In this new series, we are highlighting various Keys and sharing some info on how these particular islands got their names and how they became significant in growth and development of the Florida Keys. With over 1,700 Keys and some with very interesting names, there is a rich and unique history behind each Key and we will aim to uncover some facts about each.
Little Torch Key:
About 24 miles from Key West, Little Torch Key is home to locals who work in the nearby hub or in Big Pine Key. It also hosts visitors who enjoy being tucked away from the hustle and bustle of larger, more populated Keys. Little Torch Key is famed as a favorite fishing spot of former President Harry Truman.
Big & Middle Torch Keys:
The second two of the three “Torch Keys” are located between Little Torch Key and Ramrod Key. There are more local homes on these islands but most establishments are on smaller Little Torch Key since U.S. 1 does not traverse Big Torch Key – it is connected through a causeway. . All of the Torch Keys are named after a native species of tree called the Torchwood Tree.
Originally named Roberts Key, Ramrod Key got its namesake after a ship named Ramrod wrecked upon the coral reef there in the 19th century. Until the 1920s, the only building on Ramrod Key was a post office. That has since changed, and now Ramrod Key is home to a handful of business and homes that boast beautiful views of the famous turquoise waters of the Florida Keys.
What is now mostly a commuter town between Marathon and Key West has quite an interesting history. Most of Summerland Key was owned by the Niles family in the 1940s. Former chief structural engineer for the city of Miami, Henry Hudgins, purchased the large parcel of land from the Niles in 1947 for just $100,000. The year after, two severe hurricanes hit the Keys and the engineer decided to build homes on stilts above the floodplain. He was perhaps the first person on record to build elevated houses that have become widespread in flood-prone areas of the Keys. Hudgins also developed a new technique for dredging canals which became best practice across the developing Keys. Hudgins’ wife, Mary, took up flying and so Hudgins built a private air strip on Summerland Key for her and for others looking for easy air access. Hudgins continued to develop on Summerland Key and eventually built his dream home on concrete pillars with a porch facing the channel. He enjoyed this home, called Hermitage, until his death in 1962. Hermitage still stands today.
One of the reasons we started writing this series was to explore some of the interesting, funny and unusual names given to the various islands in the Florida Keys. Here at Part 7, we may have found our favorite yet. Knockemdown Key is currently owned by retired Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher Dave Voit and home to a robust mangrove and Keys Deer population. The mangroves especially make it a sea kayaker’s paradise. There is also a tidal station managed by NOAA on the island.
Stay tuned for History of the Florida Keys: Part 8 coming soon. If you have missed Part 1,2,3,4,5, 6 or 7 visit our website archives at https://www.islamoradatimes.com/archive/