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Peary Court

CIRCA 1831

Historic Marker number 115 is located 1300 White Street at the end of Southard Street and White Street.Peary Court is one of the largest tracts of land in Key West that carries the legacy of the U.S. Army's presence in the Florida Keys. Peary Court began as the Key West Army Barracks. It is a triangle-shaped lot consisting of 24 acres contained between White Street, Palm Avenue, Angela Street, and Eisenhower Drive. It is also home to the Peary Court U.S. Burial Grounds (See Historical Marker #53 for additional information about the Army burial site).The military has had a role in Key West since the city's inception. It all began in 1822 when Commodore P. David Porter raised the American flag on the harbor side of the island and established the Navy's Anti-Pirate Squadron. The army plot first shows up on the earliest known island survey drawn up by Key West's founding father, William Whitehead.While the Army's military role changed over the years, the garrison served initially as the infantry garrison for Fort Zachary Taylor. The number of soldiers stationed at the Army Barracks fluctuated over the years depending on regional threats, military budgets, yellow fever epidemics and military buildup during the war years.Once pirating had been quelled in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the next threat was the three Seminole Wars, also known as the Florida Wars. The first Seminole War was from 1816-1819, with the second Seminole War from 1835 - 1842, and the third Seminole War from 1855 to 1858. Taken together, the Seminole Wars were the longest and most expensive (both in human loss and monetary terms) Indian Wars in United States history.The U.S. Army infantry seized Fort Zachary Taylor after Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860. Florida became the third of seven southern states that joined the Confederate States of America. The occupation of all three forts on the island kept Key West firmly in Union hands for the duration of the war. Many historians believe that Union control of the forts as part of the naval blockade of southern ports shortened the war, which saved many lives on both sides of the conflict.The garrison periodically swelled in size to support Cuba's attempt to gain independence from Spain during the "10 Year War" from 1868-1878. It also housed Army troops destined to fight in the Spanish American War in 1898.While the Army Barracks were a definite asset to the military, they were not always in constant use. The command for soldiers stationed in Key West was based in Atlanta. The troops were known to travel to other southern bases to escape the "rainy season", yellow fever epidemics, and support Army troops when needed. During these periods of deployment, the barracks were left in the hands of a military custodian.In 1910, the property became land locked as a result of Henry Flagler's railroad ambitions. His engineers had complained that there just wasn't enough land in Key West to build a train terminal for the Oversea Railroad he was building from the mainland. His response was "then make some." Prior to Flagler's railroad, the Palm Avenue and Eisenhower Drive sides featured unobstructed open water access. Flagler's engineers dredged the shallow waters and eventually acquired enough soil, rock, and sand to add an additional 340 acres to the island. The "new land" cut the garrison property off from the water and created Trumbo Point. Even with the loss of the barracks water views of the harbor, the body of water stretching from Eisenhower Drive along North Roosevelt Blvd. to Palm Avenue is still called Garrison Bight.By World War I, the Army's function had changed from infantry to coastal artillery. Their primary task was to man and maintain 10 batteries that were located along Key West beaches and contained in the three forts. The Army Barracks stayed fully manned during the Great Depression which helped alleviate the crushing economic downfall that much of the country was experiencing.Advances in gunnery during World War II made the coastal artillery role of the Army obsolete. In 1947 the Army barracks were acquired by the U.S. Navy for military housing. In the 1950's, most of the buildings were torn down or moved to surrounding neighborhoods (See The North Beach Building at Historic Marker #74 for an example of an officer's quarters that was moved from the barrack property).The Navy renamed the Army Barracks property to Peary Court for Navy Captain Robert Peary who is believed to be the first man to reach the North Pole. All of the streets carry the names of naval heroes and men of notoriety. The property has evolved into a modern housing complex, but we should not forget the role it has played in Key West's history and the support it has provide the local economy.