By Jerry Wilkinson

      Post offices are important, not only to facilitate communication, but also to establish the name by which an unincorporated community's identity is carried through time. Using Planter on Key Largo as an example, the first line on the U.S. Postal proposal form dated November 10, 1891 was, "The proposed post office is to be called: Planter." Benjamin Franklin is generally called the father of the American postal service, as he was the first Postmaster General under the 1775 Continental Congress. Congress established the Post Office Department as a branch of the Treasury Department in 1789.

     Monroe County came into existence on July 3, 1823. Key West was incorporated in 1828. The first Monroe County post office was opened in February 1829, in a building on the corner of Caroline and Front Streets in Key West. Rural delivery for most parts of the Upper Keys began in July 1961. Now we will consider the Upper Keys post offices.


     Indian Key was not far behind Key West in time when its post office was established on May 21, 1833 with Silas Fletcher as postmaster. Fletcher was followed by Henry Waterhouse on April 19, 1834 and Charles Howe on February 9, 1835. In 1836, Indian Key became the seat of Dade County. Following the 1840 Indian massacre, on March 15, 1842, John Marshall was appointed postmaster and in September of the same year, Luther Hopkins was the postmaster. The post office was discontinued on May 29, 1843.

     Postal research records generally use four verbs in referring to post offices. Establish means one had never been there before. Re-establish means to re-open a previous post office location. Changed from means a name change for an existing post office, or delivery changed to another location. Discontinued means to close.

     A post office was not re-established until November 1, 1850 with William Hillard as postmaster. It appears that he served until it was discontinued again on August 5, 1872 and it is not clear of the specific use of the island during this time. According to the 1870 census it was mostly marine use and farming.

     This was not the end, however, as the Alligator Reef Lighthouse was pre-assembled on Indian Key in 1873 and the post office was re-established with E. Ware as postmaster on March 11, 1873, but again discontinued November 20 of the same year. Once again, the post office re-established with William H. Bethel as postmaster on May 5, 1880 and discontinued again on September 21, 1880. Some may wonder why a post office was needed, but Indian Key was a bustling little community. Three known schooners (Emma, Euphemia and Clyde) were built in the 1870 and 1880 period. Officially, 1880 appears to be the death of the Indian Key post offices; however, once each year stamps are canceled during the Indian Key Festival.


     Sailboats provided the first mail service for the Keys. The 10-ton sailing ship Post Boy was awarded the first mail delivery contract and made round trips between Charleston and Key West. Her service was described as "regular irregularity" taking about two months for a round trip. A Key West attorney, William Hackley, in 1831 received two letters from his mother mailed one year previously from Virginia.

     In 1848, the 1,100-ton, side-wheeler steamship Isabel began making semi-monthly mail runs and service was fairly reliable until the Civil War. Service reverted back and forth with sail and other boats until the railroad.

     Our own early settlement of Planter on the south end of Key Largo was approved for a post office on December 23, 1891 with John Wesley Johnson (son of patriarch Mr. Sam) as postmaster. See the 1906 photo at the top of the page. The big, steam side-wheeler, now the City of Key West, could not go safely into the shallow waters of the Planter harbor, so John drove a wooden piling in deep water on which he attached two mail bag hangers - one for incoming and one for outgoing mail.

    Daily he would place the mailbag on the piling and pick up a mailbag from either Key West or Coconut Grove, depending on which way the ship was traveling. This was effectively two-day mail service, which was not bad for a pineapple community. Presumably, the hurricanes of 1909 and 1910 did enough damage to the community that the Planter post office closed on October 15, 1910. Two other factors probably effected the closing of the post office. One is a pineapple blight reduced the pineapple production. Two is the railroad began daily service to the Upper Keys in 1908 and its location on the other side of the island could have attracted families to move away from coast to be near this new activity.  Some combination of the three seemed to doom the Johnson location of the post office. This left the southern end of the island of Key Largo without local mail service.
Mail service was changed to Islamorada which had had mail service by railroad since 1908.


     In 1908, Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad brought semi-reliable mail service to all the Upper Keys. The same year Islamorada established its first post office. The first official post office application for Islamorada that I could find was made by Elsie M. Rue. Islamorada had a population of 150-200 at that time. John H. Russell had been appointed postmaster before this on June 1, 1908. Elsie M. Rue was appointed postmaster on October 21, 1908 and John A. Russell appointed on June 2, 1909.

     When Bernard Russell's father, John A. Russell, became postmaster in 1909 he built a wooden post office building near the train depot. Later, this building was moved behind the depot and fronting the highway.  In 1926 he began building a coral-rock post office building. Attached on the south end was a store, restaurant and gas station. The old concrete foundation for the post office is still there just behind the present "Marine Bank (1999)" and south of the present post office at mile marker 82.8, oceanside. No photo survives of this post office, so its replacement after the 1935 Hurricane is shown.  This is now (1999) Marty's TV. 

