INDIAN KEY HISTORIC STATE PARK
In 1836, Indian Key became the first county seat for Dade County. At that time, this tiny island was the site of a lucrative business-salvaging cargo from shipwrecks in the Florida Keys. Accessible only by canoe or kayak, visitors come here to swim, sunbathe, and hike. Fishing is also a popular activity. Boat and kayak rentals are available from Robbie's Marina at (305) 664-9814. Located on the oceanside of U.S. 1 at Mile Marker 78.5.
Through archaeological excavations, it is known that Indians lived in the Keys for several thousand years before the arrival of the Spanish explorers. When Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513, he found a quick way for Spanish vessels to return home with their cargo of treasure taken from the Maya, Inca and Aztec empires: the Straits of Florida and the Gulf Stream. It was a dangerous route for the cumbersome Spanish sailing vessels because of the coral reefs lining the south Florida coast and the constant threat of hurricanes.
At the time, hostile Calusa Indians lived in the Keys. They became the first to profit from vessels wrecked on the offshore reefs. By the time of the brief English occupation of Florida starting in 1763, however, the Calusas had disappeared from the Keys. Bahamian fishermen and turtlers took their place, making salvage a way of life. "Wrecking" proved to be a profitable business; so lucrative, in fact, that it attracted pirates who soon became a threat to merchant vessels.
American History American occupation of Florida in 1821 stopped the pirates? activities. In addition, American wreckers drove the Bahamians out of business in the Keys and monopolized it themselves. Key West was the main wrecking station in south Florida and became a wealthy community from the profits of salvage. The monopoly of Key West was challenged by a man named Jacob Housman. Having arrived from Staten Island in one of his father?s ships which he "borrowed," he found wrecking to his taste. After disagreements with the Key West establishment, which accused him of various shady business maneuvers, he thought it best to own his own wrecking station.
The strategic location of Indian Key, nearby fresh water on Matecumbe and proximity to the most dangerous reefs, made it ideal for Housman?s plans. He bought the island in 1831 and began to build his own small empire. This included a thriving store, hotel and dwellings with cisterns, as well as warehouses and wharves. Housman turned Indian Key into a busy port with 40 to 50 permanent inhabitants. He even brought soil to the rocky island and landscaped it with tropical plants. Housman?s profits from his business ventures and wrecking were substantial. Eventually, there were more disputes with the Key Westers, who again accused him of illegal conduct as a wrecker.
In an effort to make his island independent of Key West, he had the Legislative Council establish Dade County in 1836, with Indian Key as the county seat. In spite of this success Housman?s fortunes began to decline. He lost numerous court battles and eventually his wrecker?s license. At the outbreak of the Second Seminole War in 1835, he also lost his Indian trade. In the end, he had to mortgage the island.
Visitors can rent powerboats and kayaks from "Robbie's Marina" or a number of other local marinas. Knowledge of the channels is critical because of the surrounding shallow grass flats. Kayaks and canoes can float across most flats offering spectacular chances to see a variety of wildlife from dolphins and manatees to sharks and rays.
Visitors may currently access the island by canoe or kayak.
Anglers can fish for a variety of species from Bonefish on the flats, to Tarpon in the channels. Snapper, Spanish Mackerel and Snook are also found in the area.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are permitted in the surrounding offshore waters. A "Diver Down" flag is required by law and must be displayed at all times.
Some local marinas, as well as "Robbie's Marina," offer Eco-tours that involve brief stops at the island and snorkeling in the area around the island and out on the reef. Remember, all snorkeling requires a diver down flag. All snorkeling must be conducted at least 100 feet from the dock at all times.