Unlocking Indian Key | Old Settlement a Boat's Ride from Pelican Cove
The 113-mile Overseas Highway, constructed by famed entrepreneur Henry Flagler in 1938, continues U.S. Route 1 through the Florida Keys. It includes what’s known as the Seven Mile Bridge. Native Floridians and caravans of vacationing families both make their journey to the islands this way, the Florida Bay’s vast blue being the only scenery to speak of. As you approach Islamorada, however, other small unincorporated islands come into view. Indian Key, bordered by an enormous stretch of coral barrier reef, has seen its fair share of shipwrecks. Sailors whose ships were dashed at sea at the hands of the reef or a trespassing hurricane would wash ashore this tiny island in the hopes of rescue.
The history of these waters is tumultuous—filled with adventure and tales of betrayal. After early attempts at colonization by European explorers in the 16th century, including the well-known Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León, Florida’s territories were fought over and divided into large counties. Among them is Indian Key, once a bustling outpost for fishermen, dry goods shopkeepers, and the companies of men and women who attempted to salvage the precious loot of cargo vessels that crashed nearby. This lucrative trade, referred to as "wrecking," caught the attention of a slew of wild personalities, including the notorious racketeer Jacob Housman.
Attacks led by bands of indigenous populations during the Seminole Wars terrified those living in the archipelago, which saw its populations dwindle in the 1830s. Today Indian Key is exclusively accessible by boat, and no longer inhabited. Ruins left by generations of settlers upon the island have remained into the present, serving to remind tourists of its industrious past. Groups of families can enjoy a half-day excursion under the watchful eye of certified tour guides. This historic state park is a favorite destination of kayakers, too. However you get there, come for an afternoon of sunbathing, swimming, and great hiking.
Address: Indian Key Historic State Park, Islamorada