     That post office was destroyed in the 1935 hurricane. John A. Russell quickly built a wooden post office building on the lot of his future Red Cross house. Later, John’s brother, James Clifton Russell, built a post office building used by Marty’s TV (1999).

      After the 1935 hurricane destroyed much of the Upper Keys, a joint venture between the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) undertook to build concrete homes for a total of 28 families -19 in Islamorada, 7 on Plantation Key and 2 in Tavernier. A tapered two-foot deep foundation was chiseled into caprock and filled with concrete and steel re-enforcement rods (re-bar) to anchor the bottom of a concrete cistern. Twelve-inch concrete stem-walls were poured on top of the cistern bottom and a concrete floor was poured. Again, twelve-inch outside walls and a concrete roof was constructed. One, two, three, four and five bedroom houses were built. One wooden house was also built and three businesses were replaced with wooden structures.

      Bernard's uncle, James Clifton Russell, became the next postmaster when Bernard's father retired in 1937. Clifton built a concrete post office on his lot south of his brother's on the highway at mile marker 83.2 oceanside, where Marty's TV Store is located in 1996. John A. Russell sold and moved the older wooden structure that was in front of his Red Cross house to mile marker 82 oceanside where it is presently used as the Keys Shell Shop. Clifton remained the postmaster until he retired in 1967 to end 59 years of postal service for the Russell family.Under Clifton's management rural mail delivery was established in the early 1950's.

       During Clifiton's service rural delivery service (RFD) began on July 9, 1961. In the Upper Keys we did not have street addresses; therefore, the postmasters had to assign street addresses. Key Largo was next and then Tavernier.

      Jenevieve Stout became postmaster after James Clifton Russell retired. The present Islamorada post office was dedicated in 1970. It was built just a few feet north of where John Russell built the small wooden post office in 1909.


     The Planter post office had served the southern Key Largo and probably part of Plantation Key areas until it was discontinued in 1910. Islamorada then served these areas until March 9, 1911, when Daniel W. Riley became the first postmaster of a post office named Tavernier. However, Mr. Riley lasted only 22 days when he resigned and Islamorada once again assumed postal responsibility of southern Key Largo, Plantation and Windley Keys as well as Upper Matecumbe Key.

      On January 21, 1916, Merlin Albury, son of William and Ada Albury, re-established the Tavernier post office and the name and post office continues today. Merlin's post office building no longer exists, but it was near the next post office discussed which does exist today (2006). It was in one corner of a packing house and back about halfway from the highway to the ocean. Joanne (McKenzie) Leonberger recalls the train station being almost in front of the post office at mile marker 91.8 oceanside. 

      Merlin continued as the Tavernier postmaster for ten years until his brother, Robert Harold Albury succeeded him, on July 31, 1926. Harold Albury built a two-story frame building in 1926 that still remains at about mile marker 91.8, oceanside. The first floor served as the post office and store, and the Alburys lived on the second floor.

      On April 1, 1953, Merlin and Harold's nephew, Paul Everett Albury, assumed the position as the Tavernier postmaster. Everett said, "I turned down the job the first time, but I took the job after my uncle Robert asked me to reconsider." Rural postal delivery began for the Tavernier postal area about 1960.

      The post office remained in the two-story frame building until 1961, when it was moved across the highway in a leased small concrete building at mile marker 91.9 bayside. Everett Albury retired May 13, 1983, ending 57 years of Albury reign over the Tavernier post office. In 1999 it moved again to another leased location in the Tavernier Towne Shopping Center.

      There was a rural post office station established on Plantation Key in 1962 known as Vacation Village. It is believed to have operated in the small building just inside the northern gate of the Futura Yacht Club at mile marker 88.5. Rural stations are shown as RS and are a satellite, and usually temporary, to a parent post office.


      Up to this point, the post office history has been relatively simple, but this changes as we move north on Key Largo Key, in fact everywhere on the island of Key Largo except Planter (Tavernier). The first post office of record that I find was 'Cayo Largo' officially opening June 14, 1870 with Ben Baker as postmaster. Ben Baker eventually homesteaded 160 acres in the mile marker 97 area in 1882. However, he was a wrecker ascribed to using his homestead on Key Largo as a lookout for shipwrecks in Hawk Channel and starting the pineapple industry in the Upper Keys. The post office was discontinued October 10, 1871. Ben Baker was acknowledged as 'King of the Wreckers;' however, he also was a principal operator in the pineapple industry.

      A post office named 'Largo' was re-established by Menendez Johnson on March 1, 1881, discontinued, then re-established by Johnson in 1883. Menendez Johnson homesteaded 260 acres in the mile marker 102/103 area in 1883 and 1884.

