The Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation, Inc., is a 501c3 organization registered with the state of Florida for the purpose of developing and operating the Keys History & Discovery Center. The Center focuses on a diverse cross-section of history and ecology to accurately reflect the history of the Florida Keys community in a multi-faceted and interactive environment.
The Florida Keys History & Discovery Center occupies a two-story facility encompassing 7,500 square feet. The ground floor explores the unique ecology of the Florida Keys as well as the incredible history associated with the island chain — especially the history of the Upper Keys. The second floor hosts a series of traveling exhibitions reflecting upon the nature, art or history of the Florida Keys.
The permanent exhibit, "First People", explores the presence of prehistoric people in the Florida Keys through a mixture of artifacts uncovered in local middens and mounds. In addition, firsthand descriptions of these Native Americans from early European observations are offered. "First People" provides an overview of the Calusa, Tequesta and Matecumbe cultures and how they relate to the Paleo Indians who first settled along the shores of Lake Mayaimi (called today Lake Okeechobee) over 10,000 years ago.
"1733 Spanish Fleet" focuses on the 1733 Treasure Fleet ravished by a September hurricane off the coast of the Upper Keys. Learn about the routes used by Spanish sailors as well as stories of the ships that sank in the shallows from Key Largo to Key Vaca. Artifacts on display for this exhibit were salvaged from local wrecks.
The "Pirates, Wreckers and Salvage" exhibit explores the alleged exploits of Black Caesar, perhaps the Keys most famous pirate, to Captain Ben Baker, the King of the Florida Wreckers who was not only a successful wrecker, but a Key Largo pineapple farmer, "Pirates, Wreckers and Salvage" delves into the facts and fiction of those men who plied their trade along the dangerous Florida Reef. The exhibit also explores the efforts of men like Art McKee who braved the underwater realm to salvage the treasures lost to the sea.
Though once the second largest community in the Florida Keys outside of Key West, walking past the few ruins left on Indian Key paints a poor picture of what was once a thriving village. Now, visitors to the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada can see a permanent model of the island showing how it might have looked circa 1840. In addition to the model, artifacts discovered on the island are on display, as well as first-hand descriptions of life on Indian Key, both prior to the Seminole attack of 1840 and after.
"Legends of the Line" exhibit consists of mounted fish, historic photographs, as well as two fishing poles used by President Bush, Sr. and his grandson while fishing with one of the legends included in the exhibit, George Hommell, Jr. The exhibit also explores how fishing developed into a new tourism industry in the Florida Keys, as well as the role the Overseas Railway and Overseas Highway played.
Curator Brad Bertelli talks about the exhibits at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center.
The Florida Keys were originally inhabited by Calusa and Tequesta Native Americans, and were later found and charted by Juan Ponce de León in 1513. De León named the islands Los Martires ("The Martyrs"), as they looked like suffering men from a distance. "Key" is derived from the Spanish word "cayo", meaning small island.
page information credit: Keys History & Discovery Center, Florida Division of Historical Resources, Wikipedia,
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors