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Indian Key

In the early1800s, Indian Key was the private island of the unscrupulous wrecker, Jacob Housman, whose rum-guzzling salvagers stripped reef-wrecked hulls of precious cargo.

In 1836, Indian Key, one of the first three settlements in Monroe County (Key West and Key Vaca were the others) became the temporary seat of Dade County. Years later, it was the site of a bloody and fiery massacre where the world-renowned botanist, Dr. Henry Perrine, and others were killed by a band of Indians. Mrs. Perrine and her children survived the slayings and escaped to a nearby schooner.

The Indians of the Keys salvaged many shipwrecks and took salvaged goods to Cuba in their great canoes. Antonio Gomez, a merchant in Havana, received most of the spoils. To collect even more, he reportedly opened a trading post on Indian Key in the early 1700s.

For the next hundred years, Indian Key was used by many people. Both the English and Spanish knew the island well. In the early 1800s, wreckers from the Bahamas anchored at Indian Key. Silas Fletcher settled on Indian Key in 1824. He built and ran a store for a Mr. Snyder and Joshua Appelby, a wrecker.

Shortly after the Indian massacre in the 1830s, the Navy moved from Tea Table Key to Indian Key. They built a hospital and 12 other buildings. One year after the end of the war, Indian Key was totally deserted. By 1860, there were 10-15 settlers.

In 1873, the island was used as a base to fabricate the structure of Alligator Light. Assembled sections were then transported to the reef and installed over the wreck of the U.S.S. Alligator. The light was activated November 25, 1873.

Following the end of the Civil War, an increasing number of settlers from the Bahamas came to the Keys. By 1870, Indian Key had a population of 47. The Pinders came to Indian Key to farm, but needed more land. They applied for a land grant on land that now forms the middle of Islamorada. This was approved and signed by President Chester A. Arthur.

Boat building was a major business in the late 1800s when three schooners and a sloop were constructed on Indian Key. The island was still inhabited in the early 1900s. For the next forty years, and during prohibition, the island was used for smuggling. It was also used as a fish camp. Vandals and pot hunters raided the Key in the 1940s and '50s until a caretaker was placed on the island.

In 1971, the State of Florida purchased Indian Key and it became the Indian Key State Historic Site.

Today, Indian Key is a State Historic Site, with a dock for easy access. Rangers offer daily guided tours of the impressive remains of the 1840 community, with its foundations, cisterns, roads, and a replica of Housman's gravestone.

Copyright © 2010 The Florida Geographic Alliance