The largest of a group of coastal forts built to protect Pensacola’s harbor, Fort Pickens was constructed between 1829 – 1834 on the westernmost tip of Santa Rosa Island. The fort was named for Major General Andrew Pickens of the South Carolina militia, a Revolutionary War hero known as “Wizard Owl.” Slave labor laid about 22 million bricks in the fort which was designed to be impenetrable. Fort Pickens was the only coastal fort held by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1886, it was used to house Apache prisoners, including their chief, Geronimo.
A free 45-minute daily tour by park service rangers gives insight into the fort’s features and history. You’re also free to explore the 850-acre park. If you’re intrigued by features like casemates, sally ports, dry moats, cisterns, chambers, tunnels, reverse arches, and bastions, Fort Pickens is a must-see. And even if you’re not, the cool, shadowy brick-lined passageways and dim interior rooms whisper volumes about the people who once manned the fort and lived their lives within its defenses. I’ve never seen it in person, but there is a particular view of the broken-away edge of a brick wall that is called “Geronimo’s Profile.” It’s only visible when the light is just right.