Part of Spain’s original colonial claim to Florida, the Keys, like the rest of the state, have changed hands quite a few times. Occupied originally by the Tequesta and Calusa groups of Native Americans until the arrival of European settlers in the early 16th century, the Keys have long been a no-man’s-land to the rest of Florida, even after officially becoming part of the United States in 1821.
The Keys were accessible only by boat until Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railway from Homestead on the mainland to southernmost Key West. That rail line was destroyed in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane but was replaced with the Overseas Highway only a few years later.
Settlers in the Keys have long reveled in their distance from the mainland. A haven for smugglers, criminals, and miscreants for many decades, even its above-board residents are possessed of a thoroughly libertarian streak. In fact, the Keys famously declared “independence” as the Conch Republic in 1982 after the U.S. Border Patrol set up a mandatory inspection point on U.S. 1 in Florida City. The feds said it was to keep drugs and criminals from making their way to the mainland; residents of the Keys felt they were being treated as foreign citizens and responded in the manner they deemed appropriate.
Although the secession only lasted for 60 seconds, the act was a succinct description of the one-foot-in, one-foot-out relationship these islands have with the rest of the United States.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition