(Currently, the island is accessible only via kayak launch. The boat ramp at Indian Key is closed due to storm damage. The observation tower is also closed.)
Native Americans began visiting and living on Indian Key around A.D. 800, and were likely a submissive tribe to either the Tequesta or Calusa chiefdoms, however, the exact nature of the relationship between the Keys Indians and these other groups has yet to be defined. Of interesting note is the fact that even in the 1840s and 50s, the Indians around the Keys were called "Spanish Speaking Indians" and not identified as Seminole of Miccosukee.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, this 11-acre island is deserted except for the ruins of a town that existed in the early 1800s, when folks made their living salvaging boats that ran aground on local reefs.
In 1829 the island's population was around 50 people, mostly transient fishermen, turtlers and wreckers. Jacob Housman of Key West bought Indian Key in 1831 and set out to build his own wrecking empire to compete with the monopoly in Key West. At this time, wrecking or salvaging cargo from shipwrecks was both legal and extremely lucrative. Housman's empire included a store, hotel, dwellings, cisterns, warehouses and wharves. Known for his shady business practices, he constantly feuded with other salvagers. In 1836, in an effort to become independent from Key West, Housman had the Legislative Council establish Indian Key as the first county seat for Dade County.
Unfortunately, Housman's fortunes began to decline and he lost numerous court battles and finally his wrecker's license. Early in the morning of August 7, 1840, Indian Key was attacked by a large party of Indians. Chief Chekika and his group of warriors landed on the west coast of the Key and were shortly discovered. Most of the 50 to 70 people living on the island were able to escape, but 13 were killed. Except for one building, all the structures on Indian Key were destroyed. Housman managed to escape, however his wrecking empire was gone.
The island continued to be used sparsely throughout the next decades by the US Navy, and new owners who built a store and dwellings which were used in 1856 by military garrisons during the Third Seminole War. In the 1870s three 10+ ton schooners were constructed and launched from the island. Indian Key served as a depot to store and pre-assemble the Alligator Reef Lighthouse from late 1870 to 1873. Henry Flagler used Indian Key to support his dredging operations during the early construction of the Indian Key Fill causeway. After the historic hurricane of 1935, the island ceased being used or inhabited. In 1971, the State of Florida bought the Key and designated it a historic site.
page information credit: Florida State Parks, KeysHistory.org, Visit Florida, Andy Newman Florida Keys News Bureau, FloridaHikes.com
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors