In 2005 I started a company that makes maps of the Bahamas, Caribbean and Florida and in 2010 we finished a map of the Florida Keys. We've sold and donated many Florida Keys maps over the years and now produce it in both bright colors and antique earth tones taken from an original map I own from 1695. Like my antique map collection, we produce maps that are made to display on your wall. Before the digital age, printed maps were more common and for centuries beautiful wall maps were a sign of wealth and knowledge. We have recreated that art. There's been renewed interest in the Florida Keys map since in March 2020 when our company (Island Map Publishing) released a new book "The Florida Keys, A History Through Maps". The book displays the Keys map in various ways, like to show the location of ship wrecks. We also created 10 enlarged area maps of the Keys from North Key Largo to Key West and the Dry Tortugas. Both our maps of the Keys and our book are works I'm proud of. They both will be passed down through time as a way to convey information and history in an interesting way. For more information on the Florida Keys map and options click here or call 239-963-3497! Our books are available at islandmapstore.com as well as well as Amazon. Be sure to also follow our Instagram for updates on our blog, press and upcoming events!
I created a map of The Bahamas in 2002 and it has improved ever since. The map is made to be an attractive and informative wall display and is not for navigation or other purposes. I collect antique maps, a hobby that even hundreds of years ago people would collect and display as a sign of wealth and knowledge. It's been rewarding to recreate such maps for modern times. The Bahamas map and others we now produce are made combining elements from many different sources. We strive for accuracy and in most cases I physically visit the area of the map we're making. Local knowledge is important and it's best earned by going there! Our map of The Bahamas is displayed in airports, businesses, homes and resorts throughout the U.S. and The Bahamas. It's on the walls of many yachts and cruise ships and I've even seen it hanging in the office of the Bahamian Prime Minister! The U.S. Embassy and Navy in Nassau have framed copies and it's displayed at U.S. Customs in Naples and in Bahamian Customs offices on several different islands. Our company Island Map Publishing sells The Bahamas map at boat shows and online here, it makes a wonderful gift for island lovers. We now produce over a hundred maps that include the Bahamas, Caribbean, Florida and the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S. For more information about our maps please call 239-963-3497 or visit our site. We also offer custom options and can work with you to find the best option for your space!
I’ve been going to Key West to fish since I was kid, in my twenties to party and in later years to do engineering work along the waterfront including a fast ferry dock, a marina and work for the City at Key West Bight. More recently I’ve been going for research on our new Florida Keys history book, The Florida Keys: A History Through Maps. Somewhere along the line I must have visited all of the museums and historical sites; there are forts, lighthouses, Hemingway’s house, a museum in the old Customs House and many other sites to see! Key West is the most southern point in the continental United States, the end of the line for U.S. Highway 1 that begins in Maine and runs 2,390 miles to Key West, “Mile Marker 0”. The island was originally named Cayo Hueso, Spanish for “Bone Cay”. From Key West’s founding around 1822 to the later 1800s, the island city boomed as ships routinely wrecked on the long reef of the Florida Keys. Shipwrecks were salvaged by “wreckers” who could make claims on the cargo after they rescued the victims. Salvaged goods were sold in Key West making it, for a time, the richest and largest city in the state of Florida. Bahamian immigrants came into Key West to enjoy the bounty wrecking provided, adding fishing, farming, turtling, sponging, boat-building, salt-making and other industries. The U.S. Navy also occupied the island building facilities to protect America’s southern flank. As the 1800s progressed, a new chain of lighthouses and steam-powered ships improved navigation and eventually destroyed the Keys wrecking industry. This began a slow decline in the late 1800s, leaving little of the grandeur that had preceded it. During the Civil War the island remained in the Union, and vessels caught running the blockade into Confederate states were brought into the harbor where their cargos were sold at auction. This provided some relief, but after the war Key West continued to decline without shipwrecks to support the wreckers and the many industries that sustained them. Life in Key West improved when wars in Cuba brought immigrants who built the island’s cigar industry in the late 1800s. Henry Flagler’s Over-Sea Railroad reached Key West in 1912 and would endure until the 1935 hurricane ended train traffic for good. Before the storm hit, a new road was being build and the Overseas Highway was finished in 1938. It essentially extended to Havana, Cuba, with daily car ferries, but that came to an end when relations were cut off after Fidel Castro plunged the island into communism in 1959. Before and after Fidel, famous writers and celebrities like Ernest Hemingway made Key West home, and so it became to a growing population more dependent on tourism. In 1927 Pan Am started the first international scheduled flights in America, Key West to Cuba. A runway constructed during WWII was made public after the war and today serves to connect Key West to the world. It also makes life easy for me, one hour in my plane from Naples sure beats 6 hours in the car! For more history on Key West and the other Florida Keys, check out the new Florida Keys: A History Through Maps and be sure to check out historical and decorative maps on the website! If you have any questions please call 239-963-3497.
