Did You Know

The Florida Keys are composed of over 800 charted islands. About 30 are inhabited by people.

The land of the Keys belonged to the Spanish until 1821, when Juan Pablo Salas sold it to John Simonton, a businessman from Mobile, Alabama, for $2,000.

While most of eastern North America has experienced continuous development for the past 200 years, the Florida Keys – though discovered much earlier –
remained mostly undeveloped until the middle of the 20th century.

The “African Queen,” docked at Mile Marker 100 in Key Largo, was built in Lyndham, England in 1912 for service on Africa’s Victoria Nile and Lake Albert where the movie was filmed in 1951 – and has been around the world twice.

Key Largo’s 510 foot “USS Spiegel Grove” is the largest wreck ever in divable U. S. waters. Key Largo’s Molasses Reef is the world’s most popular dive site.

Named by the conquistadors centuries ago, Islamorada means “purple isle” in Spanish. The reason for this name, however, remains heartily contested to this day. Some attribute the name to purple bougainvillea native to the island. Others credit a purple-shelled snail found on the island in earlier years. Still others, including a few avid sailors still living on the island today, favor the unmistakable purple tint the waters surrounding the Matecumbe keys take on very, very rare occasions just after sunset.

Windley Key was known as Umbrella Key in the mid-1800s, when it was homesteaded by the Russell family. “Islamorada, Village of Islands” was incorporated in 1997 to include Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key and Lower Matecumbe Key.

Islamorada’s “San Pedro” wreck is considered among the most picturesque of the 1733 wreck sites due to her location in a white sand pocket surrounded by turtle grass, as well as the luxuriant marine life inhabiting the area. The “San Pedro” is located in 18 feet of water approximately 1.25 nautical miles south of Indian Key at 24 degrees 51.802’N, 80 degrees 40.795’W. Henry Flagler, founder of the Florida East Coast Railroad, also established the Long Key Fishing Club, which operated until the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

The Dolphin Research Center, on Grassy Key at Mile Marker 59, was once the site of Flipper’s Sea School and where Flipper’s original 1950s movie was shot. Even the lightest touch with hands or equipment can injure sensitive coral polyps. It is especially important never to stand on a coral head.

Marathon incorporates Conch Key, Duck Key, Grassy Key, Crawl Key, Fat Deer Key and the largest, Vaca Key, which was named by the Spanish for its abundant population of manatees or sea cows. Vaca is the Spanish word for “cow.”

The Old Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon is the world’s longest fishing pier. First encountered by Europeans in 1513 during Ponce de Leon’s search for the elusive Fountain of Youth, the Keys were named Los Martires – meaning “the martyrs.” It is claimed this was because the islands consisted of twisted strips of land surrounded by aquamarine waters.

The first Spanish settlement in the Keys was Cayo Hueso, meaning “isle of bones,” because the explorers found the remains of a vast Indian graveyard. The British later Anglicized Cayo Hueso into Key West. The term “key” is derived from the Spanish word Cayo, meaning “low flat island.”

Historic Fort Jefferson is located on Garden Key, the largest island of the Dry Tortugas. Beginning in 1846, 16 million bricks were used in the construction of Fort Jefferson yet the fort was never finished.

In 1869 refugees from a Cuban civil war streamed into Key West. One of them was Vicente Martinez Ybor, a major Cuban cigar manufacturer. Soon Key West became the world’s leading cigar manufacturing center with 166 factories producing 100 million hand-rolled cigars each year. Later Ybor moved his business to Tampa. In its heyday in 1889,

Key West was America’s richest city per capita. In 1933, unable to pay the salaries of city employees, the city declared bankruptcy.

The Key West Aquarium was Key West’s first tourist attraction, opening in 1934 during the Great Depression – and was a major part of Key West’s attempt to stage an economic recovery by advertising their city as “America’s Caribbean Island.” It worked. By the end that first season, Key West had attracted 40,000 tourists.

Thomas Edison resided in President Truman’s Little White House in Key West while donating his services to the Navy during World War I.

The tower of the Key West Shipwreck Museum is the last of 20 lookout towers formerly in use in Key West. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum in Key West contains several unusual objects collected and owned by Ernest Hemingway, including a shrunken torso, his typewriter and eyeglasses.

It has been said that when facing a little to the west of due south from the Southernmost Point in Key West on a clear night, one can look on the horizon and see lights in the sky above Havana, 90 miles away.

Key West’s sunset celebration at Mallory Square started in 1960s, and is attributed to groups of hippies arriving in Key West who developed the habit of gathering a couple of hours before sunset to sell their wares.

The Everglades contains 900 different species of fish and crustaceans, 250 species of birds, 830 kinds of plants, 65 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 40 species of mammals, hundreds of insects and spiders – and 68 threatened or endangered species.

The Everglades historically measured over 4 million acres.

The Gumbo Limbo, one of the largest trees in the subtropical hammocks of the Florida Keys, is nicknamed the “tourist tree,” because it is always red and peeling.

The native vegetation of the Florida Keys is primarily of West Indian or Caribbean origin.

Florida State Parks are managed to appear, as closely as possible, as they did when the first Europeans arrived.