoors and outside on the shaded patio.