The Florida Keys
We had a leisurely drive down to the Keys. We went through Key Largo to Marathon Key to the Jolly Roger RV Park. A few months ago we were able to get a site right on the bayside. We could sit back and enjoy the water view.
All of the bad weather was behind us. Every day was 80 degrees and sunny.
At Marathon we visited a couple of the state parks in the area. They had beachfront locations, which were very nice. We walked the beaches and watched the wind surfers. They make it look so easy. Maybe, if I was just a little younger . . .
The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Bike Trail has more than 70 miles of paved trail running in segments down through the length of the keys. When completed, it will encompass 106 miles from Key Largo to Key West. Fortunately, we could take it from our campground into the town of Marathon, about 7 miles away. It was a great way to check out the scenery.
One day we took a boat ride out to Pigeon Key. This was a major staging area for the railroad built by Henry Flagler from 1908 to 1912. It eventually ran all the way out to Key West. There were 82 camps for the hundreds of workers, most from Spain. Pigeon Key was the largest camp. In 1935, a huge hurricane went through and really ravaged the railroad, not to mention leaving the keys in ruins. The rail line was sold to the Federal Government for 1/7 of the cost it had taken to build and three years later it reopened as a car route. Somehow they turned the railroad bridges and rail line into very narrow roadways. Two lanes, each 10 feet wide. In the 1980s the old bridges and roadway were replaced by a modern highway and modern bridges. Several stretches of the old bridges, although decaying, are available to bike, walk and fish on.
After one more fantastic sunset show seen from our campsite, it was on to Key West and Boyd’s RV Park.
Boyd’s was the best organized place we have ever stayed in. Great staff, wonderful facilities and lots of nice sites. We were nestled into a site between two giant RVs. It was like having the wall of a building behind us and in front of us with some hedges in between. Space is at a premium in Key West, so they jam us in. Nevertheless, there are palm trees galore, flowering bushes—a very tropical environment.
Our intention had been to bike from the campground into Key West, but construction on the route didn’t make it look prudent to do. Instead, we drove the truck into town, parked and unloaded the bikes. There are bikers everywhere, and we were right at home. And better able to take in the scenery.
Major industries in Key West in the early 19th century included fishing, salt production, and most famously salvage. In 1860, wrecking made Key West the largest and richest city in Florida and the wealthiest town per capita in the U.S. A number of the inhabitants worked salvaging shipwrecks from nearby Florida reefs, and the town was noted for the unusually high concentration of fine furniture and chandeliers which the locals used in their own homes after salvaging them from wrecks.
During the American Civil War, while Florida seceded and joined the Confederate States of America, Key West remained in Union hands because of the Naval base being located there. However, most locals were sympathetic to the South and many flew Confederate flags over their homes. Fort Zachary Taylor, constructed from 1845 to 1866, was an important Key West outpost during the Civil War. Construction began in 1861 on two other forts, East and West Martello Towers, which served as sidearms and batteries for the larger fort. When completed, they were connected to Ft. Taylor by railroad tracks for movement of munitions. Fort Jefferson, located about 68 miles (109 km) from Key West on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas, served after the Civil War as the prison for Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, convicted of conspiracy for setting the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.
In the late 19th century, salt and salvage declined as industries, but Key West gained a thriving cigar-making industry. By 1889, Key West was the largest and wealthiest city in Florida. Many Cubans moved to Key West during Cuba’s unsuccessful war for independence in the 1860s and 1870s.
Key West was relatively isolated until 1912 when it was connected to the Florida mainland via Overseas Railway extension of Henry M. Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). Flager created a landfill at Trumbo Point for his railyards. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 destroyed much of the railroad, and killed hundreds of residents, including around 400 World War I veterans who were living in camps and working on federal road and mosquito-control projects in the Middle Keys. That’s when the Feds turned the railway into a road.
We toured the Truman winter White House. Certainly modest by today’s standards. We walked and biked up and down the streets of the old town. The residential areas, especially within the historic district, were filled with homes of distinctive character—some modest, others quite elaborate.
We took in the tour of the Hemingway House, learning a lot about his life and interests.
But it might have been the resident six-toed cats that drew most of our attention. Still privately owned, the place is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with the authorities over its 200 cats living in the compound (descendents of Hemingway’s menagerie), who appear to be well taken care of and very contented. They’re all named after famous literary figures, and are remembered by names on their headstones in the cats’ cemetery.
They even have their own house, a miniature replication of the main house.
Speaking of animals, there are chickens everywhere in town. We understand if one is a nusance you can borrow a trap and they’ll be relocated off the island.
Our first day into Key West was without a cruise ship in port. It was considerably more crowded the second day when a huge cruise ship pulled up and disgorged about 3,000 tourists. We finished our second day in Key West at the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration, a big public area right on the pier. As evening approaches all sorts of vendors come out with their little carts. Even more entertaining are the local performers who come out—fire jugglers, guys on stilts and giant unicycles.
The highlight was the sunset, and it happened to be a good one. Towards the end, the crowd broke out singing God Bless America. It was definitely cool.
It comes as no surprise that Key West claims to have more than its share of magnificent sunsets.
Next up is Everglades National Park and the swamps.
From the end of the road . . .
Chris and Melinda