First sighted by Spanish adventurers on May 15th 1513, the Florida Keys were named Los Martires (The Martyrs) - a name which was to prove prophetic over the next few centuries.
A Spanish treasure fleet was wrecked on the reefs of Islamorada during a hurricane in 1733. Subsequently, a wrecking industry thrived in the area from the late 1700s to the 1870s during which period Key West became the wealthiest city in the United States. The "wreckers" were paid a proportion of the value of the goods they salvaged from vessels unlucky enough to be wrecked on the reefs. Rumors abound that in many cases luck had nothing to do with it. Indians destroyed a wreckers village at Indian Key (just off Islamadora) in 1840, and killed 6 people. This tiny island of 11 acres, the first seat of Dade County, consisted of about 40 houses, a general store, a bar, post-office and warehouse, and the Tropical Hotel with ballroom and, so they say, bowling alleys. Prior to the 1700s Indian Key had been a Spanish trading post.
In the mid to late 1800s the first settlers arrived from the Bahamas. In the 1850s the Russell family, with their eight children, settled in Matecumbe on 160 acres. In the 1870s the Pinder family laid claim to a plot two miles south of the Russell's. They were followed by others, including the Parkers.
The Pinders, after whom one of our houses is named, opened the first canning factory for that delicacy which would soon become reknowned worldwide - pineapples. The farmers also raised limes, melons and vegetables.
In those days, real estate prices weren't what they are now. Lignmvitae Key, named for the hardwood tree lignumvitae, was purchased in 1881 for the princely sum of $170.32 - it was acquired by the State of Florida in 1970.
Henry M. Flagler began building a railroad to Key West in 1903. He filled swamps, bridged waterways, conquered jungles and then did it all again after destruction by hurricanes. Flagler rode his train to Key West in 1912.
Prior to Flagler's remarkable achievment, all transportation to the Keys was by water. The railway brought daytrippers and fishing enthusiasts, and the locals adapted to the needs of these early adventurers. In 1928, the first road opened, and the Keys began to truly flourish.
Much of the area is preserved in State Parks including Indian Key, Lignum Vitae Key and the San Pedro Underwater Park, one of the 1733 galleons.
Click here for more Islamorada History written by Historian & Resident Irving R. Eyster