The Marquesas Keys is a group of uninhabited islands I’ve passed by many times on the way to Fort Jefferson and Key West, yet I only stopped there once in 40 years! It once one of the least visited areas in the Keys, but this may be changing with today’s faster boats that can cover the 20 miles from Key West in no time. Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas are at least another 40 miles west. The little island group may have been formed by a meteorite in the distant past leaving a round water body known as Mooney Harbor, some four miles in diameter. The area is known for great fishing and diving and as recently as 1980 was used for target practice by the military (after clearing out fishermen and tourists). It’s now protected within the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. There was a 50-foot-tall lighthouse called Cosgrove Shoal Light from 1921 to 1935. Prior to construction, many ships sank and the area is littered with shipwrecks, ten or more within a couple miles of the islands and another very famous wreck further west. The Marquesas were named after the Marquis de Cadereita, commander of the 1622 Spanish Treasure Fleet that was partially sunk in a hurricane en route from Havana, Cuba to Spain. Three treasure laden galleons were among the fleet including the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, the Santa Margarita and the Nuestra Señora del Rosario. The Atocha sank west of the Marquesas with only five survivors of the 265 aboard. The galleon broke up gradually as the hurricane pushed her across the seabed, depositing the valuable cargo on the bottom along the way. Three sailors and two slaves–survived by holding onto the remains of the mizzenmast which stayed above water. A Spanish merchant vessel rescued the survivors so the location was known, but salvage at the remote site was never accomplished until recent times. In 1985, chicken farmer turned treasure hunter Kane, Mel Fisher’s son, radioed in, “Put away the charts, we’ve found the main pile!” He had located remains of the treasure west of the Marquesas after his father, family and crew spent sixteen years looking. Tragically in 1975, Mel’s son Kirk, Kirk’s wife Angel and diver Rick Gage were killed when their steel salvage boat capsized at night and sank. The now famous Atocha cargo included: 24 tons of silver in 1,038 ingots 18,000 pesos in silver coins 582 copper ingots 125 gold bars and discs 350 chests of indigo 525 bales of tobacco 1,200 pounds of worked silver A horde of emeralds smuggled aboard to avoid Spanish taxation For more history on the Marquesas Keys and the other Florida Keys, check out The Florida Keys: A History Through Maps! If you have any questions or wish to see more products from Island Map Store, including our antique map, check out our website here or call 239-963-3497.