     When rail service began in the Upper Keys in 1908 there was a little Jewfish, Florida railroad flagstop at the Jewfish Creek Railroad Bridge for the bridge tender. A simple notation on a National Archive record is all that shows that James Clark was appointed postmaster on May 7, 1908. As this location was practically inaccessible because of Lake Surprise, the Jewfish post office location was moved to the new Key Largo depot area on February 8, 1912, with David Sasser as postmaster. The post office name, however, remained Jewfish, Florida. The post office was located in the various postmasters' homes. The Key Largo train depot was located just north of the St. Justin Martyr Church at mile marker 105.6 and in the U.S. 1 highway median strip. Subsequent Jewfish postmasters are listed as Barney Stephen (1913), William Jeffords (1919) and William Ruedel (1920).

      On April 18, 1921, the name of the post office was changed to Key Largo by Wilbur Lofton. The application stated that it was 125 feet from the depot. Lillian Sexton assumed the position as postmaster on November 15, 1921, but it remained in the same area. From Mrs. Alice Shaw's diary, we substantiate that the Key Largo train station and post office were located just north of the Catholic church. Mrs. Shaw's husband, Everett, worked for Charles Sexton from 1925 to 1927. A Shaw photo shows the post office sign on the end of the Key Largo Hotel.

     The Key Largo post office was discontinued in 1936 and the Rock Harbor post office was responsible for all of central and north Key Largo. Evidently, there were two post offices in central Key Largo until they were combined into a single Rock Harbor post office in 1936.


     Let's go back to 1914 in time and farther south in distance to a small building in the area where Bill Markey's Marine is located (mile marker 98.5). This is where the Rock Harbor train depot was located and where Lucille Cribb became the first postmaster of Rock Harbor on June 7, 1915.

      William Cline was the second Rock Harbor postmaster and Lillian Pinder was the third in 1924. Lillian had come up from Key West in 1915 to be a schoolteacher in the Largo Sound area, married John Pinder and had moved to Rock Harbor.

      Mrs. Emma Sawyer was the next Rock Harbor postmaster and continued until late 1929, when daughter Alberta (Sawyer) Albury was about to be born. Alberta believes that all these early Rock Harbor post offices were near the Beauregard Albury house (just north of Bill Markey's Marine), because the railroad station was located there. The outgoing mailbags were hung on hooks because the train did not stop if there were no passengers. Incoming mail was more or less kicked out of the train's door.

      Mrs. Malsie Garrett took over as postmaster from Mrs. Sawyer and her post office was in the four-story wooden C. O. Garrett Observatory building in the same general area. We have a 1932 picture of this post office.

      Mrs. John Curry (Lester Curry's mother) assumed the postmaster role in 1936, in their store at mile marker 100 ocean side, which was recently torn down. By then the 1935 hurricane had destroyed the railroad, so the mail was moved by truck and the post office no longer had to be located near the train station. The building was torn down in 1993 to make room for a gas station.


      Mr. George Brown became the postmaster in November 1941 and he moved the post office to about where the NAPA Auto Parts store is now (1995) at mile marker 99.5. Until then, these have all been known as Rock Harbor post offices. For Rock Harbor customers rural postal delivery began in the early 1950's. In 1952, in order to take advantage of the publicity of the 1948 movie Key Largo, local businessmen had the Rock Harbor post office name changed to "Key Largo." Outgoing letters were postmarked as Rock Harbor on May 31, 1952 and Key Largo on June 1, 1952 -the next day.  CLICK HERE to see the Rock Harbor Post Office. 

     Mr. Brown remained postmaster until 1961, when Mrs. Mable Wolf was appointed postmaster. In 1961, the "Key Largo" post office was moved to the Port Largo Plaza and Mrs. Daisy Wright became the postmaster after Mrs. Wolf retired in 1970. See top photo.

     On October 2, 1961, Key Largo opened one of the few Keys rural stations at mile marker 103, bayside. It was opened in the present Dockside Realty and Dr. Price Veterinary Building and closed ten years later. It was intended primarily to serve the additional workload created by the developing of the Ocean Reef Club.

     The Key Largo post office moved to its present location in 1982. 


      Louis Schutt, the Long Key Fishing Camp's first manager, was also the first postmaster of the Long Key Post Office. He was appointed December 20, 1908. He was followed by Ella Scribner, John Scribner and James Duane. The 1935 Hurricane destroyed everything, therefore the post office closed. Mail responsibility was taken over by Marathon.

      Long Key residents also had the choice of going to Craig as Mrs. Dorothy Craig established a post office there February 17, 1933. It too was destroyed in September 1935 and closed. Roland Craig re-established the post office on July 11, 1936 and William Picketon assumed duties on August 16, 1940. (I believe Roland went into the Coast Guard.) In January 1946 Roland Craig once again became postmaster until 1962. The small community of Craig was more or less destroyed by Hurricane Donna in 1960. At this time Delbert Layton took over the post office and its name was changed to Long Key. Del Layton developed and incorporated the city of Layton, Florida. Del resigned in 1966 and the post office continues.

      The post office boundaries and their corresponding ZIP codes, telephone prefixes or local usage tend to continue to establish the name of the community in which one lives. 

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