Best of The Florida Keys


Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, The Lower Keys & Key West

History

The Florida Keys


Centuries ago, Calusa Indians settled in the Florida Keys enjoying it's rich supply of food and hardwood forests they found there.  Later, when unlucky Spanish explorers ran their ships aground on the reefs, the Indians captured many who made it to shore.  The Keys have been an ongoing project for archaeologists.  They have unraveled the islands colorful history from Indian mounds to the remains of offshore shipwrecks.


Until 1912, boats provided the only method of travel among the islands.  An entrepreneur named Henry Morrison Flagler changed that.  He extended the Florida East Coast Railway all the way from Homestead (Florida's mainland) to Key West, spanning 29 islands along the way.
Most everyone said the project was impossible.  The loss of life was immense for the engineers and laborers who designed and built the tracks.  Flagler pushed on and by hiring freight steams to haul materials, and searching northern cities for laborers willing to work in sweltering swamps, the railroad continued.
Henry Flagler rode victoriously into Key West on the first train in 1912.  The train was greeted by cheering crowds and represented the signs of a new economic era for the Florida Keys.


In 1935, the great Labor Day hurricane struck the islands, destroying much of the Florida Keys, and Flaglers railroad.  In a three year period following, the Overseas Highway replaced the tracks. 


Over time, the roads have been widened and updated, and our island chain today is accessible by land, sea and air.
More than 40 bridges connect the islands like a necklace of Caribbean jewels.  Each Key has it's own flavor and is rich in history, tasty regional cuisine and offers something for everyone.
Diving and fishing are both pastimes in the Keys.  Natives and visitors alike know Key Largo as the Diving Capital of the World, and Islamorada as the Sport Fishing Capital.  Marathon, a midpoint that is more developed than many of the other Keys, is the heart of the string of islands.
Tall evergreens and plentiful fresh water make Big Pine Key an ideal home for the protected Key Deer.  Key West, the oldest Key, is also known as the southernmost city and located only 90 miles from Cuba.

The Florida Keys Timeline

  • 1575  - First written account of the Florida Keys in the Memoir of D d'Escalente Fontaneda
  • 1600's - Native American settlement in the Florida Keys
  • 1622  - Spanish treasure fleet Atocha and Santa Margarita go down in a hurricane off Key West
  • 1715   - Hurricane hits Upper Keys
  • 1733  - Spanish treasure Plate Fleet goes down due to a hurricane off the Upper Keys
  • 1769  - The great hurricane hits the Florida Keys
  • 1774  - Frigate Looe runs aground off Ramrod Key in the Lower Keys.  That area is now called Looe Reef
  • 1821  - John Simonton purchases the island of Key West for $2,000
  • 1822  - U.S.S Alligator goes down off Islamorada.  That reef is now named Alligator Reef
  • 1824  - Monroe County established
  • 1829  - First Post Office in the Florida Keys opens in Key West
  • 1831  - John Housman buys Indian Key for $5,000.  He begins a wrecking business
  • 1832  - John J. Audubon is the first tourist to visit the Florida Keys
  • 1835  - First newspaper ad printed soliciting tourist to the Florida Keys
  • 1836  - Indian Key becomes seat of newly established Dade County
  • 1840  - Indian Key attacked and burned to the ground by Indians
  • 1841  - John Housman dies as he was crushed between two ships during a salvage operation
  • 1845  - Florida becomes 27th state
  • 1846  - Hurricane destroys both Key West and Sand Key lighthouses
  • 1849  - Sponging business began
  • 1855  - Lower Matecumbe Key was purchased for $613.50
  • 1867  - First public schools open in Key West
  • 1890  - Key West was the largest city in the state of Florida
  • 1899  - First telephone goes into operation in Key West
  • 1912  - Flagler Railroad was completed.  The first passenger train arrives in Key West January 22
  • 1913  - First flight from Key West to Cuba
  • 1920's - Major industry of Rum running was established
  • 1928  - First car drives to Key West.  Hemingway makes his first visit to Key West
  • 1935  - Labor Day Hurricane hits Islamorada and kills over 400.  It sends Flaglers railroad to sea
  • 1942  - First water pipeline reaches Key West from the mainland
  • 1946  - President Harry S. Truman visits Key West
  • 1950's - Electricity and better roads throughout the Florida Keys encouraging development
  • 1955  - Key Deer Refuge dedicated on Big Pine Key
  • 1960  - John Pennekamp State Park is dedicated.  The Beatles visit Sugarloaf Key
  • 1970's - Indian Key purchased by the State of Florida, designated a state historic site
  • 1971  - First treasure from the Atocha found off Key West by Mel Fisher
  • 1979  - Pirates arrive at the site of the Atochia, firing shots at Mel Fishers crew
  • 1980 - Mariel boatlift brings over 125,000 refugees from Cuba to mostly Key West
  • 1985  - All harvesting of conch in the Florida Keys prohibited
  • 1990  - National Marine Sanctuary declared for most of the Florida Keys waters
  • 1992  - Hurricane Andrew hits the mainland
  • 1996  - Sewer system in forefront for all of Florida Keys
  • 1997  - Islamorada considers incorporation
  • 1998  - Islamorada incorporates and becomes the Village of Islands
  • 1999  - New Mariners Hospital opens in Tavernier
  • 2000  - 2000 U.S. census shows 79,589 residents in the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a wealth of adventure.  We hope you enjoy discovering our islands.
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