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Fort Jefferson is a massive but unfinished coastal fortress. It is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas, and is composed of over 16 million bricks, the building covers 16 acres (6.5 ha). Among United States forts, only Fort Monroe in Virginia and Fort Adams in Rhode Island are larger. The fort is located on Garden Key in the lower Florida Keys within the Dry Tortugas National Park, 68 miles (109 km) west of the island of Key West. The Dry Tortugas are part of Monroe County, Florida, United States.
In late December 1824 and early January 1825, about five years after Spain sold Florida to the United States for $5 million, U.S. Navy Commodore David Porter inspected the Dry Tortugas islands. He was on the lookout for a site for a naval station that would help suppress piracy in the Caribbean. Unimpressed with what he saw, he notified the Secretary of the Navy that the Dry Tortugas were unfit for any kind of naval establishment. He reported that they consist of small sand islands a little above the surface of the ocean, have no fresh water, scarcely enough land to place a fortification, and in any case are probably not solid enough to bear one.