by Jerry Wilkinson
The history of the Card Sound road began in 1922 when Monroe County
a $300,000 bond issue with an additional $2.5 million in 1926. Dade
cooperated and built a road from Florida City to the Monroe
County wooden Card
bridge. The project was disrupted in late 1926 by a hurricane and the
had to be raised higher off the water as well as its earthen
Everett Shaw Sr. and Jr. worked for the Jenner Construction Company building the road from Card Sound bridge to Islamorada. The building of a road from the mainland was important for Key Largo, as the Florida Land Boom was in progress and vehicle access to land for sale was becoming critical.
The 1920s Florida land boom introduced Key Largo to land development. The North Carolina Fishing Village was the first subdivision in 1923. Lots were laid out and pink sidewalks put in for Key Largo City Gardens (1925), just north of the train depot and Garden Cove. Excursion trains were operated on weekends to bring potential customers to see this new development. More subdivisions quickly followed to the south, such as the Angler's Park (1925), Angler's Shores (1925), Sunset Cove (1925), Mandalay (1927), Seaside (1924-30), Tavernier Cove (1926) and Tavernier Heights (1926). By 1930 there were 26 subdivisions. Very few actual houses were built. By the end of the 1970s there were about 123 subdivisions.
In the Upper Keys, the road was constructed by the Jenner Construction Company. The entire road was completed by 1928. The wooden bridge was taken out in 1945 and not replaced until the 1969.
A circa 1928 Florida Keys Upper Section brochure the following paid business advertisements in Key Largo: Doc. Knowlson's Fishing Lodge, *Key Inn, Capt. J.S. Gerlock, John A. McRae - Realtor, Royal Palm Ice Co., Keys Supply Co. and the Key Largo Store. *Above is an undated postcard of the Key Inn. I would have been a couple of miles north of the CR-905 and US-1 highways intersection on Key Largo. Ed and Fern Butters later sold the business and purchased the Matecumbe Hotel at Islamorada.
One of the historic homes is the European styled Largo Sound Rock Castle. It was a 1920s native coral rock home for New Jersey dentist, Dr. George Engel. The walls are three feet thick at ground level and taper to 16 inches at the top. Upper Keys county commissioner (1940-1942) T. Jenkins Curry had a small house nearby. Both survived the 1935 hurricane even though the downstairs portions were completely flooded. A photo of the castle is at the right showing the Key Largo Lodge at its left.
The mother of local attorney Jeff Gautier purchased the Largo Sound Castle in 1952. It had been vacant since the death of Dr. Engel in 1945 and was sometimes referred to as the "Haunted house on Largo Sound." She remodeled the house and removed the stone parapets along the roof line for safety reasons. A facsimile was later built in Dade County and "The Castle" remains one of the oldest structures in the Upper Keys still standing in its original location. Many tales have been spun about ghosts, etc. about the rock castle and it is located at the foot of Oceana Drive MM 103.5, oceanside.
The big plans for the 1920s community of Key Largo never materialized. As previously mentioned, between 1923 and 1927 there were 26 subdivisions platted, but little actual construction. After 1927 there were no new subdivisions platted and recorded until the 1940s on Key Largo. A category-three hurricane struck the Key Largo area in 1929, with winds estimated at 150 miles per hour and tides up to 8.8 feet in the Garden Cove area.
Key Largo resumed its citrus economy, with the bust of the Florida Land Boom. Key limes and grapefruit were the principal products. Perhaps the largest single packing house was the Chapman packing house immediately north of the Key Largo depot. The introduction of the Persian lime on the mainland doomed the key lime as a Keys commercial product. Throughout the Keys, visitors started to become the most important product and charter fishing would become an industry onto itself, as an element of increased tourism.
With the destruction of 40 miles of railroad in the hurricane of September 1935, the railroad was not rebuilt and ceased operations. The early Key Largo post office was discontinued on March 15, 1936 and mail responsibilities transferred to Rock Harbor. Most new building moved south toward Rock Harbor, now included in the area of present-day Key Largo.
This action gave a Rock Harbor address to everyone on Key Largo Key living north of Tavernier. And once again, the community of Key Largo had no definable center or identity. The old Rock Harbor Post Office, a small building located at mile marker 100, was recently demolished in 1993, quietly erasing another small piece of Key's history.
In 1939 Miami Beach developer Carl Fisher began constructing the
Club, but failing health precluded him attending the January 1940
opening. Tom Hanley was the early operator of the club and lived in a
huge-modern concrete house just south of club. From all indications
based on the writings of John Huston, he and Richard Brooks leased the
club to write the screen script of the movie Key Largo
based on Maxwell Anderson's Broadway play. They returned to
Warner Studios and built the set for the filming in Burbank California.
The Pacific Coast
Highway was used for the highway shots. There is no documentation that any of
the footage was shot outside of California. A large highway
sign was installed indicating it was the "Birthplace of the movie Key
Largo' - which it was as the script was written there. The 1948 movie
Largo" gave the name Key Largo
popularity. Tom Hanley leased
the club in the early 1960's and when he opened Hanley's Place in
Marathon. His manager, Ziggy Stocki followed him to Marathon, later
to return to operate the restaurant at the Olney Inn (Now the Cheeca
purchasing Penn Pendleton's Islamorada restaurant - The Conch
Restaurant. A 1955 fire in the hotel portion of the club took the life
of a Miami woman allegedly in the room of a Long Island doctor and
an investigation. Ruth Whitehorse purchased the club from Richard
in 1962 and has operated the club to present. For more details, Click Here.
One peculiar situation at the time was when dredging the most eastward
canal of Port Largo, a relatively large breakwater was build to shield
canals from ocean waves. Well, sometime in the later 1960's, it was
decided to make the
breakwater into a landing strip for small airplanes - a private
airport. Monroe County did
not have in its books a zoning description for private airports;
therefore, it assigned 'residential' as the zoning. Time passed and
fueling facilities were added at the eastern end. After pilots
became accustomed to 95% of takeoff and landing being crosswind -plus
the shortness of the surface, all went well. In 1979, a company named
The New Port Largo Inc. bought the property zoned residential to build
waterfront residential buildings. Monroe County created an airport
zoning code and changed it based on the property had been designated as
an airport. After several years, New Port Largo sued, prevailed and
built a closed gated community. Then in 1988, New Port Largo sued again
for $20,000,000 for damages, losses and legal costs. Federal courts
concurred that the county acted reasonably. The U.S. Supreme Court
overturned the federal court's decisions and agreed with the Plaintiffs
- private homes replaced the airport.
Now we must step back in time further than usual. The movie "Key Largo"
occurred during the tenure of George Brown as the
Rock Harbor postmaster. Local businessmen wanted to capitalize on the
popularity of Key Largo, but there was not even a Key Largo mailing
In 1952, the name of the Rock Harbor Post Office was arbitrarily
to the Key Largo Post Office. Nothing really changed except the post
sign and the cancellation stamp. The effect was to combine Key Largo,
Harbor, the Ocean Reef Club, the Angler's Club and Newport into one
community, and everybody north of Tavernier had Key Largo as a new
Outgoing letters were postmarked Rock Harbor on May 31, 1952 and Key
on June 1, 1952. It was then that the name of Key Largo as a community,
not as an island, was resurrected.
In the mid 1950s the The Homestead
Leader began publishing a weekly Keys section in its newspaper.
A significant change was experienced in the late 60s or the 1970s. The
Upper Keys did not have any banking institution until the First Federal
Saving & Loan opened in the Port Largo Plaza. In 1972 a reasonably
well used small landing strip opened using the breakwater of the Port
Largo subdivision. Then in 1977 the Florida Keys First State Bank
opened where it remains today - 2004.
As a significant portion of west Monroe County property was taken for the park, the county prevailed in placing the east park boundary just west of Key Largo and Cross Key. In 1946 the Park Commission was re-activated with The Miami Herald's associate editor John Pennekamp as its leader. The park was dedicated by President Truman on December 6, 1947. In 1956 "No Spear Fishing" signs appeared north of Long Key.
The year 1956 also marked the start of the construction of the Cross Key Waterway, or the Key Largo Waterway, as it was then known. Today, most simply call it "The Cut." Marvin D. Adams had purchased 50 acres of land in the narrowest part of the island of Key Largo. Barney Waldin had invented a side mounted coral cutting machine and agreed to excavate 'The Cut' for the coral fill material. Both canal ends and the highway/utility portion were left untouched. Barney excavated the 100-foot wide 40-foot deep plugged canal in a year and a half. Some time passed before 'The Cut' was completed due to permits, highway and utility bypasses, and reconstruction. It opened in 1963 for maritime traffic and technically Key Largo became two islands.
In 1959 Governor Leroy Collins gave the Coral Reef Preserve control of
the ocean bottom out to the three-mile limit. On December 10, 1960 at
Harris Park Governor Collins named the preserve the "John Pennekamp
Reef State Park. One problem was not a single inch for a land base
--a totally underwater state park. Through John Pennekamp's efforts the
Crane family donated 74 acres for a land base. The problems were not
as not an inch of the 74 acres had vehicular access to U.S.1. Enter
and Donna Shaw who donated a 60-foot strip of land from U.S. 1 to the
As another 'small' donation, the Crane family donated the entire Julia
with three miles of oceanfront to the park. With control of Julia
South and North Creeks were dredged deeper to provide reasonable access
to and from
Florida Bay, via the now Marvin D. Adams Waterway. The Adams Waterway
Pennekamp have separate web pages.
The 1926 original Key Largo community was considered to be about four linear miles, as opposed to today's Key Largo spanning about 24 miles from Ocean Reef to Tavernier's approximately defined border at MM 96.
Go to John Pennekamp State Park
Go to Rock Harbor
Go to Tavernier