History of the Card Sound Community
- By Jerry Wilkinson
- - Left click on any photo to slightly enlarge. -Eight to eleven miles southeast of Florida City is a rare community. No one complains of unemployment or affordable housing. At one time over 100 people lived here and all had waterfront homes. At its peak, about 30 were full time registered voters. Few millionaires can boast of a better view than the poorest resident here. Back in the 60s there were three acknowledged boat renters and restaurants: Bob and Lou’s, Alabama Jacks and Fred’s place. To my knowledge, none had titles/deeds to their properties. The photo to the right is a postcard of the community on the Dade County side of the fill circa 1959. It not exactly on the Island of Key Largo, yet has a Key Largo ZIP code, but a Homestead/Florida City phone number.
It started like this: After the rejection of a Key West railway route via Cape Sable in 1904, Henry Flagler in search of a deep water seaport hired William J. Krome to survey a route from Homestead to Turtle Harbor just off shore from today's Ocean Reef Club. Krome surveyed and platted a route southeast from Homestead across the shallows between Little Card Sound and Barnes Sound to North Key Largo headed to the coastline in line with Turtle Harbor. Before he completed this survey he was called to St. Augustine and directed to proceed with a railroad route down the Keys to Key West.
He already had a route surveyed across Little Card Sound to North Key Largo, but a quick cost analysis revealed it would be better to go across the Everglades directly to Jewfish Creek. This would be much easier, shorter and a narrower span of water to bridge than bridge across Little Card Sound. What he did not know was the existence of Lake Surprise which later had to be bridged across in addition to Jewfish Creek. Had he known of Lake Surprise, perhaps he would have continued with the Little Card Sound route. We do not know, so let's continue as it was done.
Some time in the mid 1920s, Dade County and Monroe County began building a highway to link the mainland to Key West or vice versa. The route across Little Card Sound was chosen. Road construction began on June 20, 1924 before The Great Hurricane of 1926 which caused a major disruption to the project in the Card Sound area. The photo to the right is dredging to make the road bed on the Dade County side in 1925. The photo below that is looking back towards Dade County of the causeway being prepared. The project regrouped and made the swing bridge that was damaged by the 1926 Hurricane six feet higher than before. In the meantime a barge pulled a car ferry transporting cars to and from Homestead and the east side Card Sound at a point called Pelican’s Roost. The project was completed in 1928 but had a 40 mile water gap in the Middle Keys served by ferry boats. Some referred to the mainland area as an extension of South Dixie Highway, but the official name was State Road 4-A. The Card Sound causeways were just that, approaches to the drawbridge.
Then came the 1935 Hurricane destroying 40 miles of the F.E.C. Railway (The Key West Extension) and the water gap was eliminated by widening the old railroad bridges. The Card Sound route continued as before as the Gateway to the Florida Keys.
World War II was about to change things. The U.S. Navy at Key West required better roads and especially bridges. Most of the bridges at the two ends of the overseas highway still utilized the narrow wooden bridges built in the 1920s and would not support the heavy trucks to transport the needed heavy military equipment. The Navy financed two major highway improvements – they eliminated both the old 1928 SR 4A routes in the Upper and the Lower Keys. This also made the route 14 miles shorter.
For us in the Upper Keys the improvement was the construction of the “18 mile stretch” over the original Flagler railroad bed. Once opened there was no need for the old Card Sound route as Ocean Reef was not yet even purchased, must less developed. Monroe County did not want to maintain the now seldom uses wooden Card Sound swing bridge, so the bridge was removed. Dade County then cut back on the maintenance of their part of SR 4A. Dade County did receive some rumblings about the need to support the road for fishing purposes; however, maintenance was the absolute minimum. To facilitate the fishing group, the state made leases for co-called fishing camps, much like the feds did for hunting camps in the Everglades National Park.
What remained were two causeways without a center connection; therefore, there was no through traffic, but ideal fishing areas. Leases or not, a small community grew along the right-of-way south east of the AT&T 'tropospheric scatter' station. The west side of the two lane highway is a canal dug for fill to construct the original 1920s highway. The map at the right is from a Miami Herald newspaper of 1964.