When flying at low altitude over the Keys, I can easily see where man made projections of land are along the Overseas Highway. This is where railroad men in the early 1900s used fill to connect areas of dry land and/or to shorten bridges. Friends of mine have rented or owned houses on Sugarloaf over the years and I remember flying down to the little airstrip there from Naples to “rescue” friends that were trapped after Hurricane Andrew closed sections of highway around Miami. The iconic Bat Tower was still standing near the Sugarloaf Lodge, though it’s purpose to control mosquitos never worked out. In 1909 two brothers, Charles and George Chase, namesakes of the railroad’s nearby Chase Station, bought land on Sugarloaf and proceeded to pioneer efforts to grow sponges in the Keys, beginning in Sugarloaf Sound. The community of Chase was born, complete with a post office, housing and commercial buildings but the sponging venture failed and the town disappeared after the First World War. The name Sugarloaf likely came from a variety of pineapple once grown in the Keys, the “Sugarloaf”, or a nearby Indian mound resembling an old-fashioned loaf of sugar. The Saddlebunch Keys, just west of Sugarloaf, are comprised of mostly mangroves and then there are small, uninhabited islands both north and south of the Highway until one arrives on Big Coppitt Key. The name Coppitt is said to be a derivation of the Old English word coppice, meaning “thicket.” Geiger Key is south of Big Coppitt at the southeastern corner of Boca Chica. An early Keys settler, Henry Geiger, obtained the land under the Armed Occupation Act of 1842, which was as an incentive to populate Florida if one met certain conditions to settle and remain on land for specified amounts of time to gain title, “Armed” because Indians were still a big threat to settlers. Boca Chica is Spanish for “small mouth,” which may have referred to the narrow channel on the island’s western side now adjacent to Naval Air Station Key West (NAS Key West). Boca Chica is mostly salt marsh and mangroves but it’s home to a state-of-the-art training facility for air-to-air combat aircraft of all military services. Driving through the Keys one can often spot jet aircraft overhead and I’ve marveled at seeing some climb vertically into the sky. Stock Island is the last island stop before entering Key West. The name comes predictably from herds of livestock that were once corralled there. Much of the island was altered by railroad crews recruited from adjacent Key West when jobs were scarce. They used the combination of “men, mules, dynamite and wheelbarrows” to prepare the land with fill and build up the roadbed for the coming railroad. The work was completed in 1907 with 200 men whose goal was to “complete 50 feet of fill per day” in preparation for the arrival of Flagler’s train in 1912. Stock Island was home to the Keys pink shrimp fleet and now has several nice marinas. Many commercial fishing boats still operate from there along with please boats. For more information on Sugarloaf Key and neighboring islands check out The Florida Keys: A History Through Maps! Please call 239-963-3497 or visit our website here.
When starting over the Seven Mile Bridge from Marathon to Bahia Honda I like to imagine the train station that once stood over the water just offshore, serving as America’s southernmost port from 1908 until 1912 when the railroad reached Key West. The seven mile bridge itself was an engineering marvel of it’s time and one of the longest bridges in the world, some of the original structure can be seen today running to Pigeon Key north of the Overseas Highway. Reaching the other side of the bridge you cross several small islands including Missouri and Ohio Keys, reportedly named by railroad workers after their home states, then Bahia Honda with it’s State Park. Bahia Honda’s name originated from the Spanish, meaning “deep bay”. Crossing this deep area with notoriously strong currents, the Bahia Honda Bridge has been described as “the greatest engineering challenge facing the entire railroad project.” Just west of the west of Bahia Honda bridge is Scout Key, formerly known as West Summerland, ten miles east of the much larger Summerland Key. The island was renamed after adjoining Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps and possibly to end confusion with the other Summerland Key further west. Originally there were three keys where Scout Key is today: West Summerland, Middle Summerland and another small island. They were all joined with fill during the railroad project to avoid having to build bridges, a practice common throughout the Keys. No Name Key is north of Scout Key and was the ferry landing for the first Overseas Highway which opened in 1928. A hurricane in the Upper Keys ended the railroad and made room for the existing bridges to be used by cars instead of trains. No Name Key was not on the railroad line and thus was isolated from the highway which was completed in 1938. Key deer still thrive on Big Pine thanks to the abundance of natural fresh water. A geological difference in the limestone of the Lower Keys allows for this, unlike the more porous Key Largo limestone further up the Keys chain. In 1906 workmen finished a 100,000-gallon water tank for the railroad and later created a freshwater pond said to hold a million gallons of fresh water. Settlement of Big Pine Key began in the middle 1800s to supply growing Key West with produce and charcoal since most of the farmland and trees in Key West had disappeared. The sole inhabitant of Big Pine listed in the 1870 census was George Wilson “charcoal burner or wood cutter.” Other islands in the area (Little Torch, Ramrod and Summerland Keys) were scarcely populated until the highway brought tourists and land developers who created waterfront subdivisions in the mangroves and shallow bays with fill dredged from canals for the houses and docks you see today. To learn more about history of Bahia and other keys in the Florida Keys, check out The Florida Keys A History Through Maps. The book and custom maps of the Keys can be purchased online at this website. Questions? Please call 239-963-3947.
