Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is a Florida state park located on 280-acre (1km2) Lignumvitae Key, one mile west of U.S. 1 at mile marker 78.5, and can be reached only by private boat or tour boat. The key has many miles of white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters and blue skies. It also offers snorkeling, swimming, picnicking areas, nature trails, and hiking paths to the historic Seagrape Cemetery.
There are no public restrooms or drinking water on the island; visitors have been known to bring their own food and drink. Visitors needing transport to and from the island should bring emergency gear in case the ferry is not available when they arrive. In recent years there has been significant damage to this fragile ecosystem caused by feral pigs which have overrun the entire island. As a result, there is serious concern about the future of the species that inhabit these islands. To help prevent further destruction of this unique habitat, all boaters entering the area must now wear life jackets that are approved by the United States Coast Guard.
Amenities include beaches, bathhouses, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, nature trails, boardwalks, interpretive panels, an observation tower, and parking lots. Interpretive displays can be found along a trail that spans the width of the fort’s former parade ground. A large number of trees were destroyed during construction of Highway 98, but much of the forest has since grown back. One hundred and thirty-five buildings were originally constructed here, including barracks, officer’s quarters, mess halls, powder magazines, sutler’s stores, stables, carpenter’s shops, ice houses, etc., but most of them were demolished before being rebuilt after World War II. Only four remain, two of which are restored and open to the public. Much of the site is fenced off, though portions of it are left open, particularly the cemetery where soldiers’ graves are maintained.
Visitors may walk among headstones dating back to the Civil War through WWI. Other than historical markers, monuments, and grave sites, little evidence remains today of what once was Fort Dade. However few traces remain, due to the extensive rebuilding and rehabilitation that took place throughout the post-World War II period. Although some foundations survive, they are hard to find, covered under tons of rubble and debris. Most of the original roads and pathways have been replaced by modern ones, making any sort of archaeological study difficult. Nevertheless, the National Park Service, through its Historic American Buildings Survey, documented several surviving structures at Fort Dade, including three buildings and part of a fourth.
These include the following:
- Building #104 – Commanding Officer’s Quarters – Original foundation still evident. This building contains a museum run by the Friends of Fort Dade, featuring exhibits such as uniforms, weapons, books, newspapers, music collections, and other materials related to the history of the fort.
- Building #21 – Barracks – Modern concrete block structure built into the old Infantry Replacement Training Center. This building served as classrooms, dormitory housing and as an infirmary. It is currently serving as storage facilities for the Friends of Fort Dade.
- Building #22 – Chapel/Schoolhouse – Two stories tall, single parsonage style church with basement. Built in 1939, this is the oldest extant building at Fort Dade. Prior to becoming a Catholic chapel, it was used as a schoolhouse from around 1918 until 1938, when it became too small. During WWII, it was turned into a hospital for sick children, and later converted into residential housing for married officers who needed family nearby while stationed at Fort Dade. After the war, it resumed use as a schoolhouse, and remained so until 1963, when it again became too small. At that time, it became a convent for the Sisters of Social Service, who ran it as a residence for older women until 1979, when it returned to social services for homeless senior citizens. It reopened as a residence for the elderly in 1987, and continues to operate as such.
- Building #24 – Ice House – Located near the chapel/schoolhouse, this building housed a very early form of refrigeration, using blocks of ice stored outside. Construction began in 1942, and completed in 1943. While similar in appearance to the other buildings on the island, this one is distinguished by having a poured concrete floor rather than stone.
Also, it has a metal roof rather than shingle. It is a single story building with basement, containing living space and an office. It is currently home to the nonprofit organization “Friends of Fort Dade”, who maintain it as a house for visiting volunteers and host events at the property. The park ranger lives next door. On rare occasions, the park ranger will allow a group of friends from Miami to take over the facility for a day of fun, including beachcombing, swimming, sunbathing, shellfish harvesting, and general exploration of the site. The park ranger does not live there anymore, he resides in Hobe Sound. He visits the facility every morning to make sure everything is okay, and provides keys for those special occasions.
The Fort Dade Military Reservation was established on December 7, 1941, shortly after the Attack on Pearl Harbor. With the start of World War II, the US entered a period of military mobilization. More than a million men were called up for service within six months. Over 450,000 troops were sent overseas to fight in more than 150 different conflicts. Among them were 35,000 African Americans who fought against Japanese forces in the Philippines, India, Burma, China, and elsewhere.
Upon returning home, many veterans settled down and started families. Others chose to stay in uniform. Fort Dade was designated as a major installation for the defense of South Florida, and thousands of active duty personnel were assigned to the base. Many of these men stayed in touch with their roots, continuing to serve in the Army Reserve and occasionally going back to active duty. When the Korean War broke out, another round of recruiting ensued. Nearly 20,000 new soldiers were assigned to Fort Dade, bringing the total strength count to nearly full strength. Another surge in force occurred in 1960, when nearly 6,000 additional troops were sent to garrison Fort Dade. By then, the focus had shifted away from Europe towards the Cold War threat posed by the Soviet Union and its client states in Cuba and North Vietnam.
Accordingly, almost 15,000 troops were removed from Fort Dade between 1968 and 1975, leaving just 800 manning the post. With the end of the cold war and reduction in global tensions, the last Regular Army troops left Fort Dade in 1991, ending a 30 year career at the post. Remaining in support of the reserve components were approximately 200 civilian employees, primarily members of the Navy and Air Force Reserves. They were joined by another 300 or so contract workers, mostly civilians employed directly by DynCorp, a company based in Falls Church, Virginia that specializes in providing temporary labor to the federal government. Together, these individuals made up the largest standing army force anywhere in the world, operating largely behind the scenes, focused on training for potential conflict zones like Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq.
- wildlife viewing
- exploring the ruins of Fort Dade
The park offers opportunities for observing a wide variety of wading birds as well as:
- swallow-tailed kites
- brown pelicans
- least terns
- black skimmers
- American oystercatchers
- red-cockaded woodpeckers
- pileated woodpeckers
- bald eagles
- Florida scrub jays