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.
“This exhibit provides our community and visitors a better appreciation for the complexity of life on Indian Key,” said Discovery Center Curator Brad Bertelli, who spent months working with a designer, model maker and other trade professionals. “In addition to the model, artifacts discovered on the island as well as first-hand descriptions and summarized accounts of life on Indian Key, both prior to the Seminole attack of 1840 and after, are presented.” The artifacts are on loan from the Florida Division of Historical Resources.
“If not for the generosity of Ken and Dee Meeks, long-time Islamorada residents, this model would not be part of today’s reality,” said Executive Director Jill Miranda Baker. “We are tremendously grateful to Ken and Dee for understanding the importance of preserving and sharing this island’s unique history, and providing the financial support to bring this exhibit to fruition.”
The Meek’s were honored at an unveiling event on May 18, prior to opening to the general public. Supporters and friends of the Discovery Center were on hand to celebrate, including Islamorada Chamber Board members and ambassadors.
Legends of the Line
The first of our permanent exhibits, Legends of the Line, opened on June 19, 2014. Legends of the Line is the first of the permanent exhibits that will be displayed at the Discovery Center. The exhibit consists of two mounted fish (bonefish and permit) several historic photographs mounted to the wall, 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. One of the images on display is of the President and his grandson fishing with the poles. Also included in the exhibit is 1965 advertisement for Camel cigarettes featuring another of the legendary fishing guides, Jack Brothers. The exhibit also includes a 46-inch touchscreen monitor where viewers can explore a host of legendary fishing guides and fishermen who frequented the Upper Keys from 1915 through the 1960s and beyond… men like Zane Grey, Ted Williams, President Herbert Hoover, as well as legendary fishing guides like Captain Bill Smith (the first ever to catch a bonefish on a fly rod), Bonefish Bonnie Smith, Jimmie Albright, Rodney Albury (whose first client was FDR), George Hommell, Jr. and Billy Pate as well as a host of others. In addition to the fishing guides, the exhibit also explores how fishing developed into a new industry in the Florida Keys, tourism–as well as the role the Overseas Railway and Overseas Highway played.
Pirates, Wreckers and Salvage – From 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.
Spanish Treasure Fleets 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.
First People. From the origins of aboriginal peoples who first settled along the shores of Lake Mayiami to the Calusa and Tequesta who traveled up and down the island chain, First People explores the indigenous people of the Florida Keys. The exhibit uses a mixture of artifacts and firsthand early European accounts to tell the story of a people who called these islands home over 1,000 years ago.
Lighthouses of the Florida Reef on Display
Lighthouses of the Florida Reef is being presented in partnership with Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation and Key West Art & Historical Society (KWAHS) in the first of a series of Keys-wide collaborative efforts. Curators Brad Bertelli and Cori Convertito collaborated to create the exhibits.
The Keys History & Discovery Center, located at MM 82 in Islamorada, will focus on the series of lighthouses marking the reef line between Hillsboro Inlet and Alligator Reef, visible from the beach at The Islander Resort.
The Key West Art & Historical Society will present an exhibition of lighthouses dotting the reef from Sombrero Reef to the Dry Tortugas. To view the exhibit visit the Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters located at 938 Whitehead St.
The exhibits will reveal not only stories of the lighthouses that mark the reef, but also information on the politics and early efforts to warn passing mariners of the treacherous reef system. These efforts included the use of lightships that could be anchored near particularly dangerous sections of the reef as well as the use of 15 screw-pile day markers, or beacons, installed by James Totten that physically marked the reef in 1852. Lighthouses of the Florida Reef will through the fall.
The exhibit opens Thursday, July 23, at the Discovery Center in Islamorada, MM 82, located at the Islander Resort. The exhibit is open Thursdays through Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. General admission is $12. Admission for seniors is $10 and children 13-under are free.
The Rails and the Road
A photographic collection of the building, use and end of Henry Flagler’s railroad as well as the development of the first Overseas Highway is on display at the Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada.
The exhibit, The Rails and The Road, features more than 150 black and white images, and explores the two conduits that have linked mainland America to her southernmost archipelago, the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway and the Overseas Highway.
While the completion of the train in 1912 forever changed life in the Florida Keys, the opening of the first Overseas Highway in 1928 made it possible for motorists to reach Key West. The Rails and The Road tells the story of these two conduits from contemplation to completion through scores of historic photographs and informative storyboards.
The exhibit is sponsored by the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation, a not-for-profit organization formed to develop and operate the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center.
Roadside Attractions brings to life more than a dozen destinations along the scenic Overseas Highway, including animal rehabilitation facilities such as the Wild Bird Center and Turtle Hospital, the Florida Keys Memorial, the lone remaining mile marker used by Henry Flagler’s railroad and the seemingly out of place Perky Bat Tower.
The exhibit, Roadside Attractions, features more than 80 images and gives a peek into the histories of some of the most significant attractions to spring up beside the Overseas Highway since it opened to traffic in 1928. The exhibit opens on Thursday, Feb. 5, at the Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada.
Among the list of roadside destinations explored in the exhibit are the world’s first undersea park, Betsy the giant lobster, a dock where some of the biggest tarpon the area has to offer wait to be hand-fed, and a visit to the memorial of the most famous dolphin of all time, Mitzi, who became internationally known as the face of Flipper.