South Florida National Parks Trust

Press Room

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January 28, 2005
Contact: Don Finefrock,
Executive Director
Saving the Historic Cannons at Fort Jefferson
in Dry Tortugas National Park
Study points the way for conservation effort

The cast iron cannons that defended Fort Jefferson against attack in the days following the Civil War are fighting a new battle against corrosion.

Efforts are underway to conserve the only original artillery pieces that remain at the fort today, through financial support provided by the South Florida National Parks Trust.

The Trust agreed this month to underwrite the cost of conserving the first cannon in the collection. The Rodman cannon selected for treatment is the only known Rodman in existence with an extant sight. The conservation treatment is expected to cost $25,300.

The effort to save these cannons accelerated last year after the Trust agreed to fund the first formal conservation assessment of the six massive Rodman cannons and four smaller Parrott cannons installed at the fort in 1872.

A team of experts visited Dry Tortugas National Park in April 2004 to evaluate the cannons and determine the best method to preserve them for the benefit of future generations. The cannons, like the brick fort itself, are threatened by exposure to the elements.

The team inspected and photographed each of the 10 cannons and then evaluated three different treatment alternatives – electrolysis, galvanic protection and sandblasting – before deciding on sandblasting as the most cost effective and suitable treatment method.

The Park Service estimates the cost of treating all 10 cannons at $227,000. Dry Tortugas National Park is now seeking the money needed to treat all 10 cannon.

“We are committed to finding funding to accomplish the conservation treatment and we gratefully acknowledge the Trust’s initial donation, which provided the critical first step in ensuring the conservation of these nationally significant resources,” said Dan Kimball, acting superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks.

The study was undertaken by Gretchen Voeks, a senior conservator from the Western Archaeological and Conservation Center in Tucson, Arizona; Allen Bohnert, chief of curatorial services for the Park Service in the Southeastern United States; and Nancy Russell, the museum curator for Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks.

One interesting footnote to this story:

Most of the cannons that protected Fort Jefferson were sold for scrap or shipped to towns and cities across the nation for use in war memorials. The remaining Rodman and Parrott cannons were spared this fate because of their enormous size. They were too massive to move.

These cannons today represent one of the most significant collections of 19th century seacoast artillery in the United States.

The South Florida National Parks Trust, the non-profit partner of South Florida’s three national parks, agreed to fund the first conservation assessment of these cannons at a cost of $4,269.

The South Florida National Parks Trust was established in 2002 by the National Park Foundation to improve the quality of life in South Florida by supporting the region’s national parks.