West Martello Tower, the centuries-old, red-brick fortress on Key West’s Atlantic waterfront, hasn’t looked this good, or this strong, since the 1860s, when the Union Army built West Martello to protect Key West’s Atlantic coast and associated shipping supply lines.
“It took about six months, but we’ve just finished a complete historic restoration of the brick and mortar inside and outside West Martello Tower,” said Rosi Ware, president of the Key West Garden Club, which is housed within the walled confines of the Civil War-era fort. “We were thankful to receive a grant from the Tourist Development Council for a little more than a million dollars to do the brick work, which was sorely needed to maintain the structural safety of the building.”
Master bricklayers from Boston-based Contracting Specialists Inc. set up scaffolding all over the property and in many cases lay on their backs to replace the bricks and add new mortar to the historic archways that mark the entryway.
“The Gardens and the Key West Garden Club were, in fact, open throughout the construction, but it looked as if we were closed,” Ware said. “But that’s all over. The scaffolding is gone and everything is open and new again. The contractors were a joy to work with and actually finished the job a month early.”
Continuing preservation plans include the installation of an exhibit in the “powder room” of West Martello, which is nothing like the residential half-bathrooms that today are known as powder rooms.
The powder room at West Martello contained the military’s gunpowder supply, and as such was even more heavily fortified than the rest of the structure, to protect the highly explosive black powder.
“There’s such a fascinating history with the powder room, and with the whole fort, which did house soldiers as well as livestock when it was active in the 1860s and ’70s and beyond,” Ware said. “And we pride ourselves on offering something for everyone, because while many people are happy to explore the gardens, we also offer a rich history lesson, ammo bunkers and war stories for folks who aren’t as interested in plants and flowers.”
That said, a visit to West Martello Tower wouldn’t be complete without stepping outside to explore the butterfly garden, the stand of native fruit trees and the perfume garden that’s filled with the fragrant scents of jasmine, Vietnamese gardenia and the ylang ylang tree, which produces the main ingredient in the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume, Ware said.
The fort and garden club are open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The property is also a popular event venue for weddings and other gatherings. Admission is free, but donations to the nonprofit organization that makes it all possible are greatly appreciated.