By Jerry Wilkinson
Like the other Keys, No Name Key began as a knob of solidified marine organisms that appeared as the ocean waters dropped some time during the decline of the Wisconsin Ice age. There are a few other communities that bear the appellation of “No Name” one being No Name, Colorado, west of Denver, where I used to live.
Also similar to some of the other Keys, the origin of its name is troublesome. The Spanish gave names to some of the Keys, especially after the wreck of the fleet in 1733, for its salvage purposes. Monroe County has over 800 Keys. One of the first things I so is to search for the oldest chart/map that does name it.
In this case I found that when F. H. Gerdes surveyed the Keys in 1849 it is written in his Reconnaissance of the Florida Reef and all the Keys, “The Island N. by W. from Summerland Keys, lying between them and Little Pine Island is called No Name Key.” This indicates that the use of the name, or should I say ‘No Name’, referred to today’s No Name Key as early and possibly even before the year 1849. If you are at a large university, please accept the challenge to scan and send me copies of older maps/charts – see email at the end. I am certain there are interesting tales of how No Name Key got its no-name, but it is clear that by 1849 the name was in use. Part of an 1866 U.S. Coast survey is shown below after the 1870 census data at the right.
No Name is a relatively small island of approximately 1,140 acres and about one mile wide and two miles long irregularly shaped. Its neighbor to west, Big Pine Key has about 5,800 acres. Pieces of No Name are three to four feet higher above sea level than the highest part of Big Pine Key. It is about 30 miles from Key West. In 1870 there were 16 occupied houses and six unoccupied when the census enumerator passed through and the most families in the Lower Keys other than Key West. Today, there are probably not many more full time families on No Name, but is is growing.
No Name Key, or No Name for short, is slightly different from the Middle and Upper Keys. First it is oolitic limestone and not Key Largo Limestone. Fresh water can be found in oolitic formations but rarely in Key Largo Limestone. Fresh water holes can be relatively easily, if digging in limestone is ever easy – use dynamite – and many can be found on small No Name Key. So with this in mind we move back in time.
For this web site I have used the 1870 census for my general reference. In 1870, the census enumerator only listed one family on Big Pine which he visited the day before visiting No Name Key. There were however, significantly more on Big Pine’s neighbor – No Name Key. No Name Key lists 45 inhabitants which was a large settlement for a Key of its size in 1870. Below is an excerpt from the 1870 census including Big Pine Key:
Hse # Fam # Surname Family Name Age Sex Occupation Prop. Birthplace BIG PINE KEY July 22: 25 23 Wilson, George 30 m Charcoal burner N.Y. NO NAME KEY July 23: 26 24 Thrift, William 24 m Farmer $200 Bahamas 27 28 Thrift, Joseph 60 m Farmer $250 Bahamas " Hannah 60 f Keeping house " 28 26 Carey, William 27 m Farmer $200 " " Hannah 21 f Keeping house " " Mary 2 f Fla. 29 27 Knowles, Thomas 44 m Farmer $300 Bahamas 30 28 Sands, John 39 m Seaman $200 " " Amelia 30 f Keeping house Bahamas " Amelia 1 f Fla. 31 29 Lowe, Joseph 60 m Farmer $250 Bahamas 32 30 Knowles, William 23 m Farmer $300 Bahamas " Susannah 20 f Keeping house " 33 - - - - - - - - 34 31 Matcovitch, Nichols 45 m Farmer $1,000 La. " Eliza 35 f Keeping house Bahamas " George 1 m Fla. 35 - - - - - - - - 36 - - - - - - - - 37 32 Knowles, Alexander 29 m Seaman $200 Bahamas " Mary 18 f Keeping house " 38 - - - - - - - - 39 33 Cates, William 25 m Seaman $200 Bahamas " Margaret 26 f Keeping house " 40 34 Thompson, Joseph 79 m Farmer $300 " " John 34 m Farmer " Knowles, David 14 m " 41 - - - - - - - - 42 35 Sands, John 27 m Farmer $250 Bahamas " Susan 50 f Keeping house " " John 21 m seaman " " Susan 9 f " 43 - - - - - - - - 44 36 Carey, Benjamin 28 m Farmer $275 Bahamas " Susan 25 f Keeping house " " Margaret 5 f " " Emma 1 f Fla. 45 37 Cates, John 34 m seaman $200 Bahamas " Isabella 27 f keeping house " " Catherine 6 f Fla. " Mary 1 f " 46 38 Carey, John 50 m seaman $225 Bahamas " Sarah Ann 40 f " " Harriet 13 f " " Sarah 4 f Fla. 48 39 Knowles, James 35 m Farmer $400 Bahamas " Frances 35 f Keeping house " " Mary 12 f " " James 7 m Fla. " Louisa 3 f " " Margaret 2,1/2 f born in April "
A quick summary of the above census is 16 households, 45 settlers and seven empty dwellings. In the area, Sugarloaf Key was second in number of settlers – 7 households with 38 settlers. Clearly seen from the above census the huge island of Big Pine Key has only one settler. A salient point is that none of these islands have been surveyed; therefore, were not eligible to be homesteaded at his time. For me a curious fact are the seven empty dwellings.
