Fort De Soto Park, the largest park in the Pinellas County park system, is located in Tierra Verde (FL) at the mouth of Tampa Bay on the Gulf of Mexico and consists of 1,136 acres made up of five interconnected islands (keys).
The largest island is Mullet Key, where the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum is located.
Battery Laidley was the primary defense and Battery Bigelow was the secondary defense for Fort De Soto. Even though Battery Bigelow was destroyed during the hurricane of 1921, the Fort De Soto batteries were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Visitors can walk through Battery Laidley, home to the last four surviving carriage-mounted 12-inch seacoast mortars in the continental United States.
In the 1990s, historical interpretation was provided to park visitors with the creation of the display room, room descriptions, and a history booklet, about Battery Laidley. Visitors thought the battery comprised the entire post, not realizing that there were 29 wooden buildings and structures as part of the former military post. Construction of the Fort De Soto gun batteries and various post buildings began in 1898 and continued through 1907. The Quartermaster Storehouse building was originally built as a Post Exchange. The army post remained active until 1910. A caretaking detachment was left in charge of the post. During the 1920s and 1930s, hurricanes hit the area, damaging the buildings. The post buildings were sold for salvage and torn down in 1939.
With the reconstruction of the post’s brick roads and cornerstones of the post buildings in the mid-1990s, the historical trail leads park visitors from Battery Laidley to the locations of former post buildings. Park staff, volunteers, and visitors discussed the reconstruction of one or more of these buildings. The concept became a reality in 1999 when the Friends of Fort De Soto, Inc., a citizen support organization, applied for and received a matching grant from the state Historical Museums Grants-in-Aid Program for museum exhibits.
Using historical photographs, Army engineering condition reports, and government documents, the architect worked diligently to duplicate the size, scale, and massing of the original Quartermaster Storehouse building. The reconstructed 833-square-foot wooden building was built entirely by park staff. The head carpenter acted as the site contractor and the park’s mason laid the brick footers. Employees worked to install the cedar shakes on the roof, while others painted the exterior of the building.
At first glimpse, inside the museum, visitors see the post’s quartermaster surrounded by supplies he would have issued to the soldiers. Wall panels reveal the earliest history from the 16th century when Spanish conquistadors encountered the Tocobaga Indians in the Tampa Bay area and several panels on the Spanish-American War and its impact on the Tampa Bay area.
The wall panels are complemented by a touch-screen computer program with information, images, narration, and historical film clips. Visitors can learn about the earliest area history to present day information on the Friends of Fort De Soto, nature trails, and other park features. Three display cases contain Spanish-American War items, recovered artifacts from the park, and World War II military history, including an original practice bomb from the Mullet Key Bombing Range that was found in the park. A porch scene provides a glimpse of daily life with a woman’s dress, a deck of playing cards, a rattlesnake skin, and other items from the early 1900s period. The largest wall panel is a combination of three photographs showing the post buildings. Since most park visitors are unfamiliar with the army’s coast artillery corps, one wall panel provides the history, photographs of soldiers in uniform, and contains patches and pins. The museum officially opened on Veteran’s Day – November 11, 2000.
With this historical addition to Fort De Soto Park, the County hopes to spotlight the historical significance that Fort De Soto played in the history of the United States.
Fort De Soto Park’s Quartermaster Storehouse Museum project received a meritorious award in the category of non-residential restoration/rehabilitation from The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation during the 2001 Annual Statewide Preservation awards program held in Jacksonville on May 19, 2001.
A place of historical significance . . . in Paradise Found!
ABOUT FORT DE SOTO PARK:
The Park is home to beach plants, mangroves, wetlands, palm hammocks, hardwoods and scores of native plants. Each of these species plays a vital role in the preservation and protection of the natural environment.
Whether you are sitting on the beach or kayaking near the still water’s edge at Fort De Soto, you find yourself absorbed in the abundance of natural beauty for as far as the eye can see. The complexity of the ecology is not immediately apparent, but the park offers the greatest diversity of systems just about anywhere. Emerging from the wealth of bird life, sea life, wild life and plant life is the majestic tapestry called Fort De Soto.
Another amazing example of the importance of the park’s natural ecosystems is the more than 290 species of birds that have been documented by ornithologists. The beach also provides refuge to the loggerhead sea turtle, which nests between April and September.
Fort De Soto was named America’s Top Beach for 2009-10 by TripAdvisor, the world’s largest online travel community. In 2005, “Dr. Beach,” named Fort De Soto the nation’s #1 Beach. Annual park attendance averages more than 2.7 million visitors. Click here to learn more about upcoming Fort De Soto Park events.
Fort De Soto Park
3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, FL 33715
Park Office (727) 552-1862
Automated Information Message: (727) 582-2267
FREE ADMISSION! (Donations accepted.)
CREDITS: www.PinellasCounty.org. 4/24/11.