An Overall Hurricane Damage Report
By Jerry Wilkinson
(Another piece to documentation obtained from the National Archives regarding the 1935 Hurricane in the Florida Keys. This contains considerable historical information of residents at the time of the hurricane as well as one man's observations. Please note the date as it is relatively soon after the damage. It is transcribed in its entirety, so quotation marks are omitted. My comments are in brackets [ ]'s. Photos by author. A complete copy is in the Islamorada Library. J.W.)
-1. Big Pine Key. Visited. on September 11, 1935
"FLORIDA EMERGENCY RELIEF ADMINISTRATION
Headquarters, District 9
Key West, Florida
September 16, 1935
CASE AIDES' REPORT OF GENERAL CONDITIONS
OBSERVED ON UPPER KEYS FROM MATECUMBE TO KEY WEST
2. No Name Key. Visited on September 11, 1935.
Very little damage was done by the storm on September 2nd to Big Pine Key and No Name key. In a few instances, tar paper roofing was blown away and screens of houses demolished.
General outlook for the future of these people living on the lower Keys appears bleak. All rapid and direct transportation to mainland has been destroyed and their crawfishing, which they depended on as a livelihood, cannot be transported to the market. In a few instances, where residents have larger boats, if gasoline oil and food were supplied, they could move their location closer to market.
Referring to transportation of crawfish for these fishermen, residents state that it will be necessary to have much faster transportation than automobile due to the fact that crawfish must be placed on the market while living, and an automobile highway would not meet this requisite. It would be necessary that railroad be used as formerly, since refrigeration and time element is most important.
Very little gardening and farming was done on the lower Keys. A few of these homes have small fruit trees but they have not come into bearing as yet.
More complaints were received here concerning lack of food than on Marathon Key. Not a single request for food was refused. Those people were not in a more destitute condition than Marathon, however, some homes had enough food that would have lasted the family from three to seven day; longer than at the time of home visit. Some of these families had chickens and other fowl which were being used as food and they were selling same in Key West.
Residents on Big Pine who have been former FERA relief clients have always been difficult to deal with in that they refused work relief and until they were denied direct relief, they then accepted work relief.
There are no school facilities on these Keys at the present time. All children that are of age to go to school and those that have almost completed schooling on the Keys will be usable to continue under present lack of school facilities.
Highways and railroad to Key West are in working condition as these Keys were not in the center of storm area. Supplies can be purchased at Key West
except for the transportation being destroyed, the general home conditions, except for the above mentioned conditions, are the same as before storm of recent date.
3. Spanish Harbor. This was not visited as it can be reached only by boat from Big Pine and No Name Key. The one person who resides there came to Key West and gave his report. He lost absolutely nothing. With him, as with the other fisherman, the difficulty of getting his fish and crawfish to market is the main problem.
4. Marathon. Visited September, 1935.
Although this eleven mile stretch of land is called Marathon, I am giving the respective names of the different keys so as can give a better description of each, workings from south to north.
Following are the names:
a. Hog Key, is where the Monroe County ferries land. There is no damage done to the ferry slip and ferries can land there now without any trouble. This was reported by an eye witness who examined the ferry after the storm.
b. Boot Key. There was a large fish house on this key belonging, to a Mr. W. A. Parrish. Mr. Parrish stated that his place is completely blown away due to the fact that some Florida East Coast wreckage floated up anal knocked the blocks from under the building. The only thing this man was able to save was his ice box and that is the only thing standing in the fish house. In this fish house there was a variety of fishing equipment, also a large water tank and a thirty foot launch named the George "S".
All of this equipment was gone and the only thing he was able to save
was a few gallons of oil and a few drums of gasoline that he found in the bushes.
c. City of Marathon. Most of the damage done was the blowing off of roofs on houses in which people were living. The only houses that blew down were unoccupied. Some of the houses that were unoccupied were blown flat to the ground. Others are half gone. Those that were occupied by residents can be fixed if they had a little material such as ceiling, tar paper and nails, most of these people are capable of doing their own work.
Schools- The white school building at Marathon is standing straight up but needs repair to the roof and also a few minor repairs to doors and windows.
The General Store, owned by a Mr. H. E. Woodburn did not receive any damage and those people can secure all the supplies they want at this store if they have the money. These people living at Marathon are not isolated because they have railroad connections between Key West and can make the run on small motorcars in about one hour and a half.
