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The many shell mounds and the abundant Indian artifacts found in "The Cedar Keys" are
ample proof that this area has been attractive to humans for thousands of years. From Spanish archives, we find that "Las Islas Sabinas" (the Cedar Keys), provided temporary shelter for Spanish sailors and traders in the 18th Century, including Renato Beluche, an associate of the pirates were known as the Laffiite brothers, and William Augustus Bowles, an early 19th Century mercenary who supplied arms to the Indians.
. These Indian Wars were important in Cedar Key History. The big island of Atsena Otie, which can be seen a half-mile south of the Cedar Key (Way Key) dock area,Later, these islands--or keys--played a role in the Seminole Indian Wars, which resulted in the removal of most of the Seminoles to western reservations was the site of a hospital and military depot and staging area between 1839 and 1842 and became known as Depot Key. At this time there were few(if any) people living here on Way Key, the site of our present city. The words Atsena Otie mean “cedar island" in the Creek Indian language, and at one time there was an official United States post office by that name located on the island. Later it was renamed as the first Cedar Key post office, and later still, it was moved to Way Key.(Cedar Key)
In 1843, at the end of the Second Seminole War, a New Englander namedAugustus Steele bought the military structures there for $227.00, and was granted ownership of the 167 acres of Atsena Otie. This island then became the nucleus of the first organized white settlement in the area. With a good deep-water dock, it soon became the major port for trans-shipment of cotton, sugar, tobacco and lumber produced around the Gulf and on inland plantations. Judge Steele had a friend, Davld Levy Yulee(one of Florida's first US. Senators) who organized and eventually built the first cross- Florida railroad. The line ran from Fernandina on the Atlantic (just north of Jacksonville) to Way Key on the Gulf of Mexico, the site of present day Cedar Key. As the railroad neared its western terminus, Yulee was able to acquire most of the land on Way Key, and in 1859 had a town plat issued which comprised a street grid for the City of Cedar Key. This plat was used by the Florida Railroad Company, and suddenly Cedar Key became a company town. in 1854, the Cedar Key Lighthouse was completed on Seahorse Key. The first train rolled into Cedar Key in March, 1861. Yulee’s resident manager of the Town Improvement Company was Edward Lutterloh, a lawyer and local politician who controlled much of the early growth of the city. About the only land on the island not owned by the Town Improvement Company was a homestead owned by Thomas Parsons. Subsequently, lots changed hands, houses were built, and the town began to grow. The Civil War found only about 200 people on the Cedar Keys. Union forces shelled the old gun emplacements near the lighthouse on Seahorse Key and fired a salvo on Atsena Otie and WayKey, (a cannon ball from Seahorse Key may be seen in the museum). The railroad, the depot, ships at anchor, and public buildings were damaged or destroyed and the port facilities were blockaded. Blockade running became a common occupation of local citizens. In 1864 the Cedar Keys became the headquarters for a Union force called the 2nd Florida Cavalry. A skirmish occurred on the mainland near "Number Four Station" where the salt works was located. Although both ends of the railroad were in Union hands, the mainland remained in Confederate control. After the war, the railroad terminus at Cedar Key served as the main port for coastal shipping and for travelers and settlers trying to reach places along the southwest coast of Florida. By 1867, the railroad had been repaired and in 1869, the City of Cedar Key was incorporated. Many new homes were constructed, sidewalks were built, and by 1870 the population was 400.
A local newspaper, the “Florida State Journal” was published by Ira Gore, and a boatyard was started by Eugene Coons on Piney Point near the present airport. A new wharf and warehouse were built in 1870, and Cedar Key was headed for a boom--with three hotels, three restaurants and bars, and several mercantile establishments, including Parsons and Hale in the building now known as the Island Hotel.
Early oyster shell concrete (or "tabby") construction was inexpensive and "as durable as brick if carefully poured," was used for some residential and commercial structures. The two communities on Atsena Otie and Way Key continued to coexist and prosper with only the busy waterway between. There were two sawmills on Atsena Otie, the larger being the Eberhard Faber mill which cut red cedar slats for pencils. This mill was set up in 1865. Also cutting cedar slats for pencils and pencil boxes was The Eagle Pencil Company Mill on Way Key at 3rd and G Streets. . Both mills were so badly damaged by the 1896 hurricane and fire that they ceased operations soon after. The 1884 Sanbor Birdseye Map, available at the museum, shows how these two separate communities functioned as a single city. In 1886, it was reported that the 17 sawmills inCedar Key were turning out nearly half a million board feet per week, much of it going to the West Indies and Mexico!
In 1867, the famed naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir, walked from Kentucky to Way Key and stayed with one of the millers, W.B. Hodgson, while he recovered from the malaria he had contracted on his walk across Florida. There is a John Muir exhibit in the Historical Society Museum. While early accommodations for travelers to the Cedar Keys were still considered “primitive” according to Sidney Lanier, great improvements were being made. The business of commercial fishing, boat building, sponging, green turtling, oystering, and turpentine distilling all flourished, providing employment for several thousand people in the area. Those employed included squatters on the out islands as well as those living in the small mill towns of Lukens, Sumner and Rosewood, located along the railroad between Cedar Key and Otter Creek. Thousands of pounds of seafood were shipped from the commercial fish houses on the “Big Dock” via the railroad on tracks laid out to the end of the dock. Two of the largest of these seafood wholesalers were W.R. Hodges and B.C. Wadley. The first true road between Cedar Key and the mainland, three miles distant, was proposed by Lutterloh in 1876. It was not completed until much later, at that time eliminating the need to take a boat at high tide. The old road, made of oyster shells pounded into the mud was a low tide road and was passable only when the tide was out!
Of course, one could always use the railroad if one had urgent business on the mainland. No thought had been given to the conservation of either the land or sea resources, and because of this, both were being depleted. In 1884 Henry Plant's rival railroad connecting Tampa to the east coast began cutting into Cedar Key’s shipping industry. As if to seal the city's doom, an 1896 hurricane brought a drastic storm surge, locally called “the tidal wave” which badly damaged the Faber Cedar Mill and the Suwannee Lumber Company Pine Mill on Atsena Otie. As a result of this as well as the dwindling cedar stands, the Faber Mill soon closed operations. Both of these industries were located by the shore where the logs were boomed, and so took the brunt of the storm. More than thirty-five houses on Atsena Otie’s high ground survived the surge, however, and families continued to live there until the remaining house were bought in 1904 by fish house owner W.R. Hodges and barged here to Way Key to be used as rental housing and industry buildings. The 1896 storm also brought destruction all of the islands, where the storm surge was accompanied by high winds and an ensuing fire. Atsena Otie ceased to be a settlement in the early 20th century, and Cedar Key gradually became a small fishing village as people left for greener pastures. In 1910, Dr. Dan Andrews established the Standard Manufacturing Company (the “Fiber Factory”) 'to make brushes and brooms from cabbage palm fiber. This operation employed more than 100 men and women, and although damaged by the hurricane of 1950, continued operation until 1952. A number of people were also employed by the Cedar Key Seafood Cannery, including 75 crabbers. Boat. building continued in Cedar Key during the 1920s and 1930s. The railroad that had played such a prominent role in Cedar Key history was abandoned in 1932, leaving only the seafood and service industries to support the population of approximately 900.
The History of Cedar Key is forever growing and being uncovered. Enjoy the nostalgia from the past written history. A more up-to-date edition will be added shortly!
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Website Developer Anna White Hodges