By Jerry Wilkinson
Early Spanish charts show Long Key as Cayo Vivora or Bivora, which meant
Viper Key, a name it kept for a long time. The Blunt chart of 1864 named
it Long Island that eventually became Long Key.
Long Key was one of the Keys requested as a military reservation by the War Department 1845. It reverted to public domain in 1879. Between 1880 and 1885, brothers Thomas and Edward Hines, and Samuel Filer purchased most of the island. Large stands of coconut trees were planted on the southern end. During the days of the sailing ships, the fiber of the coconut husk made the most preferable anchor lines, as they would stretch considerably before breaking.
A 1905 Florida East Coast Railway survey chart shows two coconut groves on the southwest end of the island and the proposed railroad centerline passing between the two groves.
Construction had just started on the Long Key railway viaduct when the hurricane of 1906 struck Long Key on October 17. Principal F.E.C. Engineer William J. Krome wrote to his father: ". . . At Knights Key I learned the appalling fact that one of the big quarterboats at Long Key had been swept out to sea with 150 men on board and nothing had been seen of it since. At Long Key, men had been at work on our first concrete viaduct and had an immense plant. The men had been housed in two quarterboats. These boats were big Mississippi River tie barges with houses on top of them. The barges themselves rode about 12 feet out of the water and the hulls were used as kitchens and dining-rooms . . ."
Both boats had broken loose from their moorings. Boat number 3 washed onto the island, but boat number 4 floated toward the Gulf Stream with 150 men aboard. One of the men aboard was engineer Dusenbury, who had dredged Dusenbury Creek in Blackwater Sound. Krome wrote: "Dusenbury himself was badly bruised but not seriously injured. His story was that they drifted in a southeasterly direction across Hawk's Channel until they reached the outer reef. There the dragging anchors caught for a moment or two but soon gave way, letting the boat drift out into the ocean. She soon began to go to pieces . . . . In all, 83 men have been saved from the 150 on the quarterboat." Two others aboard were the father and grandfather of Barney Waldin who dredged "The Cut" across Key Largo.
In an untitled November 20, 1906 newspaper clipping: "Immense quantities of lumber are now being shipped to Long, Knight's and Lower Matecumbe Keys, the majority of which is to be used in building living quarters for the workmen on the land." The F.E.C. Railway had learned to respect hurricanes and to relinquish houseboats for living quarters in the hurricane season. Quarterboats continued to be used for the bridge construction crews, but evacuated during hurricanes.
The next clipping is dated almost three months later, on February 13, 1907: "Mr. Rue is in charge of the construction from Long Key to Lower Matecumbe." The next month on March 12 the following clipping appeared: "The greatest activity is centered at Long Key and the lower end of Upper Matecumbe Key, though there is much building and construction at other points with trains now running to Tavernier and Snake Creek. The operations at Lower Matecumbe are designed to make that a central distribution point." It appears that major construction of the Long Key viaduct was delayed until construction tracks were completed to Lower Matecumbe, which had become the central supply depot for the F.E.C.
Continuing chronologically with newspaper clippings, The Miami Metropolis reported on October 22, 1907: "The construction train, consisting of an engine and several cars rolled into the lower end of Long Key where is to be the approach to the Long Key viaduct."
On January 20, 1908: "At 1:30 Saturday afternoon the first engine and cars
of the F.E.C. Railway in its extension to Key West, passed over the viaduct
and proceeded to within a short distance of Knight's Key, which is to be
the present terminal of the railroad." Knight's Key opened on February
4, 1908 with trains leaving Miami at 6:30 and 11:00 A.M. and returning
from Knight's Key the next day at 5:40 and 10:00 A.M.
A Key West Citizen newspaper clipping dated August 5, 1909 reads: "We have tips from good authority that Long Key Fishing Camp is going to be crowded this winter. It is one of the most attractive places along the line; contains a two-story hotel and about 30 neat little cottages." Again, on February 18, 1910, the Key West Citizen reported: " Things are humming at the Long Key Fishing Camp. Mackerel and king fish are plentiful; so are the tourists." "The winter vacation is now the thing. Every physician advises it. Every man and woman who can afford it takes it." So stated Leslie's Weekly, January 20, 1910, in regard to the Long Key Fishing Camp.
Long Key gained national prominence through its championing by author Zane Grey, who was a regular resident. Someone can check this, but I believe that Grey was America's first millionaire writer. Grey was a dentist who turned cowboy and became a prolific writer. During the winter of 1911, Grey vacationed at Long Key while writing his novel "The Light of the Western Stars." King fishing was the popular sport fishing in those times and the sailfish was considered a nuisance as it would steal the bait used for kingfish. In fact, the sailfish was dubbed "boohoo."
Zane Grey, along with a local fishing guide named Bill Partrea, would spend their days fishing. It is not known why Grey took to boohoo fishing, but he did, and on light tackle. Year after year, Grey, and his brother R. C, returned to Long Key. With the support of other fishermen, sail fishing became the sport of sports for Florida Keys fishing enthusiasts. There is still a creek on Long Key known as Zane Grey Creek.
