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The History of the Florida Keys.

The History of the
Florida Keys.

From the Very Beginning, Until More Resent Events.

Why should we get into the subject of the Florida Keys history?

Well, because while you surely want to lie down under the Florida's sun and snorkel the coral reefs, you might also want to know what happened here before our times!

Let’s start with the very early history.

The Florida Keys history started with the fact that these islands are a coral archipelago located along the Florida Straits on the sub tropics. To the east is the Atlantic Ocean and to the west the Gulf of Mexico.

On an early era, these islands are thought to have being originally inhabited or regularly visited by Native Americans of the Calusa, Matecumbes, and Tequesta tribes that lived in the territory of the South Florida Peninsula.

The Calusas and the these other tribes were native Americans that lived on the south west coasts and waterways of South Florida.

They developed a culture based mainly on various forms of fishing and agriculture.

Calusas artifacts and craftsmanship can be seen at The Crane Point Museum and Nature Center located in Marathon Key.*Photo on the right.

Artifacts of the Native American  Calusa tribe  at the Crane Point Museum in Marathon, Florida Keys.

The Calusas and the these other tribes were native Americans that lived on the south west coasts and waterways of South Florida. They developed a culture based mainly on various forms of fishing and agriculture.

Calusa's crafstmanship and artifacts on display at the Crane Point Museum.

Calusas artifacts and craftsmanship can be seen at The Crane Point Museum and Nature Center located in Marathon Key.*Photo on the right.

The Calusa life style it's depicted on this diorama at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

This diorama of the inside of the hut of a Calusa Chief, is in the Southwest Florida Hall at the Museum of Natural History of Gainesville, Florida. *Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Public Domain.

What happened to the Calusas and the others tribes?

Map of the area of South Florida where the Calusa tribes were settled.

The Calusa territory in South Florida *Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Public Domain.

It’s not exactly known until when these native tribes inhabited these islands, but it's known that they were used as slaves by the Spanish explorers shortly after their arrival, on the early sixteenth century.

The arrival of the Spanish to these islands started another chapter of the Florida Keys history.

Ponce the Leon discovered this area of South Florida while Christopher Colombus discovered other parts of Central America and the Caribbean.

The discovery of the Americas on May of 1942.*Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Public Domain.

It was the Spanish European Juan Ponce De Leon who discovered this "Paradise" in 1513, and it called a different name than what it's call now...(The Island of the Martyrs, for some reason)..the name was later changed to the Florida Keys..meaning... “The Small Islands of Florida”.

They came looking for gold and the Fountain of Youth but did not find neither. The Florida Keys did not had much to offer to the Spanish except for the precious wood of the Mahogany trees, at that time in abundance here.

There was no fresh water or fertile land to grow anything useful for human consumption, only abundant fish in the turquoise waters...so finally they left these islands.

The Spanish left behind foot prints and evidence of their pass through the Florida Keys.

Historic sites like Canon Beach at the JohnPennekamp State Park show these old Spanish war canons for the delight of the visitors. *Photo on the right.


See what a day at the John Pennekamp State Park is all about.

Historic Canon Beach a John Penekamp State Park in, Key Largo.
Cannon Beach, John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.

The Spanish left behind foot prints and evidence of their pass through the Florida Keys.

Historic sites like Canon Beach at the JohnPennekamp State Park show these old Spanish war canons for the delight of the visitors. *Photo on the right.

See what a day at the John Pennekamp State Park is all about.

Snorkeling in Canon Beach.

The famous Canon Beach holds the remains of a Spanish galleon, sunken at about 100 feet of distance from the shore in shallow water. Reason why it's always crowded with snorkelers taking a pick at the ship wreck. The site is very popular, especially among the children.

So this concludes the first chapter of the Florida Keys history.

And shortly after…the wrecking began!

During those times the Straits of Florida was a busy route for Spanish galleons sailing from Central America to Europe with precious shipments of gold, and other goods.

Because the Keys were located nearby this busy route taken by these galleons and other trade ships; and due to the heavy ocean currents, hurricanes and dangerous treacherous reefs in these waters, many ships wrecks occurred in this busy navigational route.

The gold and other merchandise from the new world was being shipped to Europe on board of galleons and trade ships.

Many sunk in these treacherous waters with their precious cargo.

There were reports of about one or two ship wrecks occurring here, every week..!

This is when some adventurous and audacious people turned their attention to the possibility of salvaging these sunken treasures from these waters.

Treasure box in the  Museum of Diving in Islamorada.

Many sunk in these treacherous waters with their precious cargo.There were reports of about one or two ship wrecks occurring here, every week..!

This is when some adventurous and audacious people turned their attention to the possibility of salvaging these sunken treasures from these waters.

And that's how wrecking begun! Diving to find the precious cargo of gold, silver and other goods on these sunken ships became an industry that made the Keys very important for some time and Key West the reaches city in the State of Florida.