As with much of the Keys, the relatively late official land surveying made homesteading and patenting of land title impossible. Charles F. Smith and crew surveyed No Name Key for the state of Florida in 1873. Of those listed above, James Knowles homesteaded 158.9 acres on 12/27/1905, William Cates homesteaded 115 acres on 6/30/1863, Benjamin Carey homesteaded 48 acres on 10/23/1901 and Nicholaes Matcovich homesteaded 159.9 acres on 10/22/1885 but this was canceled on March 2, 1900 but was re-issued on April 21, 1900. Four others of the above 1870 residents filed homesteads on Big Pine Key.
A very interesting family is listed as family number 31 in the 1870 census. The head of the household, I prefer to use his real first name, Nicholas, as that is how most readers will associate with his last name, Matcovich. He was however known by “Nichols” to the local residents of the Lower Keys. He has been researched by many, but John Viele of Cudjoe Key and Pat Parks of Summerland Key have by far the most research printed in local newspapers. At the time of their writings both were able to contact his grandchildren for interviews. A summary of his life follows.
As Russian farmers, his parents had fled to Austria to avoid persecution and he was born at Dalmatia, Austria in 1827. This part of Austria became Yugoslavia in 1918. In !848, he and his brother immigrated in the U.S. via the port of New Orleans and became a U.S. citizen in 1856. His role in the Civil War is not clear; however, at the war’s end Nicholas was in Jacksonville. Since no military records with his name can be found. most conclude that he was probably engaged in blockage running, but other possibilities exist. He met and married Eliza Ann Carey who was 10 years his junior and an uneducated Bahamian immigrant according to the 1870 census. It appears that Nicholas fell in with other Bahamians – most likely family or associates of his wife. Anyway, the couple moved to Key West as many other Bahamians had been doing for some time. Key West’s population was almost 5,000 and growing fast and was soon to become the largest city in Florida. Again the reason is not known, but 1868 the couple moved to No Name Key which was also not unlike other Bahamians who fished, farmed or sponged. This takes us to the above portions of the 1870 census where we note a one year old son, George. The census contains much more data that I excerpted.
From the 1870 census we can draw some conclusions. All the heads of household other than Nicholas were Bahamians. The oldest U.S. born child was seven, indicating that they were relatively new immigrants. Florida became a U.S. Territory in 1821 and a state in 1845. There are two Carey families which gives some credence that possibly Nicholas and Elisa were traveling with her family members. Benjamin Carey is a farmer as was Nicholas. The three families had some property, but Nicholas’ was by far the most valuable. They were all either farmers or fishermen and no other occupations. Perhaps you can see more conclusions.
Continuing from 1870, a second son, Mosby, was born, followed by a third son, John. It is not known if the children was born on No Name or if Eliza traveled to Key West. Generally, if there was family in Key West, then women would travel to Key West for childbirth. One account has it that the hurricane of October 1876 damaged their farm and Eliza began working at a cigar factory in Key West.
In 1881 since Nicholas was a U.S. citizen and had satisfied the application federal homestead qualifications he filed for a homestead grant for 160 acres. In 1885 he was granted a 159.9 acre homestead. Research is difficult as he spelled his first name “Necholaes.” This patent was canceled and another land patent (No. 2576) was issued 4/21/1900. The change was switching lot #3 to lot #5 which gave him less total land but more waterfront. The specifics of this homestead are: Lots numbers 5, 6,7 and 8 in section 18 plus lot 1 in section 17 of township 66 south of range 30 east. For those not familiar: A section = 640 acres, a quarter = 160 acres, half of a quarter = 80 acres and a quarter of a quarter = 40 acres. An irregular coast line will reduce these figures. In lot 5 of Section 18 Matcovich got 120 acres and Lot 1 of section 17 was 39.9 acres – his only waterfront property. See the homemade map to the right for the wooden bridge, the No Name Lodge, highway 4A, the ferry landing and Nicholas Matcovich homestead property lines – locations and scale are approximate – JW.
Some unknown time later and by the 1900 census, Eliza made Key West her permanent residency. Her son John is listed as the head of the household with occupation of a cigar maker and his sister, Annie, resided with them.
