Fort Pickens was the largest of a group of forts designed to fortify Pensacola Harbor. Constructed between 1829-1834, Pickens supplemented Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee, and the Navy Yard. Located at the western tip of Santa Rosa Island, just offshore t he mainland, Pickens guarded the island and the entrance to the harbor. Its construction was supervised by Colonel William H. Chase of the Corps of Army Engineer. Using slave labor, the fort used over twenty-two million bricks and wasintended to be impregnable to attack. Ironically, Chase was later appointed by the state of Florida to command its troops and seize for the South the very fort he had built.
At the time of the secession crisis, Fort Pickens had not been occupied since the Mexican War. Despite its dilapidated condition, Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, who was in charge of United States forces at Fort Barrancas, determined that Pickens was more defensible than any of the other posts in the area. His decision to abandon Barrancas was hastened when, around midnight of January 8, 1861, his guards repelled a group of men intending to take the fort. Some historians note that this could be considered the first shots fired by United States forces in the Civil War. Shortly after this incident, Slemmer destroyed over 20,000 pounds of powder at Fort McRee, spiked the guns at Barrancas, and evacuated about eighty troops to Fort Pickens. Fort Pickens remained in Union hands throughout the Civil War.
Named after the Revolutionary War hero, Andrew Pickens, the fort was completed and officially ready for troops on October 4, 1834. It was built as a coastal defense, but actually found its glory during the Civil War. Fort Pickens was one of the few forts in the south that were not captured by the Confederates. It is also noted for housing Apache prisoners in 1886, and among them was Geronimo.
Is Fort Pickens Open?
As many of you will know, Fort Pickens was closed to visitors for a period in 2020. Luckily, this is long passed, and the site is back open with generous hours of 5 am to 9 pm, March through October. November through February hours are 5 am to 6 pm. The historic fort is open from 8 am to sunset and the discovery center from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Camping is available but is best reserved well in advance at Recreation.gov. Check for guided tours, festivals, exhibitions, and more using the fort's calendar.
Fort Barrancas is open Thursday through Monday from 9 am - 4:15 pm. The visitor center and bookstore keep the same hours. Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas have several fee-free days each year. Regular fees are $15 for pedestrians or $25 per vehicle. Annual passes cost $45. Veteran discounts are available. The experience is well worth the fee. Visitors can make a day out of this trip with access not only to Forts Pickens and Barrancas, but also to Opal Beach, Okaloosa, and the Perdido Key.
Fort Pickens Park is located on the far west end of Santa Rosa Island. If you're coming from Pensacola, you would have to first cross both of the bridges to get to Pensacola Beach Blvd. You would then take a right onto Fort Pickens Rd. After a couple of miles you'll come to a toll booth at the entrance of Fort Pickens.
There are always special events planned for each month. For the latest events call the Visitor's Center at (850) 934-2635.
There is a daily tour of Fort Pickens at 2:00 pm and lasts about 45 minutes (confirm ahead of time). It focuses on the human history of Fort Pickens. There is no cost for the tour, aside from the park entry fee.