One of those living there decades ago was Doyle Green. At age 17, Doyle was dying of cancer at Jackson Memorial Hospital when he found God. Doyle is quoted as saying “The Lord turned the ceiling of the room into a TV screen” and “He told me he was going to give me new lungs.” Green would not live in Miami and moved to a shack he named Noah's Ark” at Card Sound where he began painting religious signs. One of the signs reads “Talking to God is better than Talking to your Yourself.”
A neighbor of Green was Clarence Roberts and his wife, Loren. As many of the others, they make their livelihood from the surrounding waters, mostly selling blue crabs.
On the eastern side of the county line, about a quarter of a mile of the causeway our to where the bridge use to be, belongs to Monroe County. Bob and Lou’s were most eastward of the camps. Bob and Lou Harris squatted, then leased on the causeway shortly after WW II circa 1948.
Florida Power and Light ran power out the causeway and Bob and Lou was to last customer on the route – the most southern customer, but there was no public drinking water. They got along as all families did before the pipeline – water cisterns and when needed, or they hauled it in. Many of the residents travel back and forth to Homestead almost daily for various reasons; therefore, bringing water back is no real problem.Another early family were the Kirklands. There were G. D., the father, and his son, Dan, and wife Smitty. The father retired from Western Union and kicked around southern Florida before stumbling on Card Sound. A place was for sale for $1,000 with no property title, but he snapped it up anyway. Eventually, the location became Smitties Place.
Then there is Alabama Jack’s. His real name is Jack Stratham and is from Sumpter County, Georgia, not Alabama. There were several workers named Jack on one of his first jobs and was dubbed “Alabama Jack.” He did not know why but relates it could have been his southern accent and they did not know the difference between Alabama and Georgia. In his real life he was first a riveter working on the Empire State building; then a multi-talented construction worker working on pipelines/refineries through out the world. Jack is married to Alice, who is equally famous for her crab cakes. The photo at the right is of Jack Stratham in a 1971 Miami Herald photo.
Jack and Alice bought the Card Sound lease in 1953 from a Miami plumber. Alabama Jack’s place is just across the county line in Monroe County and still has a lease. His initial intention was for a weekend place and a place to keep his boat. Soon there were seven boats and then an old railroad building as a home. After each hurricane, especially Donna in 1960 and Betsy in 1965, he remodeled with each one a tad bit larger.The new elevated Card Sound Bridge was opened in 1969 providing easier and shorter access for Ocean Reef and the Angler’s Club as well as a second entrance route in and out of the Keys. Also, a huge growth increase of North Key Largo estimated by some to be 100,000 necessitated better access from the mainland. Some of the old bridge approaches had to be used for the new bridge, but Alabama Jack’s as well as most of the fish camps remained.
The need for increased capacity via Card Sound is thought to have been the contributing factor for Dade County code enforcement in 1975 to evict all residents who do not have a current property lease. In June A Country-and-Western musical group, The Shade Trees led by Shade Stevens, performed a fund raising event at the Fred's Barn, owner Howard McQuaid, with over 100 attending raising over $1,000 to help fight the evictions.
Jack died in 1977 shortly after he and Alice moved to Homestead. He was buried near channel marker 27.
One of the later Alabama Jack’s owners was Don Sullivan who instituted a clogging band every weekend. See photo at the right. In 1980, Don sold to Rose Presti and if I am not out of date, I believe Phyllis Sague is the present owner.
Now political pressure is on to build the Card Sound/CR905 highway wider to better serve as an additional route to/from the Keys and especially to augment hurricane evacuation for the ever increasing development in Keys southward. Monroe County is supposed to be able to totally evacuate all residents, guests and tourists in 24 hours, or cease building new places.
Recently (2010) the state of Florida has removed most on it residents base of the sovereign land rights and lack of a general warranty deed. Alabama Jacks did survive and life goes on
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