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Indian Key State Historic Site

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General Information

Description - Through archaeological excavations, it is known that Indians lived in the Keys for several thousand years before the arrival of the Spanish explorers. When Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513, he found a quick way for Spanish vessels to return home with their cargo of treasure taken from the Maya, Inca and Aztec empires: the Straits of Florida and the Gulf Stream. It was a dangerous route for the cumbersome Spanish sailing vessels because of the coral reefs lining the South Florida coast and the constant threat of hurricanes.

At the time, hostile Calusa Indians lived in the Keys. They became the first to profit from vessels wrecked on the offshore reefs. By the time of the brief English occupation of Florida starting in 1763, however, the Calusas had disappeared from the Keys. Bahamian fishermen and turtlers took their place, making salvage a way of life. "Wrecking" proved to be a profitable business; so lucrative, in fact, that it attracted pirates who soon became a threat to merchant vessels.

American occupation of Florida in 1821 stopped the pirates' activities. In addition, American wreckers drove the Bahamians out of business in the Keys and monopolized it themselves. A man named Jacob Housman challenged the monopoly of Key West. He bought the island in 1831 and began to build his own small empire. Housman turned Indian Key into a busy port with 40 to 50 permanent inhabitants. He even brought soil to the rocky island and landscaped it with tropical plants. In an effort to make his island independent of Key West, he had the Legislative Council establish Dade County in 1836, with Indian Key as the county seat. Housman's fortunes eventually declined mortgaging the island to Dr. Henry Perrine, a physician with a consuming interest in tropical botany. Because of the islands strategic location and wealth of goods, Indians eventually attacked the island with most inhabitants escaping, including Housman. However, some were killed in the attack with subsequent looting and burning of the buildings. Dr. Perrine hid his family in a turtle kraal below the house, where they survived the attack. He was not so fortunate. Indian Key has remained uninhabited since the early part of this century. Gradually, Dr. Perrine's plants have grown over the ruins.

Attractions - With Indian Key's colorful past dating from the time of prehistoric Indians to the 1830s, this beautiful site serves as a getaway for boaters, swimmers, snorkelers and anglers. Private boats provide the handiest access; however, tour boats leave from the north end of Lower Matecumbe Key twice daily. Visitors enjoy exploring the town ruins, which include a hotel, a U.S. Navy hospital, and both homes of settlers Housman and Perrine.

Facilities are very limited. Swimmers and snorkelers are asked to avoid the boat mooring area. There are no restrooms nor drinking water on the island.

Recreation - An observation tower, boat dock, shelter and trails are provided; however, there are no restrooms or picnic facilities.

Ranger-guided tours are available at 9:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M., Thursday through Monday. The tour fee is $1 per person. Children under 6 are admitted free of charge. Tour boat service available. For reservations call: 305-664-9814. Tour boat departs half hour before listed tour times.

Climate - Southern Florida lies within a subtropical climate. It is usually hot and humid in the summer with brief afternoon thundershowers. It is not unusual for temperatures to exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit with averages reaching above 83 degrees Fahrenheit (above 29 Celsius). Winters are mild and dry with temperatures averaging above 64 degrees Fahrenheit (above 18 Celsius). The average precipitation for the southeast area is more than 60 inches per year. The powerful rays of the sun make it a good idea to wear hats and sunglasses along with using a SPF-15 (or above) sunscreen when planning outdoor activities.

Location - Indian Key is located about three-fourths of a mile in a southeasterly direction from the north shore of Lower Matecumbe Key.

Current Conditions & Trip Reports

Trip Reports:
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Filed By: Mary Burnham
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: See my article about the trip here: www.Burnhamink.com

Filed By: Mary Burnham (Key Largo, FL)
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: Great trip for kids! From Indian Key Fill on Route 1 (MM78.5), it's an easy one-mile paddle to Indian Key. Highlights: The island ruins of Dade County’s first county seat, and a Spanish shipwreck offshore. The island has no facilities, but there’s a guided walking trail of the town ruins, an observation tower and kayak landing marked by a sign just before the tour boat dock, where you can pick up a map/brochure. Ranger-led tours ($1.50 per person) are given Thursday-Monday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., or you can tour on your own any day from 8 a.m. to sunset (305-664-2540). Good snorleing, particularly off the east side of the island. The San Pedro wreck is located 1.25 nautical miles southeast of Indian Key, surrounded by white mooring buoys.

More Information

Contact Information:
Indian Key State Historic Site, P.O. Box 1052 , Islamorada, FL, 33036, Phone: 305-664-2540

Additional Information:
Florida State Parks - The mission of the Florida Park Service is to provide resource-based recreation while preserving, interpreting and restoring natural and cultural resources.
Southeast Florida - Southeast Florida features unmatched natural, historical and cultural attractions. Dominating nearly 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the forebear to the area's public lands.

Florida Division of Recreation & Parks - Official agency website.


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