Before the 19th century, the Florida Keys were only accessible by boat. Even then, the voyage near the Gulf Stream would not end well for traveling ships. There were more casualties due to the flourishing coral reefs and shallow water. The reefs left ships in pieces and salvage crews from the Keys made more riches by collecting treasures from the ocean floor.
Hispaniola and the surrounding islands referred to islands as “Los Cayos” (a low bank of coral reef, rock, or sand). When the islands were mapped, the longest key, 30 miles long, became known as Cayo Largo. Over time, the islands became known as the Florida Keys. And Cayo Largo became Key Largo.
In 1912, the Florida East Coast Railway connected all the keys to the mainland. This was the first time travel to the keys was possible without a boat. But a hurricane destroyed the railway 23 years later and it also sunk to the ocean floor. In 1938 the first overseas highway became, and remains, the main route into the Keys. Most of the history lives on the ocean floor, next to the shipwrecks and the largest coral reef system in the United States. In Key Largo, are historical locations that draw in history buffs and tourists alike.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The coral reef system is the most historic attraction to Key Largo. It is the most important aspect of the ecosystem. Not to mention the shipwrecks! On December 18, 1975, the underwater park vowed to protect and conserve the coral reef system. The park is home to the Christ of the Abyss (1965), an 8.6 sculpture 25 feet under the sea.
This historical steamboat has garnered years of exposure, and is still going strong! She entered service in 1912 as a cargo ship for the British East Africa Railway company. Her narrow design made for easy travel up the Victoria Nile River and Lake Alberta. In 1951, she starred in the Hollywood film named after her, also starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn! In 1982, she found her home in Key Largo where she registered as a Historical Site. This small ship is a true timekeeper.
Carysfort Reef Lighthouse
The Carysfort reef is the most treacherous and visited, coral reef six miles off Key Largo. The first lightship named Caesar anchored near the reef to warn sailors in 1825. Unfortunately, she met the demise of the sea when she blew into the reef. The Carysfort Lighthouse, established in 1840, is a screw-pile fixture. Its red paint and the bright beacon is the oldest standing beacon in the keys. This is one of the most popular snorkeling and diving destinations in Key Largo.
Historians will find that the Keys were also a home to famous icons like Ernest Hemingway! Key Largo can inspire those couples that love to immerse themselves in a rich history and treasures.