What to do in Indian Key State Historic Site

Through archaeological excavations, it is known that Indians lived in the Keys for several thousand years before the arrival of the Spanish explorers. When Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513, he found a quick way for Spanish vessels to return home with their cargo of treasure taken from the Maya, Inca and Aztec empires: the Straits of Florida and the Gulf Stream. It was a dangerous route for the cumbersome Spanish sailing vessels because of the coral reefs lining the South Florida coast and the constant threat of hurricanes.

At the time, hostile Calusa Indians lived in the Keys. They became the first to profit from vessels wrecked on the offshore reefs. By the time of the brief English occupation of Florida starting in 1763, however, the Calusas had disappeared from the Keys. Bahamian fishermen and turtlers took their place, making salvage a way of life. "Wrecking" proved to be a profitable business; so lucrative, in fact, that it attracted pirates who soon became a threat to merchant vessels.

American occupation of Florida in 1821 stopped the pirates' activities. In addition, American wreckers drove the Bahamians out of business in the Keys and monopolized it themselves. A man named Jacob Housman challenged the monopoly of Key West. He bought the island in 1831 and began to build his own small empire. Housman turned Indian Key into a busy port with 40 to 50 permanent inhabitants. He even brought soil to the rocky island and landscaped it with tropical plants. In an effort to make his island independent of Key West, he had the Legislative Council establish Dade County in 1836, with Indian Key as the county seat. Housman's fortunes eventually declined mortgaging the island to Dr. Henry Perrine, a physician with a consuming interest in tropical botany. Because of the islands strategic location and wealth of goods, Indians eventually attacked the island with most inhabitants escaping, including Housman. However, some were killed in the attack with subsequent looting and burning of the buildings. Dr. Perrine hid his family in a turtle kraal below the house, where they survived the attack. He was not so fortunate. Indian Key has remained uninhabited since the early part of this century. Gradually, Dr. Perrine's plants have grown over the ruins.

With Indian Key's colorful past dating from the time of prehistoric Indians to the 1830s, this beautiful site serves as a getaway for boaters, swimmers, snorkelers and anglers. Private boats provide the handiest access; however, tour boats leave from the north end of Lower Matecumbe Key twice daily. Visitors enjoy exploring the town ruins, which include a hotel, a U.S. Navy hospital, and both homes of settlers Housman and Perrine.

Facilities are very limited. Swimmers and snorkelers are asked to avoid the boat mooring area. There are no restrooms nor drinking water on the island.

An observation tower, boat dock, shelter and trails are provided; however, there are no restrooms or picnic facilities.

Ranger-guided tours are available at 9:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M., Thursday through Monday. The tour fee is $1 per person. Children under 6 are admitted free of charge. Tour boat service available. For reservations call: 305-664-9814. Tour boat departs half hour before listed tour times.

Indian Key is located about three-fourths of a mile in a southeasterly direction from the north shore of Lower Matecumbe Key.

Southern Florida lies within a subtropical climate. It is usually hot and humid in the summer with brief afternoon thundershowers. It is not unusual for temperatures to exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit with averages reaching above 83 degrees Fahrenheit (above 29 Celsius). Winters are mild and dry with temperatures averaging above 64 degrees Fahrenheit (above 18 Celsius). The average precipitation for the southeast area is more than 60 inches per year. The powerful rays of the sun make it a good idea to wear hats and sunglasses along with using a SPF-15 (or above) sunscreen when planning outdoor activities.

P.O. Box 1052
Islamorada, FL 33036

Phone: 305-664-2540

  • Indian Key State Historic Site Travel Q&A