The Florida Keys are home to many unique attractions and landmarks. If you find yourself in Islamorada you can meet Betsy, the giant lobster, end up elbow-deep in a tarpon’s mouth, or even boating, paddle boarding or kayaking past 250+ decorated toilet seats in a man-made channel a little offshore on the bayside at mile marker 90. Formally known as Toilet Seat Cut. Yes…. these are all very real things you can and should see while visiting Islamorada.
While Betsy is visible from U.S. 1 and our beloved tarpon have become a well-known attraction, toilet seat cut is a lesser known gem of Islamorada. One of those things that many people have heard about, or even seen, but couldn’t really tell you the “how” or “why” behind a string of decorated commodes lining a popular channel in our back bay.
Toilet Seat Cut is a man-made channel which was dredged by Vernon Lamp, a local, back in the mid-century before there were strict laws protecting sea grass and preventing people from taking such matters into their own hands. Mr. Lamp enjoyed dining at the Plantation Yacht Club and traveled there mostly by boat. The normal path was slow and time consuming having to travel out through Cowpens Cut to get to the restaurant which was only a couple of miles away. He grew tired of this loop around and began to dredge a cut through to lessen his trip. Using an old outboard engine attached to and even older dinghy, he cut this new pass through the shallow grassy flat and marked it with homemade post. The new small 5 to 6 foot channel dredged and marked by Mr. Lamp was used by other boaters and slowly grew larger over the years.
The story has it that due to Hurricane Donna in 1960 all types of household debris was scattered across the island and in its waters. In the aftermath on Donna, one toilet seat was found hanging on one of the homemade posts marking this unofficial channel. Locals quickly took to the humor using other toilet seats to adorn the rest of the channel markers.
From the creation of this channel to the decoration of the area with toilet seats, the whole thing is technically less than legal. Nonetheless, it’s a Florida Keys mainstay and officials have understood the outrage that would ensue if measures were taken to make this area completely lawful and compliant – and so it remains. People have decorated and added toilet seats to commemorate engagements, anniversaries, birthdays, spring breaks, and just plain old fun. You’ll find seats that are painted and adorned with sunsets, animals, portraits and more elements and special memories from their stays in Islamorada.
So, some cities have bridges where visitors place padlocks to signify their love, a stone you kiss for good luck, or a fountain you might toss a coin into. Here in Islamorada, people leave their mark with a decorated toilet seat. For a place and people who are comfortable doing things unconventional and off-beat, that’s about as “Keys” as it gets.