I have been frequenting Marathon for the last few years working with my friend Brian Schmitt on our Florida Keys history book. We both collect antique maps and hence included in the name “A History Through Maps”. When we started the project I didn’t realize what a pivotal role Marathon played in Henry Flagler’s Oversea Railway. The Keys railway began in 1905 and soon Marathon became a work camp and headquarters for the project. Every type of industry emerged to serve the railroad: machine shops, steamship landings and supply depots, housing, administrative buildings, a post office and schools. By 1908 the train rolled into town. The track ended on a man-made island of pilings over the water by Knight’s Key, west of Key Vaca. The pile-supported village had a train station and ferry landings to take passengers to Key West or Havana, restaurants and even a hotel! Prior to the name Marathon, the area was called Key Vaca. The Spanish may have named it Key Vaca for different reasons. “Cayo de Bacas” (island of berries) or “vacas” (cows, likely referring to manatees) or one of their own men named Vaca. Calusa and perhaps Tequesta Indians inhabited the area in the early 1500s when the Spanish first arrived. In Key Vaca settlers from the Bahamas and others from New England built small communities and sparsely populated the area in the early 1800s, living off the sea by fishing, salvaging shipwrecks and agriculture. As in the Bahamas, the rocky nature of the soil and lack of abundant fresh water made for poor farming. Wrecking once sustained the Keys with cargos being auctioned off in Key West but in the late 1800s the business was doomed by the advent of lighthouses and steamships which made shipping along the Keys reef much safer. Railroad construction brought a boom to Marathon but things went into decline once the track was finished to Key West 1912, when it took over the role of southern most port in the United States. The railroad ended for good in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, but the storm brought an opportunity to repurpose the railroad bridges for cars and in 1938 the Keys Overseas Highway was completed from one end of the Keys to the other. Marathon gained an airport during WWII, it now features a long runway and has international standing with an active U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility. As the island grew, a number of dredge and fill subdivisions were completed in the 1950s and 1960s, providing hundreds of waterfront homesites. Key Colony Beach sprang from a 1959 dredge-and-fill project that added land and canals to the formerly low-lying island. Other communities sprang up in the area as well, like Duck Key with it’s now famous resort. Environmentally minded projects have also been built including the Dolphin Research Facility on Grassy Key and the Turtle Hospital in Marathon that opened in 1986. Curry Hammock State Park was created in 1991 and includes large areas of mangrove, rockland hammocks and seagrass beds vital to preserving the ecosystem of the Keys. Crane Point Hammock Museum and Nature Center in Marathon includes walking trails and a beautifully restored Bahamian settler’s house from the early 1900s. The Marathon - Duck Key area today has everything you want with a laid back island style; plenty of boating, diving and snorkeling, sightseeing and fishing with excellent restaurants to enjoy the local seafood. To learn more about history of Marathon and other islands in the Florida Keys, check out The Florida Keys a History Through Maps. The book and custom map of the keys can be purchased online on this website. Questions? Call us at 239-963-3497!