Among Long Key amenities were a 75-room guest hotel, general store, a post office and 14 cottages. Normally, a fleet of 12 fishing boats and guides were available. The two-story clubhouse and cottages were on the Atlantic side, but the boats were generally docked on the Gulf side.
Guests arrived by boat or train. A tram passed under the track to connect the two sides. The guest list included Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Andrew Mellon, William Hearst, Charles Kettering, and other notables. Louis P. Schutt was the first manager. When L.P. became the manager of the Casa Marina Hotel in Key West, his son George, took over as manager at Long Key.
The Long Key Fishing Club was officially formed with Zane Grey as the first president from March 1917 to 1920. The stated purpose was, "To Develop the Best and Finest Traits of Sport, To Restrict the Killing of Fish, To Educate the Inexperienced Angler by Helping Him, And To Promote Good Fellowship." For example, the club membership in 1929 was 133, and included President Herbert Hoover as an honorable member. Henry Fisher of New York City was the president. The season was from December 14 to April 15. The club was discontinued in 1935 and later reorganized by Del Layton in 1969.
Perhaps one of the first Upper Keys fishing tournaments began when Zane Grey presented annual gold awards. The first awards were for the longest sailfish caught on 9-thread line, the largest bonefish caught on 6-thread line and to the lady who caught the largest kingfish on 12-thread line. Zane's brother R. C. donated a rod for the largest sailfish caught over 60 pounds on a 6-ounce tip and 12-thread line. Buttons were also awarded for various catches. The list of awards grew and included bronze for tarpon over 100 pounds, silver over 130 pounds and gold over 160 pounds; bronze for sailfish over 40 pounds, silver over 55 pounds and gold over 65 pounds. Many exacting rules and equipment limitations were in effect.
The 1935 hurricane destroyed all but the memory. A few pictures, mostly postcards, of this getaway for the rich and famous remain, but history, as time, must move on. A Miami grocery couple, Mary and Del Layton, had ridden the train throughout the Keys before the hurricane. After World War II, they purchased a portion of Grassy Key, but Del really had his heart set on Long Key. It wasn't long before 40 acres on Long Key became available. As he approached age 40, he took the 40 acres. From then on, it was less-and-less of Miami and more-and-more of Long Key for the Laytons.
With surplus Army barracks bought from Camp Blanding and the help of a friend, Del set up the Long Key Construction Company in 1946. First it was a fishing camp, then cabins and a restaurant, followed by more acreage. All were to be become "Layton's Long Key Fishing Camp." Layton was incorporated on September 18, 1963. The Long Key Fishing Club was reactivated on July 22, 1969. An excellent, comprehensive description of Layton was written by its builder. The title is Pioneer in the Keys, and is available in most libraries.
The thousand-acre Long Key State Park was dedicated October 1, 1969.
Just southwest of Long Key is Conch Key, an island of about 16 acres. Frank Coward became its first permanent inhabitant purchasing it in 1945. The story goes that Frank needed a place to build a sailboat. He was already a boat designer, so he set about building ways, a large frame building and a place to live. He was in no rush. Soon Bill Hunt and wife joined him as a resident. Then came Dale Doolittle, Mac and Anne, Tiny and others. Along came another former boat builder, Charlie Leiby, whom Frank employed to finish the job. In early 1955, Frank launched his 44-foot ketch - a dream come true.
As a footnote and not exactly pertinent to the Upper Keys, Crainlyn, on Grassy Key, opened a post office effective August 26, 1908 with Julius W. Taylor as its postmaster. In March 1908, it was known as the Grassy Key Resort. George Crain owned about 500 acres and had laid it out to be a community with the railroad passing through its center. A 16-room hotel, Taylor's store and workmen's quarters occupied the site.
The hotel burned in September 1908, and a new Ocean Beach Hotel Company was incorporated in 1909. Officers were: Dr. J. N. Fogarty, President; Edward Crain, Vice-President and General Manager; William H. Malone, Jr., Secretary; and Frank J. M. Roberts, Treasurer. The post office closed June 30, 1914 and transferred its responsibility to Long Keys' post office. One can safely assume the demise of Crainlyn, as little has been heard of Crainlyn since. The Crain name appears in various places on Grassy Key.
Short-lived communities that had a post office like Crainlyn were relatively
rare in the Keys. Another example was on Sugarloaf Key. Charles "Pete"
Chase established a post office on April 24, 1912 to support his Florida
Keys Sponge and Fruit Co. He built the small community of Chase, Florida
to artificially cultivate sponges. He experienced the typical growing pains
of the early Keys - shortage of fresh water, labor, materials and finances.
The demise began when he tried to lure Carl Fisher, the developer of Miami
Beach, to Key West reversed. Fisher then hired Chase to move to Miami and
help him develop Miami Beach. The Chase post office closed in 1918. Richter
Perky purchased the Chase assets, built a lodge and bat tower. The post
office reopened as Perky, Florida in 1929. See The Florida Keys
by John Viele for more on Chase and Perky. After his death in 1940, Perky,
like Crainlyn and Chase, fell into relative obscurity.