Welcome to the Natural History of
- Sponges -
By Jerry Wilkinson
From the first settling of the
United States sponges were generally shipped in from the Mediterrean.
the mid-1800s, sponges were shipped from the Bahamas and as a trial a
was sent to Key West and its use was acceptable.
It was not long before the
snow-balled and grew to a $750,000 per year and 140 ships. Many were
in the the Gulf coasts; however the local Keys sponges were considered
a better sponge. The Keys spongers typically used a sponge hook,
looks more like a narrow rake, limiting themselves to shallow water.
author's artifact is shown below. They measure about 5 inches across so
as to be used as an measuring device.
In the early 1900s, Greek
divers at Tarpon
Springs, Florida began harvesting from the deeper waters expanding the
industry into deep water. It also took the so-called headquarters away
from Key West.
Above is shown the Sponge
in Key West which was at the lower end of Elizabeth Street.
Sponges have survived various
algae blooms and the human invasion. The wool sponge blight in the
( a diseased sponge shown above) practically destroyed the species.
The Chase brothers, Charles
George, from England built the Florida Keys Sponge and Fruit Company
& F. Co.) on Upper Sugarloaf Key circa 1910 to experiment in the
of the sponge. The disk manufacturing building is shown above decorated
for the arrival of Henry Flagler. The photos are from the Monroe County
Public Library and were donated by George Cecil Bate, descendant of a
major stock holder, Henry Bate.
The disks were made
with a hole in the center to pass a wire to attach the sponge cuttings.
The author's artifact is shown above.
Above is shown a team cutting
sponges into cuttings to be attached to the concrete disks.
After attaching a cutting to
disk, they were taken out and "planted." Depending on the species it
take as long as three to four years before harvesting. Pouchers would
harvest the sponges before Chase. Chase never sold a shipment other
Above is shown three
of Chesley Albury of the Tavernier in March 1964. That year he sold his
sponges wholesale at an average of $0.35 apiece in Miami.
Today, the three
for commercial use from over a 100 total species are the grass, wool
yellow. Year 2000 Florida state records show that of the approximately
670,000 sponges taken yearly come from Monroe County.
The town of Chase had
and railroad depot. It population was about 100. When World War I broke
out the supply of money from England was cut off and the property sold
to Richter Perky, whose principal memorial is the Perky Bat Tower. The
community was located in between the highway and the bat tower.
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