This stretch of the Keys is one of my favorites to drive through with several bridges and beautiful views. I like some of the restaurants on Lower Matecumbe and also the interesting history of Indian Key and Long Key with it’s once famous Long Key Fish Camp, where billfishing was popularized by Zane Grey in the early 1900s. The name Matecumbe was likely a Spanish take on a Calusa Indian name for the area. The interface of the Spanish and Indians was so violent at first that it’s been suggested the name comes from a Spanish word meaning “to kill man.” The fate of early ship wreck victims was indeed violent as they were either killed or enslaved by the Calusa. Indian Key was the site of a later Indian attack during the Seminole Indian Wars. Dr. Henry Perrine and other settlers were killed there in 1840 during a violent period as the U.S. Army attempted to relocate the Florida Indians to Oklahoma. Perrine served as an American consul in Mexico, where he looked for ways to introduce useful tropical plants to the U.S. In 1838 he moved to Indian Key and started a plant nursery on Lower Matecumbe. He’d been working on a land grant when he was killed and the family ended up with a large piece of property near Miami, today’s community of Perrine. Indian Key had a store which supplied ships in the area that worked in the lucrative wrecking trade (salvaging cargos from wrecked ships). Later It would be served by the railroad’s Indian Key station on Matecumbe, where the train would stop on its way to Marathon in 1908 and eventually to Key West in 1912. Indian Key, like Lignumvitae Key, is a state park today. Lignumvitae Key has some of the highest natural ground in the Keys at sixteen feet above sea level. Lignum vitae is a tropical hardwood tree that produces a hard and oily wood prized in early shipbuilding. The Matheson family once lived on Lignumvitae, their house built a few years after the railroad passed through the adjacent mainland. It was sold to the Nature Conservancy in 1970 and is now a botanical state park filled with other interesting trees like gumbo limbo and poisonwood. Early Spanish charts show Long Key as Cayo Vivora. The island was a work camp for the railroad and, when the hurricane of 1906 struck, a barge housing railroad workers broke loose drowning many of the men aboard. The Long Key Fishing Camp was established in 1908 and famous fishermen and authors like Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway visited and wrote about the virtues of fishing in the Florida Keys. The sport of sailfishing was started there, a fish that had formerly been denounced as “boohoo” or “spikefish” as they sliced through lines while pursuing more edible fish. Grey rebranded sailfish the “gamiest and most beautiful fish,” launching a passion for many fishermen that persists to this day. Fishing is still great in the area and the spirit of Zane Grey lives on! For more on the history of the Keys in Florida, check out our newest book here! You can also take a look at our various maps of Florida, the Caribbean, the East Coast and even the Great Lakes at islandmapstore.com. Please call (239) 963-3497 for any questions regarding the books or maps!
I’ve been visiting the Keys for over 40 years, fishing, diving and more recently writing The Florida Keys A History Through Maps with co-author Brian Schmitt. I usually fly my plane from Naples to airports in Marathon or Key West but occasionally I drive. The crystal clear sea reminds me of the Bahamas with a beautiful array of water colors depending on the depth and type of bottom (sand, grass, rock or coral). Driving the Keys Overseas Highway to Key West is something everyone in America should experience, once you do it you’ll agree. The sea view starts when you leave Key Largo and start crossing the many bridges that ultimately take you to Key West. The first island past Key Largo is Plantation Key then Windley Key and Upper and Lower Matecumbe. All of these Keys are incorporated into the village of Islands, “Islamorada”. Islamorada or “Island Home” was named by William Krome, one of the Key’s railroad engineers and namesake of Krome Avenue west of Miami. Plantation Key had a large Indian mound that was leveled for construction in 1958. Research by state archaeologists date artifacts from the mound to 1,500 years before present times, 1,000 years before the Spanish first explored the Keys where they would have encountered the Tequesta and Calusa Indian tribes. By the mid-1700s the Indians were gone from the Keys, victims of wars, disease and eventual relocation to Cuba. The Keys Oversea railroad came through the area in the early 1900s and the track was completed to Marathon in 1908. During construction, low areas of Plantation Key were connected with fill to form rail bed and several small islands (the Umbrella Keys) were joined to form Windley Key. Henry Flagler’s effort to join islands was often a more efficient means of constructing the railroad than building bridges. The railroad connection made it to Key West in 1912 but was destroyed by the hurricane of 1935, devastating Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys and killing more than 400 people. A memorial can be seen today in Islamorada to honor those who lost their lives. The monument is made of “Keystone”, a decorative rock once mined in the Keys which is actually fossilized coral once used to decorate buildings across America. Hurricane Donna damaged the area in 1960 but rebuilding led to modern developments like the Cheeca Lodge (named after the owners Cynthia, known as ‘Chee’ and Carl, the ‘ca,’ Cheeca). Prior to that Bud and Mary’s marina opened in the 1940s as a bait and boat rental business. Sid and Roxy’s Green Turtle Inn opened in 1947 and the Islander Inn in 1951. Stark’s Fish Camp became the Whale Harbor Inn by the Whale Harbor Channel Bridge and Holiday Isles (now Postcard Inn) and the infamous Tiki Bar was on the other side of bridge. There is much to see in the area and more history can be learned at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada. To read more about the history of Plantation Key to Islamorada, check out The Florida Keys A History Through Maps. For maps and more information visit our website or call Island Map Store at 239- 963-3497.
