Do you know anything about the Old Key Largo in The Florida Keys?
Old Key Largo underwent several name changes to get to the present day name. Charts dating back as early as 1639 labeled it “Caio dos 12 Ligues.” A chart dated 1675 called it “Caio dos Leugnes,” which means Key of 12 leagues. In 1733 the Spanish were trying to recover treasure
from the New Spanish Armada ships that sank during a hurricane off the Upper Keys. They had to make their own charts for the area. On these charts they called the island “Cayo Largo.” A chart dating 1772 called the island “Peninsular Larga.” Not until 1774 did the chart’s label it as the present day name of Key Largo.
The islands population had a tough start. It began with wreckers and farmers . After the Henry Flagler Railroad was completed, the Upper Keys population really began to grow. It was popular because it was a large island and it was not that far from the mainland.
By the time Henry Flagler’s Railroad was completed to Key West a land boom had begun in Florida and the Florida Keys. This created a need for a road to connect the Upper Keys area to the mainland.
Card Sound road began in 1922. Construction began on a wooden bridge at Card Sound. A hurricane blew thru the Upper Keys and washed out the construction on the bridge. A new bridge was designed and built that was higher off the water.
A road from the mainland to Card Sound Bridge was being constructed by Dade County beginning at Florida City. Another road was being constructed from the south end of the Card Sound bridge to Islamorada.
This road introduced Old Key Largo to land development. The first development was the North Carolina Fishing Village in 1923. In 1925 Key Largo City Gardens was defined. Lots were laid out and pink sidewalks were poured. This was really thinking outside the box. Other subdivisions soon followed. The Angler’s Park, Angler’s Cove and Sunset Cove were all platted in 1925. Tavernier Cove and Tavernier Heights were platted in 1926, Mandalay in 1927 and Seaside was platted from 1924 thru 1930. By the end of 1930, 26 subdivisions had been platted but only a few actual houses had been built. By the end of 1970 they had platted out 123 subdivisions on this 27 mile long, 22,000 acre island of Old Key Largo.
The road was completed from the mainland to Islamorada in 1928. In 1944 a hurricane destroyed the wooden bridge at Card Sound. It was not replaced until the 1960s.
One of the oldest structures in the Upper Keys is still standing and is on its original location. It’s at the end of Oceana Drive at MM 103.5, oceanside. It was built in the 1920s. It’s made from native coral rock. The walls are three feet thick at the ground level and they taper up to sixteen inches thick at the top. It survived the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, but the ground level did get flooded. Locals tell tales of the Stone Castle being haunted. It’s said that ghosts are often seen there. A copy of the Rock Castle was built in Homestead off US Highway 1.
In 1929 a 150-mph category-three hurricane ripped thru the Old Key Largo area with a tidal surge of nine feet. This caused a slow down in the land boom and had to do with the fact that few houses were being built in all those platted subdivisions. No new subdivisions were platted until the 1940s.
The commerce here remained the citrus trade mostly key limes and grapefruits. Soon Persian limes were introduced on the mainland. This destroyed the Key Lime production in the Keys. But a couple of new industries were beginning to emerge. They were tourism and charter fishing.
The 1935 Labor Day hurricane took out 40 miles of railroad tracks. The railroad was not repaired. A decision was made to build a road on the old track bed. The railroad station was closed along with the Post Office in Old Key Largo. The Rock Harbor Post Office was now the official address for the people in this area.
In 1939 a Miami Beach developer began construction on the Caribbean Club. It was to open in January 1940. In 1948 the movie “Key Largo” starring Humphrey Bogart was filmed at the Caribbean Club. This put Key Largo on the map. It was gaining in popularity as a destination vacation. Local businessmen wanted to capitalize on the names popularity, but the place had no identity, no post office. A decision was made and on the morning of June 1, 1952 the Rock Harbor Post Office disappeared. The sign on the building was changed along with the cancellation stamp. A new community was born. The area north of Tavernier all the way to Ocean Reef now had a new address.
During the 1950s the island had a pipe supplying fresh water to the Florida Keys, electricity, mosquito control and schools. All this lead to an increase in the population of the Upper Keys.
Environmentalism was beginning in the Florida Keys. In 1934 President Franklin Roosevelt signed the “Alligator and Swamp Bill.” It included all of Key Largo and part of the reef. On December 6, 1947, an underwater park was dedicated by President Truman. And in 1956 the very first “No Spear Fishing” signs were posted north of Long Key. And on December 10, 1960 the Florida Governor named the underwater park the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
The island of Old Key Largo was cut into beginning in 1956. Marvin D. Adams purchased 50 acres of land for development which included the most narrow stretch of land on the island. He had an idea to create a short cut for boat traffic from the Atlantic to Florida Bay. The cut was to be 100' wide and 40' deep. It opened in 1963.
The cut is very much in use today. The last time I came thru the cut was two years ago. My friend Howie and I were in his 25' Sea Cat. We traveled north from Blackwater Sound to the Atlantic and on to Summerland Key a few hours to the southwest.
The Key Largo we see today hides most of the history that was the Old Key Largo of the past.
Return from Old Key Largo to the Upper Keys
Return from Old Key Largo to N The Florida Keys