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Florida Guide > State Parks

Windley Key Fossil Reef: A history

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park is situated quite close to Islamorada at m. m. 85. 5 on Windley Key.

The rubbish tips known as middens reveal that this area was occupied by various Native American groups in times gone by.

In the mid nineteenth century, a Conch family called Russell moved here and created a homestead that we now know as Windley; back then it was called Umbrella Key.

We move right on to the early 20th century when the Russell family were paid the princely sum of $852. 80 for their land by the East Coast Railway. This is where we meet our old friend Henry Flagler of course.

The land that they sold formed some 98 acres so they got less than $10 an acre for their property.

The land yielded the fill that was used in the construction of the railway; this hardcore was later found to have wonderful properties (more of that later)

Once the railway was completed with its station known as Windley Key Station it was vital in transporting passengers and delivering the post and fresh water to Windley.

In the 1870 census it is clear that this area was once formed of 2 islands; however, in the building of the railway they infilled the space between the two and it became the one land mass we know today.

During the building of the railways it was discovered that if you split the keyrock cleanly and polished it the most exquisite roack was revealed.

This led to a new industry that lasted til the 1960s. This rock was transported all over America and today you can see examples in The New York Chapel where it forms the altar and The St Louis Post Office

Closer to home it can be seen at the Alison Fahrer Environmental Education Center. Omce it had been cut, the stone was transported to Miami for finishing and polishing. For a brief period towards the end of the mining they had installed the machinery needed to do it themselves.

After the quarry closed down in the 60s the intention was to sell it to developers who intended to build on the land and flood the quarries. Thanks to local campaigners this was stopped and the State acquired the area.

Today you can see the quarry when you visit the park and also marvel at the channeling machine and other plant that has been saved.

In 1940 Phelps McKenny started work on a Theatre of the Sea and after a hiatus caused by the 2nd World War this was opened in 1946 and since then they have produced daily dolphin shows.

We aim to provide accurate and useful information, but if you feel anything provided here is not accurate or out of date, please email us with the address of the page concerned and any comments so we can amend as necessary.

Page added on: 7 February 2009
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