Diving equipment used in wrecking and underwater salvage on display at the Ship Wreck Museum in Key West.

The Museum Of Wrecking in Key West takes you back into time and shows a complete exhibit of the wrecking fever that took place! They tell you the story of these pioneers from the early 1856, when the wrecking begun and the birth of Key West!

Must of the museums here give a good account of the Florida Keys history!

The birth of Key West!

That’s how the city of Key West ( "Cayo Hueso", a name given by the Spanish, meaning "Bones Island" (because when Poce De Leon arrived here there were bones scattered all over the island, these bones were human remains left by the Calusas, using the island as a burial ground)

Key West was burn... The first and only town here that later turned into the largest town in the Florida Keys and a very important place for the wreckers and some other adventurous characters.

The fishing industry started to become important then. At one time fish from the Florida Keys was taken to the markets in Havana.

There were also rumors of slaves being smuggled, pirates on the run hiding here and other troubles on these islands!

The only way to get here then was by sea..the Florida Keys long tradition of boating started during this era!

The city of Key West is now a tourists bonanza of the U.S!

A more detailed history of Key West.

The Historic Key West Seaport started its function as the most important economical point of the Florida Keys in the late 1700.

Now the seaport is a major tourist attraction, with hotels,restaurants, bars, boat charters, entertainment and other businesses.

Discover the Key West historic sites!

Key West historic seaport placard and monument.
Key West Historic Seaport.

The Historic Key West Seaport started its function as the most important economical point of the Florida Keys in the late 1700.

Now the seaport is a major tourist attraction, with hotels,restaurants, bars, boat charters, entertainment and other businesses.

Discover the Key West historic sites!

*It's possible to visit Key West on a one day tour from Miami. A Key West one day trip including the Old Town Trolley, to visit the historic sites and major points of interest with Take Tours.

Miami Tours and Vacations

The modern evolution begins!

During these years the Florida Keys were basically deserted and a very difficult place to live. Those who adventure were attacked by bugs,  and there was was not much to do here  besides fishing or wrecking.

Until the US government finally took some interest and the first settlers besides the adventurous wreckers already established on Key West arrived, and the Florida Keys history takes a more interesting turn!

Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West.

The US government began the construction of Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West soil during the mid 1840's and started using Key West for military purpose.The Fort was particularly important during the Civil War.

Now Fort Zachary is a major tourist attraction!

The Henry Flagler’s Over Seas Railroad changed all!

But when the Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railway was build...bingo!...thanks to this genius of these times a series of over sea railroad bridges now connected the Florida main land with the Keys, ending in Key West.

It took Henry Flagler and his workers seven years of hard work...suffering from disease and other calamities to build this bridge, but finally here it was!

The Overseas Railroad Bridge.

Overseas Railroad. Picture published by the Russian Empire magazine, in1915. It is a US locomotive between Miami and Key-West.

*Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Public Domain.

This happened around 1905-1912 and the Overseas Railroad was a wonder of engineering on these times.

Now it was easier to get here!

Henry Flagler set his base camp on Pigeon Key during the construction of a large section of the bridge.

You can visit Pigeon Key by just walking or bicycling over the remaining sections of the historic bridge or by taking the ferry from Marathon.

The Keys started to receive shipments from the mainland. And produce from the Caribbean was also transported to the mainland, via the railroad.

Overseas Railroad. Picture published by the Russian Empire magazine, in1915. It is a US locomotive between Miami and Key-West.

*Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Public Domain.

This happened around 1905-1912 and the Overseas Railroad was a wonder of engineering on these times.

Now it was easier to get here!

Henry Flagler set his base camp on Pigeon Key during the construction of a large section of the bridge.

You can visit Pigeon Key by just walking or bicycling over the remaining sections of the historic bridge or by taking the ferry from Marathon.

The Keys started to receive shipments from the mainland. And produce from the Caribbean was also transported to the mainland, via the railroad.

The hurricane of 1935!.. is a sad event on the Florida Keys history.

And then disgrace stroked in 1935, when the so called Labor Day Hurricane destroyed most of the bridge and made some serious damage here. The railroad bridge was badly damage and it took the lives of more than 800 people, many of them World War 1 veterans living in Key West.

Aerial photo taken after the hurricane.

The relief train was derailed near Islamorada by the powerful winds; only the locomotive remained upright.*Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Public Domain.

A monument to the memory of all who lost their lives was build in Islamorada to remember this sad event on the Florida Keys history. Many were also buried on this site. The monument can be visit at any time.

Discover the new Islamorada.
1935's Labor Day Hurricane's Memorial.
Labor Day Hurricane Memorial.

A monument to the memory of all who lost their lives was build in Islamorada to remember this sad event on the Florida Keys history. Many were also buried on this site. The monument can be visit at any time.

Discover the new Islamorada.
Locomotive 153 now in exhibit at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami is part of the Florida Keys History.

Locomotive 153 and more Florida Keys history.