I just had a wonderful fishing trip to the Dry Tortugas with Fort Jefferson and the Loggerhead Key Lighthouse visible on the horizon. We ran down from Naples at about 60 mph to an area just outside the park boundaries. Red snapper are in giant congregations this time of year making it was easy to catch our limit along with Yellowtail snapper and some large Red grouper! I’ve been to Ft Jefferson a number of times and it’s something every seaworthy Floridian should see, truly a national treasure. The name Tortugas came from Ponce de León when he was exploring Florida in 1513. He named the small islands Las Tortugas or “the turtles” which were in abundance there. “Dry” was added in later years noting the lack of fresh water. The islands were used as a base for salvaging ship wrecks during centuries of Spanish rule and the most famous wreck of them all, Atocha, sank just thirty miles to the east. The history of Fort Jefferson began when the United States acquired the Florida Territory from Spain in 1819. The Dry Tortugas were seen as strategic in protecting the new American Territory and work began with a lighthouse on Garden Key in 1825 and on the fort in 1847. A new, more powerful lighthouse was built on nearby Loggerhead Key in 1856. At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 the fort was partially completed and was used as a Union prison for Confederates. The prison’s most famous inmate was Dr. Samuel Mudd, convicted of aiding John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. He was later pardoned. The bricks in Fort Jefferson are two different colors; one for bricks from Confederate states before the war and a different color from northern states used during the war. Shore facilities at Fort Jefferson provided a critical coal fueling station in the late 1800s as Navy and merchant ships transitioned from sail to steam. Steamships were safer since they no longer depended on wind & sail to avoid the Keys infamous reef. Two massive piers were built to store coal and the U.S. Navy dredged channels so the largest battleships could load alongside. In 1898, the Navy’s North American Squadron steamed into Key West in preparation for the Spanish-American War in Cuba. The fleet was so large it was relocated to the Dry Tortugas where Fort Jefferson could fuel the ships. Hundreds of pilings from the old piers can still be seen today. By WWI, ships were switching from coal to oil because it was lighter to carry and the fueling station was abandoned. During WWII seaplanes operated out of a base at Fort Jefferson, greatly extending the Navy’s range for the detection and destruction of German submarines operating in the Gulf Stream and in the Gulf of Mexico. The fort is 60 miles west of Key West. In 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated Fort Jefferson a national monument. Large areas of the Dry Tortugas are now one of America’s newest national parks. The park includes more than 100 square miles with only forty acres, including Fort Jefferson, above water. Today Fort Jefferson is a lovely place to visit by boat or by seaplanes, which operate out of Key West. Take the time to visit America’s most remote island Fort! For more history on the Dry Tortugas and other Florida Keys order a copy of the new The Florida Keys A History Through Maps book or visit our website here! If you have any questions please feel free to contact The Island Map Store at 239-963-3497.