17 April 1999

Highlighting....The Cedar Keys

There are 100 small islands in the Gulf of Mexico, half way between Tallahassee and Tampa called the Cedar Keys. Reached by a causeway of a series of bridges, on State Road 24, it is located between Tallahassee and Tampa on US 19. . After leaving US 19 at Otter Creek, you will pass few towns and billboards for the 22 miles through natural pines, cypress, cabbage palms and palmettos. Water hyacinths and other wild flowers grow along the roadside and when you finally round a curve onto a bridge you see before you the calm waters of the Gulf. dotted with small greem islands as far as the eye can see. You will drive through natural jungle and across small creeks. Then you are driving from one small island to another until you reach Way Key and the town of Cedar Key.

Early 1800s pirates found and used these islands. The Timucuan, Apalachees and Creek Tribes inhabited this area.. Those left after the desease brought be the white man, and the wars, were absorbed into the Seminoles. Jean Lafitte visited Seashore Key around 1800 using its high land as a lookout point. The legend of this area also includes the 17th century Englishman, Capt. Kidd in its folklore. Indians left behind a shell midden which is a hunting ground for archaeoligist. John Muir, the naturalist, walked 1000 miles from Louisville, Ky. to Cedar Keys. He contracted malaria there, and remained several weeks before continuing by boat to Texas and then on to California.

During the second Seminole War in 1835 the U.S. Army built a military hospital and supply depot on Atsena Otie Key, directly across from Way Key. Here, Col. William Worth declared the 2nd Seminole War ended, on August 14, 1842. Co-ee-had-jo, the Seminole Chief, had been conquered. His portrait is in the Cedar Key museum, along with one of Andrew Jackson (who fought in the 1st Seminole War.) The earliest permanent settlement was when a southern judge build a summer resort for island planters on 168 acres of Atsena Otie Key. Most all of this was destroyed by a hurricane.

In 1846 the city of Cedar Key, on Way Key began to develop into a cotton port. Turpentine was also a product. Progress was helped in 1855 by the beginning of the Florida Railroad from Fernandina on the east coast to Cedar Key. This linked the Gulf with the seaports on the east, and Cedar Key grew. In 1840 a military post was established on Seahorse Key by Presidential Order and the Lighthouse, built in the 1850s still stands.

Of the 100 small islands called the Cedar Keys, the ones suitable for colonization were Way Key, Atsena Otie Key and Seahorse Key. A lighthouse was built on Seahorse Key to guide merchant ships. Eberhard Faber had built a sawmill on Atsena Otie Key (he was later known as the pencil king). The rubber band is also said to be to his credit. The sawmill grew amd expanded.

The sawmill eventually moved because the forest was gone . They found other timber, but the Cedar Keys were headed for hard times. In 1889 not only had the cedar trees run out, but also the shellfish. No one thought of conservation, and in a short period of time the Cedar Keys went from 5,000 to 1,000 population. In 1896 a hurricane distroyed what was left of the sawmill on Atsena Otie Key.

Today the Cedar Keys has a permanent population of 600 or 700.and is a haven for artist and writers, a place to relax, enjoy nature, and get out of the busy main stream for a while. There are museums, a park, accommodations and cafes. Also birdwatching, shelling, fishing and nature trails where you can see the great white pelican, roseate spoonbill and the bald eagle. Natural habitats include salt marshes and Indian shell mounds.. There are also guides, charters and RV and campground facilities available. Some Information from Reference Books on Floridia

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