Dry Tortugas National Park and Historic Key West Bight Museum
The Museum is a free attraction located in Key West’s Historic Seaport, known as the “Bight.” Exhibits include an 11-foot diameter scale model of Fort Jefferson, an interactive photo mural that explores the history of the Bight and a Junior Ranger Exploration Station that allows children to get hands-on with and learn about the natural resources of the Dry Tortugas. The exhibits are housed inside the old Thompson Fish House (itself on the National Register of Historic Places) where the daily catch of the local fishing fleet was once processed.
By touring the Museum the Key West visitor will learn about one of our nation’s most unusual National Parks and Key West’s unique nautical heritage, whether they decide to visit the Park or not. There is something of interest for any age in various components of the exhibits, as you can see:
An HO (1:87) scale model of historic Fort Jefferson and Garden Key is the centerpiece of the Museum. The model measures 11 feet across, showing the truly immense scale of the fort itself. It represents the state of the fort in the post-Civil War period, approximately 1870. A number of structures in the parade ground at that time no longer exist; they are included in the model as “ghost” structures to show the extent of the deterioration over time. Period-accurate scale figures portray a number of scenes from the daily life of soldiers, prisoners, and workers at the fort. A 5-minute audio/visual presentation highlights and explains many of the interesting architectural aspects of fortifications of the period and the hardships involved in living and working in such a remote location. The entire rear wall of the Museum displays the beautiful tropical vista surrounding Garden Key, including the Loggerhead Key Lighthouse seen as it would be from the fort’s wall.
While the origin of the phrase is not directly related to Dr. Samuel Mudd, the story of the doctor’s tenure at Fort Jefferson captures the trials and tribulations of those who lived on the “dry” island. Arguably the Fort’s most famous prisoner, Dr. Mudd appears as a life-size, full figure sculpture in Civil War-period attire attending to a patient, also accurately represented. An interpretive panel discusses highlights of Dr. Mudd’s strange journey from country physician to imprisoned Lincoln co-conspirator to hero of the yellow fever epidemic.
This hands-on station has child-friendly displays of the physical resources of the Dry Tortugas from above and below the water. Sponge, brick, coral, shells and other materials in display drawers allow young visitors to touch authentic historic and natural objects during their journey to understanding the rich past of the Dry Tortugas and the future of this fragile island through conservation and preservation. The exhibit emphasizes careful interaction with the exhibit subjects in the real world.
This 30’ long photo mural tells through words and images the story of the many boom-and-bust marine industries that have been based in Key West’s natural deep-water harbor. The wealth of the City was tied to the rising and falling fortunes of the men who went to sea from this anchorage for more than 200 years. Starting with the original Native American inhabitants you are taken through the eras of wrecking, sponging, turtling, and shrimping right up to the days Hemingway spent sport fishing between the Keys and Cuba. Interactive question books explain some of the colorful terms associated with this history and highlight related areas of the timeline for further exploration.
240 Margaret Street
We are located on the historic Key West Bight.