Florida Keys History – A Tour Of The Upper Keys

The jetski tours I guide cover a large area from Islamorada all the way down to Lower Matecumbe. On the tours we give you a little bit of history about the area and the environment, try to spot some wildlife, and sometimes do a little racing or even stop for a swim.

No two tours are ever the same, because we mix it up based on what you want to do. It’s your tour! Here is a little bit of history about some of the places that we stop on most of our tours.

Indian Key

In the early 1800s salvaging or wrecking as it was known at the time was big business in Key West. In an effort to distance himself from the competition, Jacob Housman bought Indian Key in 1831 to start his own wrecking company.

In addition to the salvage operations at the time, the island had a store, hotel, dwellings, cisterns, warehouses, and wharves. Housman was known for his shady business practices and fighting with the other wreckers, and he eventually lost his wrecker’s license after numerous court battles.

In 1835 he sold the island to Dr. Henry Perrine who moved to the island with his family. In 1840 the island was attacked during the Second Seminole War. All of the buildings except for one were burned down. Today the island is a state park where you can tour the remains of Housman’s empire, which are only the stone foundations.

Veterans Key & The Coffins

The Coffins

At MM 73 on the bayside there are 8 structures in the water. The first 3 look like giant coffins from the highway, which is why many locals refer to this area as the coffins. What they are is the remains of original highway bridge that never happened. In the early 1900s the only way to get up and down the Keys was by the ferry or the railroad.

A group of War One veterans began construction of the bright in the early 30’s. When the great hurricane of 1935 came through more the 400 people were killed and the project was abandoned. A little further up the road at mile marker 81.5 on the oceanside are 3 large pieces of coral that look like tombstones, which are a memorial to everyone who dies in the hurricane.

American Crocodile
Young American crocodile

Lignumvitae Key

Lignumvitae Key is named after the lignumvitae trees that grow on the island. The lignumvatea is a hardwood hammock that was used for construction. In 1919 the island was purchased by William J. Matheson, a wealthy chemist from Miami. He built a home, windmill, and a cistern on the island.

Today like many of the small keys, Lignumvitae is a state park. You can get to the island by boat or you can kayak over from nearby Lower Matecumbe. Unlike Indian Key all of the structures on Lignumvitae are still standing and you can even go inside the house. Tours of the island are also available, but only in the winter months, since the mosquitoes get pretty bad in the summer.

Tea Table Key

Tea Table Key was a center for naval operations at the time of the attack on Indian Key. A counter attack was launched from here to try to retake the island. Most of the fleet was away at the time, so the only thing available was 2 barges, and the attack failed.

This is the only instance on record of the Indians using artillery during the wars. They used a cannon that was put there by Jacob Housman to fire on the barges. Today Tea Table Key is a private island.

2 Responses to Florida Keys History – A Tour Of The Upper Keys

  1. Hi Chris,

    This is great information and I like your structure of the site, makes it very easy to read and to think about the content.

    I am very interested in getting more information on this tour as I plan to make my vacation in Florida next year and visiting the different Keys is certainly something we would like to do.

    I am sure this post will help others to plan their vacations.

    Is this your own boat you are doing the tours with?


    • Thanks Manuel!

      We used to do snorkel and sailing trips on the Turtle, but not any longer. Now I’m working for Sea Monkey’s at Amara Cay in Islamorada. We go past most of these places on the eco tour, but we only go past The Coffins on the jetski tours. Since the waverunners are much faster than the boat we’re able to cover more ground.


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