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Windley Key

Windley Key, once two separate islands known as the Umbrella Keys, stands 18 feet above sea level-the highest point in the Keys. Because of their elevation, the Umbrella Keys seemed the logical place to bore into the limestone (or keystone) for causeway fill and the rock for Henry Flagler's railroad bed.

With a drill and dynamite, huge slabs of stone were sheared from the rock, exposing a geological repository, walls of a once-living coral reef. The narrow inlet between the two islands was filled to make them one, and Windley Key and its quarries were born.

The keystone was used to face many historic buildings such as Viscaya, the Deering Estate, as well as post offices and homes in Miami, Key West and in out-of-state locations. Cut and polished slabs of these ancient fossilized corals also form Islamorada's commemorative monument to the victims of the 1935 hurricane.

Today the bayside quarry stands amidst tangled hammocks and mangrove-fringed shores. The blasted holes of the Oceanside quarries are the seawater-filled sites of the Theater of the Sea.

Through the efforts of concerned citizens and environmental organizations, Windley Key quarry-the only place in the world where geologists and laymen can stand within a petrified coral reef-was purchased in order to be preserved as a park by the state in 1984. The department of Natural Resources budgeted $150,000 for the park in 1989 to make it Windley Key Fossil Reef State Park.

Copyright © 2010 The Florida Geographic Alliance