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Florida Keys

Official Directory of the City of Miami and Nearby Towns


The chain of small islands known as the Keys constitute quite a distinct portion of Florida, differing in almost every respect from all other parts of the State. They are essentially like the neighboring Bahama Islands in climate and vegetable and animal life. Many of the inhabitants, also, of the Keys, came, or their ancestors came, from the Bahamas. By them largely the parts that are fit for cultivation are occupied. This refers, of course, to the Keys, that are devoted purely to agriculture and the sponge and other fisheries. Key West differs from the remainder of the Keys in that it is the seat of a large and progressive modern city.

Persons from other States seeing the Keys fit a state of nature, would regard them its wholly worthless for agriculture and almost uninhabitable. They are, in fact, mere beds of coral rock, elevated only a few feet above the water, and in places covered with coral sand; but the porous and soluble nature of this rock, and the collection of sand in its interstices, render it capable of supporting most luxurious vegetation, as is attested by massive trees of mahogany, Indian figs and other species, and by the rank growth of vines and other barbareous plants, which often is impenetrable.

If a pair of compasses be placed on a good map, with one leg at Cape Romando and the other at Key West, and from the bitter point starting eastward quarter of a circle be drawn, the resulting line will give almost exactly the outer edge of the Keys. The cause of this symmetrical outline is apparently the direction and force of the mighty current of the Gulf Stream, which sweeps along the face of the entire line of the Keys. For about thirty-five miles east from Key West, the Keys are exceedingly numerous and irregular in form. There are scarcely any navigable channels among them. The smaller of them and parts of the larger are covered with mangrove thickets, and at high tide with water; and the best of them are so unattractive that but few and feeble attempts have been made at cultivation.

Beyond this archipelago the Keys are more uniform in position and shape and form in almost unbroken chain of narrow islands, about 100 miles in length. They gradually increase in area, elevation and fertility but no plantations of any consequence are met with before reaching Upper Matecumbe Key, which is seventy-five miles from Key West. This and the other large Keys were originally covered with dense forests, in which were represented some seventy kinds of West India trees, including such valuable trees as the lignum vitae, mastic, mahogany, crabwood, and wild tamarind. An equal variety of trees is still to be found, but the best of the forests have been cut and burned. The Keys that are under cultivation yield freely of pineapples, limes, tomatoes, and other vegetables. In fact, the shipments of pineapples have attained the last few years to very important proportions. Most of this fruit comes to Miami by schooner, and is handled by our commission men, who forward it to the northern markets.

Excerpt from "The Florida Keys" Official Directory of the City of Miami and Nearby Towns, 1904.


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