Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Apalachicola Arsenal - Chattahoochee, Florida

Officer's Quarters of the Apalachicola Arsenal
One of Florida's more unexpected military landmarks can be found not in a park or battlefield, but on the grounds of the state's mental hospital.

Built in 1834-1839, the Apalachicola Arsenal is today neither in Apalachicola nor is it an arsenal. The surviving buildings of the complex now form part of the Florida State Hospital in the charming Gadsden County town of Chattahoochee. The grounds are open to the public daily, but photography is not allowed.

Built at a time when Florida was not yet a state but still a new U.S. territory, the arsenal was designed to provide a place for storing and manufacturing military supplies. Built of bricks manufactured on the site, with roofing slate brought in by boat, the original complex consisted of a series of substantial buildings arranged around a parade ground that covered four square acres. These were connected by a solid brick wall that was 9 feet high and 30 inches thick. Gates entered the compound near the center of its east and west walls.

Officer's Quarters (left) & Guard Room
In addition, there were two external magazines (one of which survives). Built of brick with vaulted chambers for storing gunpowder, these were located outside the main compound for safety reasons.

The arsenal was completed just six years before the outbreak of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and served an important role in that conflict. Not only did the facility serve as a storehouse for arms and factory for repairing weapons, building artillery carriages and manufacturing bullets, its walls also provided protection to local citizens several times when war parties attacked homes and farms just south of Chattahoochee.

The Arsenal in the 1840s
The arsenal was the scene of the first military action of the Civil War in Florida. On January 6, 1861, acting under orders from Governor Madison Perry, the Quincy Young Guards seized the facility from its caretaker force without firing a shot. The arsenal then served the state and the Confederacy for the next four years. The 6th Florida Infantry was organized there and late in the war a company from the 1st Florida Reserves and a section of field artillery were housed at the facility.

The U.S. Army reoccupied the facility after the war and used it temporarily as a prison for Southern citizens accused of opposing Reconstruction efforts. It was eventually turned over to the State of Florida for use as a prison. It proved unsuited for this purpose, however, and after only a few years was converted into an "asylum for the insane." It provided the core for today's Florida State Hospital and the old officer's quarters are used today as the Administration Building for the facility.

To learn more about the Apalachicola Arsenal, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/arsenal1.

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