Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 6.59.40 AMWelcome to Keys History & Discovery Center’s inaugural newsletter, Discover History! Initially we will publish quarterly and share via e-mail, Facebook and our website, As the Discovery Center continues to develop and grow, we will increase the frequency. With this newsletter, we will share our news, plans and programs, as well as bits of history, even play some trivia for fun and offer free tickets, books and memberships!

So much as happened since January, when the not-for-profit Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation’s mission, vision and plans really got rolling with the hiring of Brad Bertelli, curator/historian, and I. We are fully dedicated to turning the Keys History & Discovery Center into a place full of photos, artifacts and stories that excites and educates locals and visitors over and over again. The Foundation’s mission guides Brad and my every move as we work “…to develop and maintain a world-class History & Discovery Center that will accurately reflect the history of our community in a multi-faceted and interactive environment.”

During the past eight months, much has been offered, including three unique exhibits not before displayed. We were the first to display Clyde Butcher’s Cuba – A Natural Beauty, which also included Keys photographs. The Art of the Florida Highwaymen and Harry Sonntag, Key Largo’s Hermit Artist, culled from several private collectors, and The Art of Millard Wells included more than 60 original paintings from 35 collectors. We also unveiled our first of 12 permanent exhibits, Legends of the Line, a historical perspective on fishing and the beginnings of tourism in the Upper Keys.

The lessons learned from these first exhibits were numerous, but most importantly we learned of the extreme hunger in the community to learn more about, preserve and share the vast and storied history of the Upper Keys community. While the traveling exhibits were more art than history, it allowed us to gain momentum to our mission, show off the beautiful facility and begin to tell our story.

Our next rotating exhibit, The Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, features more than 75 images that not only capture the Upper Keys before the storm, but also the extraordinary aftermath. The exhibit opens Thursday, Aug. 28 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 9. Evening events/lectures also are planned.

The Discovery Center is located on the property of the Islander Resort, MM 82. Keep reading to learn about more to come over the next few months into 2015 and look for the trivia question.

Brad Bertelli and the Curator’s Corner: What’s Next?

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 7.00.07 AMI would like to thank Jerry Wilkinson and the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys for making everything we are trying to accomplish here at the Discovery Center that much more possible. I am fortunate to have such a valuable resource as my mentor. It is because of Jerry, his group and Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation Board of Directors, led by founding family member Rich Russell, that the Keys History & Discovery Center is finally a reality.

Exciting things are in store at the Discovery Center as we continue to explore the history and tell the story of the Upper Keys. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to bring that story to life, as it is richly textured, capable of surprising even the community’s oldest conchs!

Following the hurricane exhibit, the next two exhibits displayed will be The Rails and The Road and Roadside Attractions of the Florida Keys. The Rails and The Road will feature scores of historic black and white photographs detailing the incredible task of creating both the Key West Extension of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway and the Overseas Highway. The exhibit will run from mid-November through February 1. Scheduled for exhibition from February through Easter will be Roadside Attractions of the Florida Keys, celebrating the unique and varied roadside venues along the Overseas Highway, which will include the Caribbean Club, ‘Betsy’ the giant lobster, Robbie’s Marina, Flipper’s gravesite, Perky’s Bat Tower and the Southernmost Point.

In the meantime, it is time to play a little historic Florida Keys trivia. The question will be posted on our Facebook page on Thursday, Aug. 28 and the first to respond with the correct answer will receive a prize. Recipients of the newsletter are getting a head start on the question. Good luck!

Discover History! Trivia Question
How much money did notorious wrecker John Jacob Housman allegedly spend
landscaping Indian Key in the 1830s?

Volunteering at the Discovery Center

“I am always happy to volunteer for the Center! Being a history nut, I enjoy the exhibits and never fail to learn something new about Keys history! The Center is so serene and Zen that my time there is always a pleasure. I always enjoy meeting visitors who come to the Center; it makes me feel like an ambassador for the Florida Keys!” – Kim Bouchard, 20-year Upper Keys resident

The Foundation employs only the executive director and curator/historian, which leads us, as many not-for-profit organizations do, to rely on volunteers. A wonderful core group of volunteers, led by Foundation Board Member Phyllis Mitchell, have put in nearly 200 hours during the first three exhibits of the year. A special shout-out to volunteers reaching 20 or more hours: Cynthia Boerner, Lisa Bradeen, Matt Hetman, Bette Rosenthal and Meredith Tracy.  

Volunteers cover two shifts a day, four days a week. They staff the main entrance, greet and interact with visitors, provide an explanation of the Discovery Center, promote annual memberships, and handle admission fees and retail sales. Please consider volunteering. For more information, contact Phyllis at or call 305-301-3624.

Like Us on Facebook and Get a Regular History Lesson

For a regular dose of Upper Keys history, check out Facebook – Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation. Daily postings include photos of days gone by and significant moments in Upper and Florida Keys history, such as building Flagler’s railroad, the Labor Day Hurricane destruction, and members of founding families. Along with each photo is a brief story about the photo, detailing the building, the people, or the location. The posts generate much conversation and added tidbits of history.

Help Preserve History – Become a Member

As KHDC continues to develop and grow through exhibits and programming, so to we hope to grow our annual membership base to support the mission of the Foundation for the long-term. Several different levels are offered with a range of benefits.


  • General membership – Individual, $65; Dual, $100; and Family, $150, offers unlimited admission, 10% discount and name recognition in annual publication.
  • Sustaining Membership Tier One – Unlimited admission, four membership cards, 15% merchandise and special events discount and a number of guest passes to share depending on level. Options are Rock Harbor, $250; Planter, $500; and Isla Morada, $750.
  • Sustaining Membership Tier Two – Windley Key, $1,000; Matecumbe, $2,500; Tea Table, $5,000; and Indian Key, $10,000. This tier includes unlimited admission, up to 10 membership cards, 20% merchandise and special event discount, name recognition in lobby and publications, and a number of guest passes to share.


To become a member, call 305-922-2237, visit, or stop by to fill-out a Membership Registration Form.

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