Egmont Key State Park and National Wildlife Refuge, an island at the mouth of Tampa Bay off the north end of Anna Maria Island, is accessible only by boat but well worth the trip.
Named for John Perceval, the second Earl of Egmont and a member of the Irish House of Commons in 1763, it was used by the U.S. Army to detain Seminole prisoners at the end of the third Seminole War in 1858.
Both Confederate and Union troops occupied the island during the Civil War, and Fort Dade was later built on it to defend against Spanish attack during the Spanish-American War. Parts of the fort are still intact; some have fallen into the Gulf of Mexico.
The lighthouse, which dates to 1858, replaced the original lighthouse built 10 years earlier and is still operated by the U.S. Coast Guard as an aid to navigation.
The island was owned by the U.S. Department of War, then the Department of Defense until 1974, when it became the property of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Tampa Bay Pilots maintain quarters on the island, an ideal place to dock the pilot boats used to transport harbor pilots to tankers entering and leaving Tampa Bay.
Under Egmont 1: History’s mysteries persist at Egmont Key
Under Egmont 2: Unearthing Egmont Key’s mysteries