ISLAMORADA  KAYAKING  EXPEDITION
Lower Matecumbe - Indian Key - Lignumvitae Key - Shell Key - Upper Matecumbe
(c) 2006 - by Martin Kucera & FloridaLightning.com
April 25th, 2006 - I've been planing this trip for quite some
time now. It is nice to have a good calm weather and smooth
seas to go out kayaking especially when you want to make
some long passages over the stretches of open water.

I put in the kayak about half an hour before sunrise on a
canal in our neighborhood. Wind was calm. Paddling down
the canal I tried the kayak's stability. Quite good for a smaller
kayak I thought. The only thing I noticed was that sometimes
it was not so easy to keep the kayak going in a straight line
toward the destination. As soon as I cleared the canal a nice
morning sea breeze hit my face. The temperature was just
perfect. I paddled just a little further from the shore to enjoy
the scenery of a shoreline and to get over some deeper water.
The whole trip it seemed to me that the kayak was going
faster and smoother over deeper waters.

Indian Key, my very first destination was basking in
pre-dawn magenta colors just a couple miles ahead on the
horizon. It took some time and practice to learn to fight the
tide before I got used to it. It was a beautiful morning when
the sun started coming up over the Indian Key. I made it just
in time to catch those nice golden colors. Magic hour we call it.
First I circled the key. The south side is very nice and wild
with waves battering the rugged rocky shore but it is also
quite exposed to the elements. The north side of the key on the
other hand is peaceful, serene and calm. I landed on a small
hastily made looking dock that could only house a small boat
- if that (the original one was badly damaged during
hurricane Wilma in 2005).

Upon walking just a little bit inland you immediately notice
there are even street signs here. How nice I thought.
You could possibly divide the Key into several major parts.
First of all, there is a large grassy area that is dead on in the
middle of the island. This is where a town square used to be
with a nearby U.S. Navy hospital.  Then there are about four
major 'streets' basically circling the island. These days you
could call them 'walking trails'. Most of the remnants of the
original dwellings seem to be on the east side. You can see the
place where Perrine family once lived. Dr. Perrine moved to
the Indian Key in 1838 with an interest in tropical plants (he
planted hemp, tea, coffee, bananas, and mangoes). Perrine was
later killed during an Indian attack in 1840.

Also on the east side there is a grave of Jacob Housman,
probably the most prominent figure that once lived here.

Wrecking, the salvage of vessels wrecked on offshore reefs, has
been an important industry in the keys since the late 1700s.
Under the direction of Jacob Housman, who bought the
island in 1831, Indian Key challenged Key West as a wrecking
center. Housman built a store, hotel, residences, warehouses
and wharves as he turned Indian Key into a busy port. In
1836 he had the Legislative Council establish Dade County
with Indian Key as the county seat. This prosperous
community came to a violent end on August 7, 1840, when
the town was attacked and burned by Seminole Indians
during the Second Seminole War.


There is also an observation tower on the island to get a better
perspective of the Indian Key. South shore of the island is
wild, windy and beautiful with a great view of the ocean
horizon. You just have to be somewhat careful with your
footing since the shoreline here is quite rocky and rugged.

The overall feel of the tiny island is wonderful. Especially if
you find yourself here alone in the early morning hours.
The walking trails are nicely maintained and there are signs
everywhere so you can do a little self guided tour if you like.
The island is definitely larger than it seems from the shore.
There is a lot of singing birds and interesting tropical plants.
Some parts look like a jungle with razor sharp sawgrass
everywhere. It is pretty much not worth coming here if you
know nothing about the place. That might be the case of some
individuals using the island for other activities than it is
intended these days for (you can find graffiti in certain parts,
piles of cigarrete butts etc...

Knowing at least some history of the Indian Key before
making a trip here will greatly benefit your visit. Otherwise
you'll just walk around and go back home which is quite
ignorant with regards to this place and U.S. history in general.

Other interesting facts about the Indian Key :

- After the 1840 massacre, the Florida squadron of the Navy
moved to Indian Key, but only stayed there until the end of
the Second Seminole War in 1842. The 10.4-acre island was
sold at public auction January 15, 1844

- A military garrison was sent to Indian Key in 1856 because
of concerns of Indians seen in the surrounding areas. This
was the time period of the Third Seminole War

-  It was used as a depot to store and pre-assemble the
Alligator Reef lighthouse from late 1870 to 1873.

- In 1876 Henry Perrine Jr. re-visited Indian Key for an hour.
He commented that "There are perhaps half dozen common
dwelling houses scattered about the central portion of the
Key."

- Henry Flagler used Indian Key to support his dredging
operations in the middle Upper Keys. It was especially
important during the early construction of the Indian Key Fill
causeway. The island and it wharves were used to support
dredge operations.  

- At the time of the 1935 hurricane, two unemployed telegraph
operators were using Indian Key as a fishing location. The
Miami Herald of September 4, 1935 gave their names as Lee
Colter and Bill Hanlan. After the hurricane, one was found
draped over a cistern with a broken back and the other was
reportedly found drowned on Lignumvitae Key. In 1971, the
State bought the Key and designated it a historic site.
The saga continues as historic groups attempt preservation
and restoration.  
Indian Key in a distance just before the sunrise.
An anchorage on the west side of the Indian Key.
You can see sailboats here year long - the area is
protected by the Indian Key and yet right on the
Atlantic ocean. Ten minutes till I reach the Key.
Indian Key Islamorada
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Lignumvitae Key
(c) 2006
Martin Kucera & FloridaLightning.com