Native Americans began visiting and living on Indian Key around A.D. 800, and were likely a submissive tribe to either the Tequesta or Calusa chiefdoms, however, the exact nature of the relationship between the Keys Indians and these other groups has yet to be defined.
In 1829 the island’s population was around 50 people, mostly transient fishermen, turtlers and wreckers. Jacob Housman of Key West bought Indian Key in 1831 and set out to build his own wrecking empire to compete with the monopoly in Key West. Housman’s empire included a store, hotel, dwellings, cisterns, warehouses and wharves. Known for his shady business practices, he constantly feuded with other salvagers. Unfortunately, Housman’s fortunes began to decline and he lost numerous court battles and finally his wrecker’s license. Early in the morning of August 7, 1840, Indian Key was attacked by a large party of Indians. Housman managed to escape, however his wrecking empire was gone.
The island continued to be used sparsely throughout the next decades by the US Navy, and new owners who built a store and dwellings which were used in 1856 by military garrisons during the Third Seminole War. In the 1870s three 10+ ton schooners were constructed and launched from the island. Indian Key served as a depot to store and pre-assemble the Alligator Reef Lighthouse from late 1870 to 1873. Henry Flagler used Indian Key to support his dredging operations during the early construction of the Indian Key Fill causeway. After the historic hurricane of 1935, the island ceased being used or inhabited. In 1971, the State of Florida bought the Key and designated it a historic site.
About the Presenter:
Barbara Edgar is the president of the Matecumbe Historical Trust and daughter of Irving R. Eyster, professional archaeologist and historian of Islamorada.
Funding for this program was sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support from The Helmerich Trust, Aloys & Carol Metty and The John & Marilyn Rintamaki Family Charitable Fund.