Biography of Jerry Wilkinson
By Jerry Wilkinson

September 10, 2005

Jerry Sparkman Wilkinson is a fourth generation Floridian born and, raised on a farm in Winston, which is just west of Lakeland, Florida. His maternal great-great-grandfather, Bethel Hankins moved to Madison, Florida bringing his slaves as part of the family from South Carolina in 1852. His paternal family, Joseph Andrew Wilkinson, moved to Hypoluxo Florida also in the middle 1800's. His parents of the Hankins and Wilkinsons were joined in Fort Pierce, Florida.

He attended Webster Avenue Grammar School and Lakeland High School. His father died in 1944, the family farm was sold and his mother moved to Tampa, Florida to live with her sisters. Jerry quit high school and attended a technical school for welding. After working as a welder in the St. Johns Shipyard in Jacksonville, Florida, he purchased and operated a portable roller skating rink, moving it to many towns throughout Florida. Some of these towns were Gainesville, Lake City, Fort Meade, Mulberry, Winter Haven, Dade City, Wildwood, Haines City and Inverness.

He moved to Key West after the second hurricane of 1947, but joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in April, 1948. He served in the Air Force as a Drill Instructor, Electronics Instructor, Technical Writer and Superintendent of Ground Electronics for 24 years.

Upon retirement, he operated several automatic full-service car washes in the Miami, Florida area until the primary property was taken for the construction of the South Miami metro rail station. He met and married Mary Lou Pierce of Coral Gables, Florida while in Miami.

      After the eminent domain of the car washes in 1978, they traveled teaching windsurfing in Key Largo in the winters, guided river rafting tours on the upper Colorado River in the summers and attended Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana, California for the fall semesters of the following 10 years.

In 1988, they purchased a 1958 ocean-side fixer‑upper house next to Harry Harris Park in Tavernier, Florida which he and his wife, Mary Lou, are restoring. Living in the outskirts of the old Key Largo 1880 community of Planter, he became involved is trying to preserve a portion of the community from demolition and new construction. During this time, he collected and summarized Keys history for various newspapers and magazines in the Florida Keys and served as president of the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys (HPSUK) to present.

Finding little Upper Keys historical documentation in the Upper Keys, he began to travel throughout the southeastern U.S. each summer. He copied printed material and photographs on any and all Upper Keys related material. When not traveling and using the bibliographies of copied materials, material was purchased from the National Archives, Library of Congress and south Florida libraries.

Although all facets of Upper Keys history were of interest, the history of Indian Key, the Key West extension, Overseas Highway, censuses, photographs and hurricanes were of special interest. Through his research of the Florida East Coast Railway System, he made the acquaintance of William Krome, son of the FECRwy construction engineer, who resided in Homestead, Florida. Days were spent interviewing Mr. Krome who generously gave of his time. Next, he met John (Jack) Krome of Norfolk, Virginia while vacationing with his brother William. An agreement vas made with the Krome families to compile, copy, bind and disseminate to agencies interested in providing the public with access to the information.

Many interviews of the 1935 Hurricane survivors and collecting of images were made and he assisted in four documentaries for television. Other TV documentaries were, the Overseas Highway, wreck of the slave ship Guerrero and the William Matheson house on Lignum Vitae Key.  He wrote weekly and special newspaper articles for local newspapers. Four of the newspaper series were A Bit of Keys History, Mile Markers, Key Largo Times and Celebrating Our Past.

In the interest to preserve and disseminate his collected information in 1997 he undertook the publication of a 16-page Upper Keys history quarterly (History Talk of the Upper Florida Keys) under the auspices of the HPSUK.

     In 1999 he studied the computer language of html and produced the present web site: or .com.


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