Florida Keys History: 3000 BC to Present Day

The history of the Florida Keys can be traced back as early as 3000 B.C the time when it is believed the first Native Americans arrived here.

In fact, radiocarbon from 1000 B.C has been found in Key Largo. If archaeologists are right, The Florida Keys had a population of about 500 to 1,500 inhabitants thriving on natural sea and land bounties surrounding them.

However, it was not until the 16th century when the first Europeans arrived to these islands, including explorers, missioners, soldiers, fishermen, castaways, and slave hunters. From 1500 to 1750, Native Americans began decreasing in number until they were gone.

After the first Spanish explorers arrived to the region, topography of these islands gave them the name of “Cayos” (Keys). In fact, a large number of the Florida Keys keep part of their original name, including Cayo Largo (Key Largo), Cayo Isla Morada (Islamorada Key), etc.

Others are still known by their Spanish name that has nothing to with the actual name, such as Key West, which original name was “Cayo Hueso” (Bone Key). The first settlers of the Florida Keys were Spanish fishermen who got here from Cuba and the remaining natives became friendly hosts that eventually helped them to establish themselves in the Keys.

Commercial activity between Cayo Hueso (Key West) and Havana in the late 1600’s helped to increase the population and soon the locals changed their name and religion to those of Spaniards.

For the next centuries, the archipelago remained under the ruling of Spain. There were some attempts of Bahamian colonization, but it was not until the early 19th century when New England Fishermen began to arrive in the Florida Keys. This place was ideal for fishing during winter when their catches were reduced due to the weather of the northern British colonies.

However, the diary of the Col. David Fanning describes an American loyalist flotilla of open boats arriving to the actual location of Daytona Beach in 1784, carrying several families who were the early settlers. By 1835, Cayo Vaca (Port Monroe) began to be colonized, being the second settled island after Key West.

A Pensacola newspaper, The Floridian, helped to spread the news of those small islands at the southern tip of Florida’s mainland, increasing the number of visitors, adventurers, and fishermen trying to find better horizons.

From 1820 to the turn of the century, the Florida Keys became a busy maritime center, where more and more turtlers, fishermen, and wreckers arrived. Continuous merchants from Havana and Nassau also moved over here, followed by privateers.

Key West, Bahia Honda, Newfound (Big Pine Key), Tavernier Key and Indian Key became the most important towns in this region before modern developments began.

In 1905, the construction of the Overseas Railroad began and shortly after the Seven Mile Bridge was proposed as the first attempt to interlink all the Florida Keys.

This bridge was built between 1909 and 1912. The original bridge ran through the Gulf of Mexico from Key Vaca, near Marathon, to Key Duck in the Lower Key.

With the dedication of the U.S. Route 1 in 1928, the Florida Keys economy grew rapidly, despite several hurricanes which hit the Keys during the early decades of the 20th century and the Great Depression.

In 1935, a hurricane damaged the Seven Mile Bridge, but a new one was built to allow the Overseas Highway to advance to Key West. After World War II, the Florida Keys evolved into a tourist destination but has kept most of its original fishing industry until today.

Visiting the Florida Keys is approaching a unique history, which still lives on in several historic places rather like living museums from Key Largo to Key West. Islamorada, Marathon, and Big Pine Key are places where non-written stories of early settlers are heard traveling from mouth to mouth.

However, the Florida Keys are also a world-class tourist destination where visitors will find all the facilities, amenities, and recreational opportunities of other destinations worldwide, but with the unique characteristic of this place, making of all them, part of the paradise we know on planet earth.

Visit your travel agent or browse information online to discover why these islands are part of the premier destinations in the Sunshine State of Florida.