Fort Wall Restoration continues at Fort Jefferson, Spring 2010

By: Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

General Joseph Totten, Chief of the Army’s Engineers from 1838 – 1864 designed the Totten Shutters used on the gun ports of Fort Jefferson. These large slabs of wrought iron complete with iron shutters were designed to protect gunners from small projectiles and musket fire while loading cannons weighing several tons per gun opening and integrated into both the exterior wall and the interior of the fort, these embrasures were crucial to fort construction during this time period.

Over time in the salt environment of Dry Tortugas, the shutters have oxidized. Swelling in width and pushing the bricks off the outer walls of Fort Jefferson. The fort is a veneer of brick-filled with coral boulders, rubble, sand and concrete. The outer brick veneer is crucial to protect Fort Jefferson from storms and hurricanes.

The founding legislation of Dry Tortugas National Park mandates the National Park Service to “protect, stabilize, restore and interpret Fort Jefferson, an outstanding example of nineteenth century masonry fortification” for future generations without undertaking serious action to stop further degradation, it became obvious to the National Park Service personnel that the walls of Fort Jefferson were in serious trouble.

Underway for about 5 years now, a multiyear preservation project is underway to stabilize the outer walls for Fort Jefferson. Iron embrasures are removed, the walls stabilized and re-bricked, concrete (made with local sand and coral) and historic bricks are used. Lastly, replicas of the historic Totten shutters are placed in the gun ports.

Construction workers are housed and fed at Fort Jefferson during the renovation work.

While visiting Fort Jefferson, a walk around the moat will show sections of the fort wall where stabilization has been completed. Scaffolding is present where work will take place this spring. The west wall of Fort Jefferson shows the damage for future repairs.

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