Remaining more or less chronological, in the late 1800s it is said that a group of Cuban patriots was marooned on No Name. Nicholas may or may not have been involved but some of his grandchildren say he was involved in filibustering – unauthorized expeditions into a foreign country to support revolution [my definition]. This event ended with the Spanish American War in 1898. The reason I mention this is this is the origin of the story/legend that Nicholas had a small fortune of stored gold coins as reward for his services hid/buried on No Name. The mere mention of buried gold gives history new meanings. Also, Cuban Revolutionaries return to No Name later.
Moving on, William J. Krome in his early 1900s surveying and constructing of Henry Flagler’s Key West Extension met Nicholas and established a friendship although No Name was not on the actual route of constructing the railway. Most likely it is because Engineer Krome was at heart a farmer and had begun purchasing land in
the Homestead Florida area. Avocados and mangoes were his specialties. In an interview with his son, William (Bill) H. Krome who followed in his father’s footsteps as a citrus farmer, had no idea how his father made the acquaintance, but provided several photos of his father accompanying Dr. and his wife Marian, Fairchild to visit the Matcovich plantation in 1912. It seems to be that a Mr. James Hare of Colliers magazine went along and took photos. See the photos to the right.
The following is a transcribed field note made by Dr. Fairchild of his visit:
“Krome took Mrs. Fairchild, Mr. James Hare, Colliers [Magazine] expert photographer, and me in his launch from Marathon over to No Name Key where we found Nicolas Mateovitch, the old Russian settler who homesteaded 160 acres of land on the Key in 1868. Nicholas has lived there for 43 years the life of a hermit and has planted in little patches which he has cleared by hand various fruit trees, particularly the Sapodilla. His trees of this fruit are strikingly different from those on the mainland, being broad topped spreading trees instead of symmetrical hay-cock-shaped. One tree bears fruit as large as a saucer, Krome says. It is a very flat sort and of good quality and it would be worth while to go over at the proper season and test all the Sapodillas on the Key and take budwood for propagation.
“There seems to be nothing else of value on the Key. Nicholas is 84 years old and has come near starving to death several times.”
1912 Wife Eliza, age 72, died at the Key West Mercedes Hospital. Annie and her husband, Henry Leon Sands, moved to No Name Key to be with her father……
1919- At the age of 92, Nicholas passed away. Other family members occupied the property……
Another early resident of NNK was the William H. Gibson family, but he was just a child. His parents like so many were from the Bahamas. They moved from Key West in 1913 when it was relatively easy to travel from Key West on the railroad, then boat over to NNK where they owned five acres of good farm land. Farming was their occupation also specializing in limes and vineyards. Theirs is a rare instance to learn that vineyards were farmed in the Keys.
Writings of the Gibsons reveal that there was a school house there with an enrollment of 28 students in 1919. Unfortunately I am missing 1913 to 1922 years of the School Board minutes; however, local lore has it that Louisa McClintock and Ethea Stricker were school teachers there. Early schools were easy to create but many were only four months a year and only to the 10th grade. A letter is assurance that there were at least 10 full time students, some one to sponsor the teacher – the county only paid her salary – and some kind of a building provided by the local citizens. The teachers were teacher interns for a one school year contract.
I wish to disclaim that this history has gaps. Above there appears to be a rather large school compared to Key Largo which has about 20,000 acres compared to No Name’s 1,140 acres. Was there a centralized community at No Name, or were the students also from other nearby islands? The 1910 census reveals that No Name Key had a population of 22 and Big Pine Key had 1. I do not have the population of Little Pine Key, but from reading of farming I remember that Thomas Key and his family was there in 1910. Tomatoes was a big crop on Little Pne Key. I have no data for a church, yet the Bahamians were devout Methodists. School buildings were often used for religious meetings. I am certain that the opening of the railroad in the Lower Keys in 1912 (It opened in the Upper Keys in 1908) had a similar effect of the population migrating towards the railroad – supplies, ice, fresh water, travel, stable work, etc. No Name proffered 16 years later by having the highway ferry landing. The highway in the Lower Keys did not follow alongside the railroad as it did in the Upper Keys. The early highway only crossed the railroad in two spots – MM 80.2 and MM 20.
There are writings of a post office at No Name Key, but I am unable to substantiate that. I do find postal records for post offices at Big Pine and Ramrod Keys.
The Hurricane of 1919 probably gave a death blow to the school and it struck the Lower Keys with significant amount of damage. The water rose so high at the Wesley Gibson farm that they docked their boat at the front door. Water entered their house and they put the children on the dining table. as they sloshed about in waist deep water. The salt water covered their groves and vineyards so long that they died and the Gibson’s along with many more returned to Key West. Even Key West was badly damaged by this hurricane.