Florida East Coast Engine 153 was built by the American Locomotive Co in 1922, this passenger type locomotive was frequently used to run the Miami to Key West railway extension, and it was the last locomotive to reach Miami before the hurricane destroyed the sections of the Florida Keys railroad bridge.

Locomotive 153 was given the mission of pulling the last rescue train from the sections of Marathon Key were the railways and bridges were not so affected by the hurricane.

Later 153 was sold to the United Sugar Corporation of Clewiston, Florida, later donated to the University of Miami Historical Society.

Now this master piece of railroad engineering is on display at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum of Miami.

Museum information:

12450 SW 152 Street.

Miami, Fl.

305 253 0063.


And now we have The Over Seas highway !

All hopes were lost for some time until...the glorious Over Seas Highway was built by the Cleary Brothers Construction Co, right next to the remains of the railroad bridge, and that is how now we can take a nice ride from Miami to the Florida Keys and enjoy this piece of paradise!

The 125 miles long Over Seas Highway used many of the bridges of the former railroad on its construction, but many new bridges had to be build for the new highway.

In only 4 hours we can drive from Miami to Key West now!


More of the Over Seas Highway here.

Overseas Scenic Highway at the point of the Seven Miles Bridge, in Marathon, Florida Keys.
& Mile Bridge-Overseas Highway-Florida Keys.

The 125 miles long Over Seas Highway used many of the bridges of the former railroad on its construction, but many new bridges had to be build for the new highway. In only 4 hours we can drive from Miami to Key West now!

More of the Over Seas Highway here.

One of the many remaining sections of the old railroad bridge past the Bahia Honda State Park, in Florida Keys.

Some sections of the old railroad bridge had been preserved and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places for the amusement of photographers, tourists, and others.

Also fishing on the bridges is allowed in some sections... and there's good catch in these waters!

Some portions of the bridge were tolled until 1954, but now we take a free ride to the Florida Keys!

Sections of the Railroad Bridge, at Bahia Honda State Park.

Some sections of the old railroad bridge had been preserved and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places for the amusement of photographers, tourists, and others.

Also fishing on the bridges is allowed in some sections... and there's good catch in these waters!

Some portions of the bridge were tolled until 1954, but now we take a free ride to the Florida Keys!

What is the Conch Republic?

In 1982, Key West Major Dennis Wardlow and the city government, after a series of complaints caused by roadblocks establish by the US Border Patrol (stopping north bound traffic from the Florida Keys into Miami with the purpose of reducing drug trafficking and illegal immigration) declared the independence of the city of Key West , naming it the "Conch Republic".

He as the Prime Minister surrendered the city to the Naval Air Station in Key West and requested $1000, 000, 000 in foreign aid.

This caused the road blocks to be removed and generated great publicity for Key West. An doing so, writing another important page of Florida Keys history.

Now Key West is a city with its own life style and festive ambiance.

There is never a dull moment in this attractive Caribbean influenced town!

Museums, parks, beaches and places of interest are all over the city.

The Conch Republic flag.
Shot of a street of key West.


Live life to the fullest.

In order to write about life, first you must live it!

Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961)

Now Key West is a city with its own life style and festive ambiance.

There is never a dull moment in this attractive Caribbean influenced town!

Museums, parks, beaches and places of interest are all over the city.

Key West.

Live life to the fullest.

In order to write about life, first you must live it!

Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961)

Cuban exiles arrived and become part of The Florida Keys history.

Shortly after the revolution that change the social and political structure of the nearby island of Cuba (only 90 miles away) Cubans started to fled Cuba in different directions, but most came to Florida.

After a short time a large number of Cuban exiles were living and started a new life here, the stories of the Cuban rafters crossing the dangerous waters of the Strait of Florida became daily news, and is known that many died trying to reach North American soil and freedom.

The Saint Carlos Institute also called "La Casa Cuba" (House of Cuba) on Duval street, Key West, is a testament of the Cuban influence here.

It's a great Cuban historic site in Key West.

The Cuban colonial Spanish architecture is awesome.

Front view of the Saint Carlos Institute in Key West.
The Saint Carlos Institute in Key West.

The Saint Carlos Institute also called "La Casa Cuba" (House of Cuba) on Duval street, Key West, is a testament of the Cuban influence here. It's a great Cuban historic site in Key West. The Cuban colonial Spanish architecture is awesome.

Iam sitting next to an old spanisn navy canon at the Crane Point Museum of Marathon Key.

Well I think that by now you have a good idea of what the Florida Keys were in the past.

It had gone through some major changes over the years.

But today you can see the pieces of  history everywhere !


Florida Keys History Videos Here.

I recommend you to read the Florida Keys history if you haven't...is very interesting...you'll discover something new from the ashes of the past.






Other related pages:

The Detailed History of Key West.

The Historic Sites in Key West.

About Henry Flagler and the Overseas Railroad

The Historic Island of  Pigeon Key

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