Out of five section houses that were standing on the right hand side of the road there is only one blown down and this particular house blew off the blocks and over the railroad track about two hundred feet from where it originally stood. This particular house was unoccupied. The other four houses had residents living in them and the only damage they received was tar paper tearing off the roof and all blew down off the blocks which they were sitting on about two feet off the ground. Now they are sitting right on the ground.
There was a Florida East Coast dredge anchored in a bight just off Marathon, Florida. The winds and tides picked this heavy work dredge up and floated it about three blocks up into the land.
The negro residents that lived on what they called the "Rocks" (but this is all part of Marathon Key) suffered damages to their roofs only and some of them lost a window and a few boards off the side of their houses, but none of these little negro shacks blew down. Most of these Negroes were able to save their small boats. In this colony there were about thirteen separate families and each one owns their own boat, only four of these families lost their boats in which they sponge and fish and are able to earn a few dollars. The balance of the boats received minor damages but can be fixed for use again if they had the necessary materials. None of these families lost any clothing but water rose about three feet above the floor in their houses and everything was soaked with salt water.
Out of the six fisherman that stayed around Marathon and live entirely on their boats, five were saved. This man is the only person who was killed on Marathon. We could learn of no other injuries other than the residents having slight colds from wearing wet clothing and be being exposed so long.
There is a negro colony called Adderly Town about one mile above Marathon but still considered Marathon Key. This town is one mile north on the highway and about one-half mile to the west out through a long winding path through the woods. In this section there are four families and only one of these families lost their house. It is completely blown loose but the other three houses are still standing and are O.K. with the exception of needing roof repairs and some ceiling to repair where boards were blown from the roof. These people live mostly from farming, sponging and getting other odd jobs with the State Road Department. During the time these people were contacted they were all eating together and had boiled rice and boiled land crabs. They are able to catch these land crabs close by their dwellings. One of these families seems to be much better off than any of the rest and had quite a bit of flour and helped the other families.
d. Key Vaccas. There are two buildings on this key and both belong to Mr. Norberg Thomson who is owner of the fish house and small residence which is very close by the fish house. This small house did not receive any damage but the fish house was very badly torn up. The platforms around that led to the street floated up the road about four blocks. The roof is more than two thirds gone, even roof rafters are blown afar. This building can be fixed as it still has a solid foundation. There were two men living at this place during the storm. The first, Henry Cates, claimed having saved himself by hanging onto the railroad ties, the second Hemming Lilja, a Swede by birth, was evidently killed by a floating log; while trying to get to high land as water rose about eight feet in this particular place. Both of these men were shark fishermen and acting as watchmen for Mr. Thompson at his fish camp. The body of Lilja was recovered and brought to Key West. Just above Key Vaccas where there is a small bight, the roadbed is torn up very badly for about one quarter of a mile.
e. Crawl Key. There are quite a number of openings in between which lead to the highway and railroad. There are no residents living here as it is all low land. Along this key there are three sections of road bed that are very badly torn out and each of those are from one quarter to a mile or less. It wouldn't take very much fill to make this place a temporary passage. There are quite a number of deep ruts through the highway that can be fixed easily.
f. Grassy Key is at the very northern end of this stretch of land. We were able to get only one third of the way up on this key as road is practically all washed out. Ferry slip on the upper end of this particular key is all gone and needs a new apron and the approach will need to be refilled before it is serviceable. Have learned from a person that inspected this slip that the pilings are all still standing and can still be used, so the work of repairing the ferry slip will not necessitate use of a pile driver. In some places on Grassy Key the railroad is washed out to sea for over a block from where it originally stood on a seven-foot road bed, even some of this roadbed is completely washed away.
The only residents living on this key were connected with the Florida East Coast Railway. There was one family of white people called the Favises. These people went to Marathon and were saved. There was also a crew of section negroes and about four section houses in which they lived. Most of the section negroes went to Marathon with the foreman, Mr. Davis, but four of them remained and were washed to sea. Learned that the names of these men are: a negro called "Foots", a negro man Jim Ashe, his wife and small child. These four people, as stated, were washed to sea and to date have not been heard from or found.
All of the negro section houses were completely washed away and the only thing standing on this key is one-half of the white foreman's house and it will be impossible to repair this structure or rebuild it on the old foundations.
The Florida East Coast has shut down all the work along the key that were struck by the storm and it is understood that they will move their workers to the place they want to go and possible in some cases be able to find other employment for them. At present it is understood that most of these people have been moved to Key West. There are only three Florida East Coast facilities that remain at Marathon, Florida.
