From Fort to Museum
Ultimately, the forts were never completed nor was a single shot was ever fired from either of the Martellos. In 1873, construction on East Martello officially terminated. Regardless of their unfinished state, both forts proved advantageous throughout the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. During these conflicts, the government used both Martello towers as radio stations, storage units, and barracks for soldiers stationed in Key West.
After World War II, both forts fell into a state of deep disrepair. West Martello was frequently used for target practice by U.S. artillerymen while both towers became prey to a local custom of pilfering bricks to build other structures on the island.
A New Era for the Forts
Eventually, possession of the two Martello forts was transferred to Monroe County, though the actual ownership of the titles was debated due to a lack of legal evidence showing the U.S. government ever purchased the land on which both forts are situated.
On September 25, 1950, the U.S. Navy granted permission to the Key West Art & Historical Society to restore and operate Fort East Martello as a museum. After extensive renovations and fabrication of a roof, the Fort East Martello Museum formally opened to the public on February 4, 1951.
Historic preservation work continued for decades, and in 1983, the citadel’s second floor was replaced using the original plans for the fort’s construction.
Additional changes to Fort East Martello were also essential in order to display exhibitions. All of the open casemate arches were enclosed to protect the exhibitions, climate controls were installed, and a comprehensive security system was added to protect the artifacts and artwork. Today, its casemates, citadel, and courtyard feature permanent displays of Key West’s rich artworks and vibrant history.