History of the Florida Keys
Key: comes from the Spanish word cayo which means little island.
Florida Keys: means little islands of Florida.
In the Beginning...
The Florida Keys have such a rich, amazing history, and it's fun to go back in time and discover who set foot on the islands, what happened to them, and what they left behind.
The Florida Keys were originally inhabited by the Calusa and the Tequesta indians. The indians maintained their home in the Keys until the Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon, brought his expedition from Spain looking for the Fountain of Youth in the 16th century. Instead, they made money logging mahogany trees they found. They were not able to find fresh water, the coral sand was not usable for growing food, and there were reportedly "way too many insects".
A short time later, many Spanish Galleons began moving through the Straights of Florida with gold from Central America heading for Spain. Many of these ships wrecked, sending loads of treasure to the bottom of the ocean.
Beginning in the 1700s, English "wreckers" began searching for treasure along the coral reefs among the Keys, but it was reported that no one settled in the Keys until the US won Florida from the Spanish in 1821.
The first US settlement in the Keys was established in the 1820s in Key West. The settlement was also called Cayo Hueso, which meant Bone Island, as the Key was littered with bones from the Caloosa Indians, who used it as a burial ground. The US then constructed Fort Zachary Taylor, a military base in Key West, that was turned over to the Navy in the 1940s.
Nine years after the end of the Civl War, a homesteading program began in the Keys. People got land and attempted to settle their land any way they could. They used what they could find to build houses, They attempted to farm the land and were able to raise melons, pineapple, coconut, and oranges. Insects were horrible, particularly the mosquitoes. They used small boats to get from place to place, and to get their produce to markets.
Henry Flagler and His Railroad
Henry Flagler began in 1905 extending a railroad down the East Coast of Florida through Homestead, Florida and into Key Largo. It took seven years to build the railroad all the way down to Key West due to conditions, disease, and hurricanes. This allowed Key West a connection to the rest of the Keys and Florida.
In 1935, a hurricane (no name as names were not yet given to hurricanes) swept through the area. Winds were over 200 miles per hour and more than 800 people were killed. Many of those killed were WWI veterans building a road as part of a federal work program. The Labor Day hurricane destroyed the railroad and many towns along the way.
The railroad was replaced by the Overseas Highway in 1938.
World War II and Beyond
With the onset of the WWII, tourists who had begun to travel to the Keys by way of the Overseas Highway stayed home for the war effort or deployed, and the lack of income could soon cause the demise of the settlements on the Keys. At this time, however, the Navy made Key West a submarine base. This provided many civilian jobs thus bringing many people back to make their homes in the Keys. The base closed in 1974, but the Naval Air Station at Boca Chica still provides a military presence.
In 1982, Miami attempted to decrease the amount of drugs coming into the city by setting up road blocks (by Border Patrol) from the Keys into Miami. This caused delays and time issues for Keys residents trying to get into Miami. As a result, the Mayor of the Key West at the time, Dennis Wardlow, declared Key West's independence and named it the "Conch Republic". Mayor Wardlow then became Prime Minister of the Conch Republic for one minute, declared war on the United States by symbolically breaking a loaf of stale bread over the head of a man dressed in a uniform, then surrendered and requested a billion dollars in foreign aid. This mock succession caused publicity for the Keys and soon the roadblocks were removed. The Keys still use Conch Republic in tourism.
The Keys Today
Today the Florida Keys house a vast array of different individuals from many cultures. When walking through Key West, you will no doubt hear many languages spoken and a variety of skin tones. Tourism, fishing, diving, and lobster season are all commodities for the people who make the Keys their home. As times have changed, modern conveniences have allowed people to be much more comfortable around the area, and the laid back feel provides a refuge for those seeking rest and relaxation. Treasure abounds in the Florida Keys, no matter what type you're looking for.
Florida Keys Pictures
Another HubThat May Be of Interest
- Visiting the Florida Keys: Fun Facts
Interesting facts about the Florida Keys.
© 2012 TripleAMom