I don’t generally review individual websites. I’ve done that in the distant past and even then in happened only on rare occasions. It’s not because I don’t believe they’re not worthy. Rather, it’s because I like to provide links that align with a specific context I’m attempting to portray on 12MC. Plus, I’m not very good at predicting whether websites will flourish over time. Reviews become worthless when the subject goes away. I don’t think we’ll have a problem here. The organization I’ll feature today has been around for more than 25 years.
It’s "Random Topic Thursday," my ongoing effort to put a dent in my overflowing list of potential topics. The oracle said that I should review the Coast Defense Study Group today. And so I shall.
Incidentally, Random Topic Thursday is pretty random itself. I don’t do it every Thursday so I guess it could be described more accurately as Random, Random Topic Thursday.
What is the Coast Defense Study Group exactly? I’m glad you asked. I’ll let them use their own words:
The CDSG is a non-profit corporation formed to promote the study of coast defenses and fortifications, primarily but not exclusively those of the United States of America; their history, architecture, technology, and strategic and tactical employment.
That’s probably why I added their site to my list so long ago I can’t remember when it happened. I’m a sucker for forts, fortresses and fortifications. I’ve visited a number of them during my travels including those that could be classified as coastal defenses. I’m a relentless counter, and not simple a one-dimensional county counter either, although I do happen to enjoy immensely. I also count lighthouses, ferries, breweries, waterfalls and of course fortifications. I manage to keep my counting under control so it’s a relatively mild and harmless form of obsessive-compulsive behavior I suppose.
The site has an old-school Web 1.0 (or earlier) feel to it, I say nostalgically. That’s fine; it’s the content that matters to me anyway and they add to the site continuously. The simple HTML structure doesn’t detract from my opinion of it. I wouldn’t feature a site simply because it was pretty. The site includes a wealth of information and resources on coastal defenses tucked away on numerous pages, forums, and newsletter archives. The organization has roughly 500 members which surprised me in a good way. It’s nice to know that so many individuals managed have banded together in a common cause.
I enjoyed the "Most Endangered" page in particular. I’ve actually been to two of the fortifications included on the list:
This was 2006 at Ft. Screven. My little guy is a lot bigger now!
Fort Screven (map) is located on Tybee Island in Georgia. As far as coastal fortifications go, this one came later than most of those I’ve visited. The primary era of service was just prior to the Spanish-American War until just after World War II, so about 1897-1947. The Tybee Island visitors website says, "Today, visitors marvel at the private residences nestled atop the fort’s walls…" Well, that’s why the Coast Defense Study Group considers Fort Screven to be an endangered site. Marvelous private residences and vigorous historic preservation seem clash in conflicting interests here.
Don’t tell the CDSG that I was there more for the lighthouse than the fort. I do love fortifications — don’t get me wrong — I like lighthouses more.
Except when I don’t.
Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park
I definitely went to Dry Tortugas National Park to see Fort Jefferson (map). That was a magnificent location I will never forget. Sure, a puny lighthouse perches atop a fortress wall and another one on an adjacent key, but in this instance the fort stole the show. It’s the largest masonry fortification in the Western Hemisphere and all sixteen million bricks had to be floated here from long distances.
The heyday of Fort Jefferson was the Civil War and its aftermath. It’s probably most notorious as the prison for Dr. Samuel Mudd in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
Fort Jefferson is in need of restoration and some of that was happening during my visit. However much still remains to be done.
I applaud the efforts of the CDSG. I’m not much of a joiner and I’ll mention once again a quote attributed to Groucho Marx: "I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member." If I were a joiner I’d probably consider teaming up with this gang though.
I’ll start off by saying that there’s a special place in heaven for those who leave unsecured wifi connections open and available for public use. I thought I’d be totally disconnected from the outside world except for an occasional traipsing down to an Internet cafe but for an unknown Good Samaritan. Thank you stranger, you’ve allowed me to remain connected this week while I’m on vacation. We’re in Florida‘s southern Keys with the extended family, soaking up some perfect weather while I understand it’s been below freezing back home.
As usual, these vignettes will provide an overview of what I’ve seen so far, with permanent more comprehensive pages to come later.
Zero at Zero
No geo-weirdness blog would be complete without a stop at the Zero Mile marker for U.S. Route One. I call this my tribute to CT Museum Quest and Prullmw., two sites that regularly read and post comments here on the Twelve Mile Circle. See how I combine trademark elements of both sites into a single image? My wife said she understood the photo of the mile marker because I’m always taking pictures of strange things like this but she wanted to know what was up with the two thumbs thing. I tried to explain but I think it fell flat.
Everyone takes this photo or so it seemed. But how many people then walked a few yards further down the road to record the geodetic survey marker in front of the Monroe County Courthouse? Oh yes I did. It generated some pretty odd stares from passers-by as well as from the in-laws. I’m sure they’re now wondering what their daughter got into and whether their grandchildren are being raised correctly.
The Fake Southernmost Point in the Continental United States
I continued my walk down along Whitehead Street to the so-called “Southernmost Point” buoy. Can we all agree that since we know enough about geography to be reading this blog that we all know it’s not really the southernmost point in the continental U.S.? It’s debatable whether an island can be considered "continental" in any case, but if it can there’s another key even further south than Key West. Heck, there are even spots on Key West further south than this. All of that misses the point, though: it’s a fun diversion. Hiking down here may be the only opportunity some people find to get off the beach or bar stool to get some exercise. Let’s cut them a little slack.
I found it’s popularity rather odd. Why were the crowds missing at genuinely interesting places like the 45X90 spot where my family and I stood alone alongside a rural cornfield? Here in Key West it looked like there was a half-hour long line just to get a picture at some meaningless buoy, something I was not willing to do for a fake anything. I had to snap quickly between family groupings just to get an image without people in it. I hate people in my photos.
At the very least, the Southernmost Point in Florida
Here’s the real southernmost spot: Ballast Key. I’ll let you decide what it’s the southernmost of, but at the very least of Florida. It’s also the only inhabited location in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Today this would never be allowed but obviously it was authorized previously and a Key West developer named David Wolkowsky built his home here. You can read all about it on the inevitable Wikipedia page. He’s invited a number of celebrities to this subtropical paradise and I find it both amusing and ironic that the Bee Gees and Gloria Estefan have touched this southernmost point and I have not. I wonder if they realized it?
Anyway, I snapped that photo of Ballast Key on the way to…
Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park
I’ve been looking at maps since I was very young and for most of that time I’ve wanted to visit the Dry Tortugas. Yesterday that dream finally came true. It involved a two and a half hour boat ride from Key West covering nearly seventy miles of open water to reach this most remote of National Parks. The centerpiece is Fort Jefferson, a coastal fortification built in the mid-nineteenth century to control the Straight of Florida and protect trade routes to American cities along the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River. It’s strategic importance cannot be underestimated.
Most people, if they’ve even heard of it, associate the Dry Tortugas with the imprisonment of Dr. Samuel Mudd. He was the Maryland physician who set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg as he fled after assassinating Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Mudd served nearly four years here in a cell in Ft. Jefferson for his role in the conspiracy. What an amazingly remote place to be exiled.
Hmm… an island, a coastal fortification, a lighthouse… if there’d have been a brewpub I would have signed up for a stint in the National Park Service!
See my Fort Jefferson page, Dry Tortugas Ferry page and Garden Key Lighthouse page, each with more photos and short videos.
The adventure continues in Part II.