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Florida Guide > Other Florida

We know that the island of Indian Key was occupied for many thousands of years by the Indians until the invasion by the Spanish in the times of Ponce De Leon. After then, very few Indians remained.

De Leon discovered a quick exit route by way of the straits of Florida which proved to be very useful.

This was used by the Spanish ships to escape with their booty of artefacts plundered from the Aztek, Maya and Inca Empires However, these were dangerous waters due to a combination of the coral reefs and the ever present threat of hurricanes and many of their lumbering ships ran aground.

Some Calusa Indians still lived on the islands and they benefitted from looting the wrecked ships. The English were briefly in occupation in the 1870s by which time the Indians had departed and fishermen took over the plundering of the wrecks. They were swiftly joined by pirates who added an extra element of danger to the fleeing Spanish vessels.

The wrecking, as it was known, was taken over by Americans in the 1820s and finally a man called Jacob Houseman came on the scene. He built a wrecking station and came wealthy on the proceeds. In 1831 he bought the island and began a program of building houses, hotels, a general store and wharves. At one time, it is recorded that 50 people lived here.

It was he who created Dade County in 1836 and he made Indian Key its Count Seat.

Dr Henry Perrine was another important part of Indian Keys history; he moved here in the 1830s and as a keen botanist started the planting of tropical plants, bananas, mangoes and coffee. Sadly , a gang of 100 marauding Indians attacked the island and destroyed it; some of the residents were killed, amongst them was Dr Perrine. You can still see evidence of his work today since tropical plants that he planted sprawl amongst the ruins

A combination of lost court cases, the outbreak of the Seminole war and losing his wrecking licence, meant that Jacob lost his money and had to remortgage his island. After the invasion, Houseman sold the island and went to live in Key West. Only a few of the previous residents returned and by the turn of the twentieth century it was completely uninhabited.

Houseman died as he lived; crushed between two vessels during salvage operation in 1841. He was a man who was known to be involved in illegal practices and shady deals; however, he will always have an important part to play in the history of this interesting island.

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Page added on: 5 February 2008
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