Florida Keys News
Friday, August 15, 2014
Honors for Fort Taylor historian
Howard S. England was a man 'on a mission'

To his admirers, there was nothing that the late Howard S. England could not do.

During his lifetime, England was a World War II marine combat photographer, naval base architect, master model builder and a park ranger at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. He was also known around town as the pre-eminent local Navy historian.

"We as a community have a nice historic park with a beautiful beach, but very few of us realize why we have the fort," said Friends of Fort Taylor President Mark Moss. "This is a great community asset we all use, and it's all because of this man. He volunteered for eight years and made Fort Zach what it is today."

On Saturday, Howard S. England's many contributions to the park will be feted during a centennial celebration at the fort located on Truman Waterfront.

England was a fifth-generation Conch, born in 1914.

"He was always one to give to the community," said local historian Tom Hambright. "He's a man that went out on a mission and accomplished it. England always wanted to accomplish things."

He was a master model builder, creating scale models of Key West airplanes that are displayed in the Fort East Martello museum, the intricate model of the USS Maine on display at the Custom House, as well as models of armaments that could be found at Fort Zachary Taylor between 1968 and 1985, now being stored in Tallahassee.

In 1968, he was sent by an admiral to investigate the fort, which was being used as a storage area for the Navy. The investigation took several weeks, and the results were presented to the commanding officer in a written report.

England volunteered his time to research the grounds further. During more than eight years of digging, he uncovered the largest collection of Civil War armaments in the United States.

England's discoveries include cannon, a desalination plant, guns, projectiles and thousands of cannon balls.

Fort becomes a park

Fort Zachary Taylor did not start out as a park. Originally it belonged to the Army and never actually came under enemy fire, according to the book "A Sleeping Giant Awakens," written by England and collaborator Ida W. Barron, a Navy public affairs employee.

With media help from Barron and the support of former U.S. Rep. Dante Fascell, D-Miami, the site became what it is today.

Construction began in 1845, with the process hampered by disease, weather and labor issues.

The structure remained unfinished when the Civil War began in 1861. By 1898, remodeling work had begun but was never finished.

The Army, in 1947, turned the fort over to the Navy, which then used it for storage until England was sent on his investigative assignment and began to unearth historical artifacts.

The fort was named a national historic site in 1971, and by 1973 had been designated a national historic landmark.

The federal government decided in the 1976 bicentennial to compel the government of Florida to turn the fort into a state historic site. In 1985, the state decreed it an official state park.

Through all the changes at the park, England was a familiar and steadfast presence.

England worked at the park for seven years and retired at 70. He died in 1999 at the age of 84.

His legacy is honored in the front office where a plaque honoring him as a "Great Floridian" hangs on the wall.

"We're getting ready to unveil a permanent interpretation panel describing his research and role in the establishment of a state park," said Moss.

A historic celebration

The England family will attend Saturday's festivities and will be guests at a reception tonight at the Courtyard Marriott.

Beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Civil War music will be performed by the Coates Brass Band with the Fort Zachary Taylor Battery B Brass Band.

"Back in the day, brass bands were like pop music," said Moss. "The band that is coming is a nationally known band of adult professionals from all over the nation. They are authentic re-enactors in Civil War garb."

Florida State Parks Director Don Forgione will speak during the ceremony.

"If someone tells you no one person can do great things in the modern world, come down to Fort Zach," Hambright said. "You will see what one person can do."

ecareaga@keysnews.com

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