Fort Reclaimed

Guardians of the Legacy

Fort East Martello became the center for arts in the Florida Keys, hosting monthly artist openings, exhibitions, and parties, which provided local and seasonal artists a venue to showcase their work. More importantly, it provided the foundation for this vital organization that would become the guardian of the island city’s historic and cultural legacy.

Fort East Martello

The Fort, originally constructed during the Civil War, was used as a training camp during World War II but abandoned after the war.  For five years, the property sat vacant until the Key West Art & Historical Society established the Fort as a museum.

The Society opened offices in the edifice, and the community began to recognize KWAHS as a trustworthy repository for their heirlooms.  Donations of artworks and artifacts from community members rapidly expanded the museum’s collection.

Once open, KWAHS’s all-volunteer staff, led by Jeanne Taylor and Louise White, launched fundraising campaigns and donation drives to restore the Fort and upgrade its museum spaces.  In 1983, the Citadel’s second floor was replaced according to the 1860’s plans.  Climate-controlled gallery spaces and up-to-date amenities followed.  Attention to the brickwork and rooftop is still continually required in order to combat the damage caused by wind, rain, and the occasional hurricane.

The Fort's Restoration

Once open, KWAHS’s all-volunteer staff, led by Jeanne Taylor and Louise White, launched fundraising campaigns and donation drives to restore the Fort and upgrade its museum spaces.  In 1983, the Citadel’s second floor was replaced according to the 1860’s plans.  Climate-controlled gallery spaces and up-to-date amenities followed.  Attention to the brickwork and rooftop is still continually required in order to combat the damage caused by wind, rain, and the occasional hurricane.

Workers Repair Fort Martello's Brick
Workers repair the Fort's brickwork.

Beginnings of a Permanent Collection

The permanent collection continued to expand with important additions such as the painted woodcarvings of folk-artist Mario Sanchez and the modernist welded sculptures of Stanley Papio.  Artifacts in the collection began to reflect Key West’s early cigar manufacturing, salvaging, sponging, and turtling industries.  Photographs, documents, and artifacts of writers who lived in Key West were added to the collection, including items relating to Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, Thelma Strabel, Benedict Thielen, David Kaufelt, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Hersey, Richard Wilbur, John Ciardi and many others.

An Early Exhibit at Fort East Martello

Fort East Martello Today

Today, visitors can enjoy these collections from KWAHS’s past, play in Edna Wolkowsky’s dollhouse, take in breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean from the Citadel’s roof, and meet the Ghosts of East Martello, including the museum’s most infamous resident, Robert the Doll.

Fort East Martello Museum

Support KWAHS

Your membership and donation supports the Society’s collection,
programming and preservation efforts. Every gift,
large or small, helps us continue our mission.