Florida Keys History - At a glance

The Florida Keys history tells us the Keys were first inhabited by Native Indians. The jury is still out on just which tribes. This depends on which history book you read.

It's known that the Calusa and Seminole Tribes had a bloody battle at Key West. There after the Calusa Tribe ran the Seminoles back up to the mainland. The remaining Calusa in the Keys died out from diseases they caught from the white man.

Key Deer are recorded as being here as far back as the 1500's. They were hunted as a food source by the Native Indians as well as crews from the ship's that stopped here.

Pirates ruled the Florida Keys until they were chased away by a fleet of US Navy Ships in the 1800's.


History tells us the earliest white people to settle in the Florida Keys began growing Key Limes and Pineapples. The pineapples did so well here that most of the Eastern part of the United States got their pineapples from the Florida Keys.

I was told they’re used to be a Shark Factory on Big Pine Key . The only part of the shark kept was the skin. These were salted down and taken to a processing factory in the Northeast US. The sharks were processed into a leather called Shagreen.

My hero’s are the wreckers. Their deeds established Key West as the wealthiest city in the United States for several years.

They would charge out when ships ran aground. They would take everything from the ship and then sell the goods. At times the wreckers would set a false light. They did this to lure the ships off their course to intentionally run them aground. Many ships stopped in Havana to get food and water for the long trip north. They all then sailed thru the Florida Straits which brought them close to the Florida Keys.

The sponges of the Florida Keys waters were discovered and harvested. Soon after that a thriving market for them followed.

Pineapples, key limes and tomatoes were farmed in the Keys as cash crops up until the fresh water table was drained by man made canals.

Cuban Crafters Cigars

The Cubans that had migrated to the Florida Keys brought with them the Cigar Making trade. Most of the Cigar Makers stayed in Key West rather than up the rest of the Keys.

In 1906 Henry Flagler began building the Overseas Railroad . It was completed in 1912. The train ran to and from Key West up until the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane . It destroyed the train and a good part of the tracks. The Overseas Highway soon followed on the road bed laid down for the Flagler Railroad. It took three years but in 1938 the Overseas Highway was completed and opened.

Flagler Railroad Bridge Florida Keys

The country was in the Great Depression so Key West went broke. Soon World War II broke out and no money came to Key West. The road was there but no one came.

The Navy came next. History tells us they brought money to Key West because they established a Submarine Base here.

Old Navy Bldg. Key West

Commercial Shrimping began in the rich waters around Key West. This helped the economy as well.

In the 60's the coral reefs were being stripped piece by piece. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established to preserve the reef for years to come. Looe Key Reef and the Dry Tortugas were also getting lots of attention as well. Visitors came to the Florida Keys just to dive these beautiful waters.

Yes,finally the tourist began coming to the Florida Keys. The recovery finally happening all the way from Old Key Largo to Old Key West.

In the 1980's Key West was looking run down. It had become a popular place for the Gay and Lesbian Culture. The laid back tolerant lifestyle of the locals welcomed anyone who wanted to be here. Soon the Gays and Lesbians visiting began buying up the homes. The homes were getting restored and lush tropical foliage was getting planted. Key West was getting a face lift.

Today more than three million visitors come to the Florida Keys. It’s a great place to be. And it has some very interesting history.

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