Discovering Indian Key: A Hidden Gem in Islamorada, Florida Keys
Indian Key, is a small island located in Islamorada within the stunning Florida Keys. Whether you’re a local, a frequent visitor, or someone considering making the Keys your home, Indian Key offers a unique blend of history, nature, and adventure that’s worth exploring.
A Brief History
Indian Key has a rich and tumultuous history that dates back to the early 19th century. It was once the county seat for Dade County and a bustling center for wrecking, the practice of salvaging goods from ships that had met their unfortunate end on the reefs. However, the island was attacked in 1840 during the Second Seminole War, leading to its abandonment. Today, it stands as a State Historic Site, offering a glimpse into Florida’s complex past.
The Early Years
Before European contact, the island was likely used by Native Americans, specifically the Calusa and Tequesta tribes, as a fishing camp. However, it wasn’t until the early 19th century that Indian Key began to gain prominence as a significant outpost.
The Wrecking Era
In the early 1800s, Indian Key became a hub for “wreckers,” individuals who made their living by salvaging goods from ships that had wrecked on the nearby reefs. The island was strategically located near the Florida Reef, making it an ideal base for these operations.
Jacob Housman, a shipwrecker from New York, saw the island’s potential and acquired it in 1831. Under his ownership, Indian Key flourished as a wrecking port. Housman developed the island, building warehouses, a hotel, and homes, effectively turning it into a bustling community.
Housman had grand ambitions for Indian Key. He managed to get the island designated as the Dade County seat in 1836, which was a significant political achievement at the time. The island even had its own post office and began to attract a more diverse population, including artisans, sailors, and merchants.
The Seminole Wars and the Attack of 1840
Despite its prosperity, Indian Key was not immune to the conflicts that plagued Florida during this period. The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) was a particularly turbulent time. On August 7, 1840, a group of Seminole warriors led by Chekika attacked Indian Key. The island was caught off guard, and in the ensuing conflict, several residents were killed, and much of the settlement was burned to the ground. Jacob Housman tried to defend the island but was unsuccessful and eventually died in another shipwreck shortly after the attack.
Abandonment and Preservation
After the attack, Indian Key was largely abandoned and fell into obscurity. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that efforts were made to preserve the island’s history. Today, Indian Key is a Florida State Historic Site, accessible only by boat, and serves as a poignant reminder of the region’s complex past.
A Living Museum
Visitors to Indian Key can still see the remnants of its former life—the foundations of buildings, cisterns, and even the remnants of Housman’s home. The island serves as a living museum, offering a window into a bygone era that shaped the Florida Keys in ways both tangible and intangible.
How to Get There
Getting to Indian Key is an adventure in itself. The island is accessible only by boat, kayak, or paddleboard. You can rent these from various vendors in Islamorada or even join a guided tour. The journey offers a fantastic opportunity to spot local wildlife like manatees, dolphins, and a variety of bird species.
If you’re in Islamorada, make sure to add this place to your To Do list!
What to Do
Historical Tour: The island has self-guided walking trails with informational plaques that tell the story of Indian Key’s past. You can also opt for a guided tour to get a more in-depth understanding.
Snorkeling: The waters around Indian Key are crystal clear, making it a fantastic spot for snorkeling. You’ll find an array of colorful coral and fish species.
Photography: Given your love for capturing memorable moments, Jamie, you’ll find plenty of photo ops here. From the historical ruins to the breathtaking sunsets, every corner is a photographer’s dream.
Picnicking: There are designated areas where you can enjoy a meal with a view. Just remember to pack out what you pack in to keep the island pristine.