Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key both are home to Florida’s Gulf island National Seashore, the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the United States. Island beaches, sparkling waters, bayous, historic forts and recreational opportunities are plentiful at the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Open year-round, the seashore is in Mississippi and Florida. Gentle breezes, tides and hurricanes have constantly reshaped this dynamic landscape.
Salt marshes, dunes covered with sea oats, and maritime forests of live oaks and pines are part of the national seashore. Animal life includes sea turtles, alligators, a wide variety of birds (such as plovers, terns, sanderlings and pelicans), and abundant fish, shellfish and other sea life.
For history buffs, the forts of Gulf Islands National Seashore span almost 150 years, from the Spanish colonial Bateria De San Antonio (1797) to the WWII-era Battery 234. This reflects the historic value of the anchorages at Pensacola Bay, Florida and Ship Island, Mississippi. Most striking among these are the American Third System forts: Fort Pickens, Fort Massachusetts, Fort Barrancas and the Advanced Redoubt, all which saw action during the Civil War.
The Fort Barrancas area is on Taylor Road, approximately a half-mile east of the Museum of Naval Aviation. The area includes the historic Water Battery, Fort Barrancas, trails, a visitor center, picnic areas and the Advanced Redoubt. Fort Barrancas sits on a bluff overlooking the entrance to Pensacola Bay; the natural advantages of this location have inspired engineers of three nations to build forts. The British built the Royal Navy Redoubt there in 1763 of earth and logs. The Spanish built two forts there around 1797. Bateria de San Antonio was a masonry water battery at the foot of the bluff. Above it was earth and log Fort San Carlos Barrancas. American engineers remodeled the Water Battery in 1840 and built a masonry fort on the bluff between 1839 and 1844, connected by a tunnel to the Water Battery. This is the current Fort Barrancas. A 1.2 million, 18-month restoration project led to its reopening in 1980. Scheduled tours of Fort Barrancas are offered throughout the year. Call 850-934-2600 for more information.
The Advanced Redoubt of Fort Barrancas was built between 1845 and 1870 as a part of a defensive network for the Pensacola Navy Yard. Fort Pickens, McRee and Barrancas protected the entrance to the harbor; the Advanced Redoubt was constructed to defend the northern side of the peninsula on which the navy yard was located. The redoubt is unique among the early American forts at Pensacola in being designed solely for resisting a land-based assault. Scheduled tours of the Advanced Redoubt are available 11 a.m. Saturday.
Fort Pickens is the largest of four forts built to defend Pensacola Bay, Florida, and its navy yard. The construction of fort began in 1829, completed in 1834 and used until the 1940s. Built in the age of wooden warships and cannons firing round balls, the fort underwent changes in response to advances in weapon technology following the Civil War.
Ten concrete gun batteries including one in the middle of the historic fort was built from the 1890s through the 1940s, each a response to a particular threat. Atomic bombs, guided missiles and long-range bombers made such forts obsolete by the end of World War II, and the Army abandoned the forts. Following extensive repairs by the National Park Service, the fort was reopened in 1976.
For more information on Gulf Islands National Seashore forts and points of interest, visit www.nps.gov/gui.