The colored people along these keys that had farms and expected to make a few dollars off a small watermelon crop, find that they were only to save a few watermelons, cantelopes, and other food stuffs and these are not suitable for shipping. At present, if they did have a crop that was ready for market they could not ship it as they have no means of transportation. Previous to this time they shipped products to Miami and even shipped tomatoes and limes as far as New York.
All of the residents, except Florida East Coast employees, living on this eleven mile stretch of land want to remain there if they can continue to make a living as they have done in the past.
Craig, Florida. This place was not visited. The information that follows was obtained on Sept. 14th from Edward Ashbee at Matecumbe Ferry Slip.
Craig is built up on a fill made by the Florida East Coast Railway Company and is about 3 1/2 miles below Matecumbe. This fill is about one-half mile long. There were quite a number of people living there. Most of them were single men and acting as fishermen. These fishermen either lost their boats or their boats were damaged very badly. There were no deaths at Craig but some inhabitants received minor injuries. At present there are only six men on this small island and these men are trying to either salvage or get their small boats in shape so that they can move to Tavernier or somewhere else where dealers will come down and buy fish from them, as at present there are no railroad connections to Craig or any other means of transportation within 30 miles where they can get fish to the mainland.
The only thing left standing on this island was the bridge tender's home. This place belongs to the F. E. C. Railway. The bridge tender and his wife received no injuries and the FEC has transferred him to Homestead, it is understood.
Mr. R. W. Craig, whom the island is named after, had a fishing camp there and also a yacht basin where rich people would come down during the winter months and fish. R. W. Craig ran a general supply camp such as selling gasoline, beer and all other yachting needs. It also had quite a number of cottages that the rich people used to live in. His place of business is a total loss. Every thing washed to sea. Although he received no injuries, he at present is safe in Miami.
Matecumbe. Visited on September 11, 1935.
a. Matecumbe Ferry Slip. We were able to contact only two people at Matecumbe Ferry Slip, or Lower Matecumbe, who lived there before the storm. These two men were Edgar Taylor and Edward Richard Ashbee. Neither of these men was injured, but both of their boats were damaged and sunk. These two men were dependent entirely upon fishing for a living. They need assistance in refloating their boats and also in purchasing necessary equipment. They gave information of who previously lived at the Ferry Slip including Carson Bradford, Jr., stating that Carson had a general store. This man's business is a complete loss.
Mr. Jack Corslan, who owns the Corslan Fishing Company in Miami, suffered a total loss of his fishing house at the Ferry Slip. This place of business is only used during the winter months when Spanish mackerel are running and there was no caretaker at the place, as it is closed during the summer months.
The Monroe County Ferry that ran between No Name Key and Matecumbe is against the railroad fill about 400 feet from the slip. This is a total wreck, also the Ferry Slip. Think possible Monroe County Ferry Slip at Matecumbe can be made ready for use in a very short while as it did not receive much damage although at present it is unusable.
Most of the old key residents that previously lived at lower Matecumbe are in Miami at present. Quite a number of these people were killed, some injured and some went to Miami to be taken care of by the Red Cross.
b. Matecumbe. From Caribbee Colony up to the station at Islamorada, there is not one house standing where before the storm was a beautiful sand beach with thousands of cocoanut trees and quite a number of nice residences along the shore line and also some nice residences alone Highway #4 in this area.
The only things left standing on this particular section of key called Matecumbe are cisterns that were embedded in solid rock and parts of wrecked cars that were rolled over and over and evidently several hundred feet from where they originally stood. There are bathtubs, sinks and other heavy household things such as stoves, iron cabinets lying all around about 150 to 200 feet from where they originally stood.
The only two houses that were standing on this key are along the highway. Both of these, it is understood, were owned by a Mr. [Berlin] Felton. They were a small residence and a filling station [Rustic Inn] right to the side of the residence. These two places are practically total wrecks and they are still standing. The other place is the Matecumbe Hotel. The whole upper structure of this well built hotel is blown off and the bottom story to the south is practically all blown to pieces. This place of business is beyond repair although it is still standing.
It was impossible to find out whether the people would want to try and move back to Matecumbe if they could obtain assistance in rebuilding their homes. This information will have to be found out in Miami, Florida, as each resident that was saved is at present in Miami being cared for either by the Red Cross or the Florida ERA."
(No name or signature. J. W.)
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