Fort De Soto History - Quartermaster Museum
Hours: Open 7 days a week 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fort De Soto Park, 1,136 acres, is located on five islands at the mouth of Tampa Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The largest island is Mullet Key, which is 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 (see Historic Guide ). Visitors saw only Battery Laidley and 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. Many employees worked to install the cedar shakes on the roof while others painted the exterior of the building. Today’s Quartermaster Storehouse building has features not found in the original building: air conditioning; fiber-optic lighting; concealed Polyiso insulation in the walls, door, and ceiling; as well as a fire-suppression system.
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 County Park, we hope 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.
For more history on Fort De Soto please review our Historic Guide.