The Wesley Gibson and wife Mrytle did return to NNK in 1930, but this time Wesley sponged while Mrytle tended a garden and raised chickens and turkeys. This was a typical lifestyle for the early pioneers to perform a multiple faceted occupation just to eek out a living from the sea and the land. In the case of the Gibsons, they found a more desirable piece of land on Big Pine Key which was easier accessible and offered a commercial use. They built a trailer court and motel named the Halcyon Beach.
The northern ferry terminal was at Lower Matecumbe Key at about MM 73 today. From Key West, wooden bridges were built along the ocean side of all the lower Keys up to Big Pine Key, across Big Pine Key with the final wooded bridge across to No Name Key on whose eastern shore was built the southern ferry landing. It was about 40 miles of open water between the two terminals. The highway was known as State Road 4A and opened January 16, 1928, but the official date was January 25th. The stretch of water that the bridge spans is “Bogie Channel.” See the photo to the right.
Each ferry could take 20 normal sized cars and the trip took from four to five hours. The toll was $3.50 for cars and $6.50 for vehicles over 16-feet, drivers included. Passengers were charged $1 each. Food and drinks were aboard for sale. Should the last ferry of the day be missed, they were potential customers at the No Name Lodge. A ferry was stationed at each terminal and would leave each terminal in the morning and return that evening.
I am unable to determine the facts but some time in this period Carlton Craig opened the the No Name Lodge. I would expect more than this especially since about a half mile wooden bridge was built from Big Pine to connect with the No Name ferry service, but I do not find any. In fact, there was not much along the entire trip along the Atlantic to Key
West. There was the Big Pine Inn, Pirates Cove and the Boca Chica Fish Camp.
A bit of background is that in the early 1930s, three Craig brothers moved to Miami, Florida. Burton Craig remained in the Miami area as a businessman. Roland Craig moved to an abandoned railroad site and started the Craig Key Resort in the Upper Keys. Carlton and Grace Craig moved to No Name Key and started the No Name Lodge. The two photos to the right are from Joan Craig, daughter of Burton and Adella Craig while visiting her uncle, Carlton Craig. A note in passing, Carlton Craig was an architect and is said to have assisted in the design and construction of the Old Wooden Bridge. If this is the case perhaps Carlton was at No Name Key before the aforementioned date of 1930.
The date is not certain, but about 1932 or 33 Elijah Cates, son of John Cates in the 1870 census above, put together a group for building the lodge for Carlton Craig. It is not clear if there were existing abandoned buildings from the highway project or not, or was the lodge built at the same time. The cabins were not all the same but appeared to built as cabins and not converted. Cabins like this was often moved from place to place. Regardless the Craigs had a captive audience as it was located just north of the ferry landing. The Craig property on the north side of the highway and Matcovich on the south side. A similar place but not a lodge was the “Terminal Inn” at the northern ferry terminal on Lower Matecumbe Key.
Carlton and Grace operated the lodge for certain until after the 1935 Hurricane destroyed about 40 miles of railroad track, the railroad right-of-way was sold to the state which built a vehicle down the same route as the former railroad , and the ferry service was discontinued.
The photo at the left was sent to me by Ted Rice. Also sent was a series of handwritten letters from father, Ed Rice, who rented one of the cottages. On the back of the photo Mr. Rice wrote that he was in second cottage from the right. He also sent a postcard dated “Dec. 8, 1938” giving the family his mailing address and phone number which was: “No Name Lodge, Ramrod Key P.O., Fla.”, “telephone No Name #1.” I will add more as I digest the content of the letters. Mr. Rice died in the cottage in February 8, 1939 before he could return home. Carlton was still the owner of the lodge at that time.
At this time, Mosby Matcovich was living at the old Matcovich plantation. The plantation was east/south of the lodge and bordering SR 4A. From folk lore, Mosby was equally or even more suspicious of ‘outsiders’ than his father. Of course now with a major transportation highway passing the entire length of one of his property boundaries could have been a problem. The Craig cousins, Joan, Beverly and Burton Jr., say that they were ‘scared ot death of that man’ and would not put a foot on his side of the road.
Mosby was arrested for second degree murder for shooting an employee, Jimmie Saunders, of Craig on June 16, 1938, and taken to Key West where he had a preliminary hearing and released on bond. He was tried in January 1939, convicted, sentenced to five years which was reduced to one year and a $500 fine. He passed away in June 1964.
The Key West Citizen of 5 March 1936 had an interesting article titled “No Name Fish Camp To Open” that I have not been able to follow up. Basically, it stated a P. J. Conway, of Pittston, PA asked that County Commission to lease an abandoned highway building on NNK for him to move back off the highway on property that he had purchased from Mosby Matcovich. He would perform improvements to create the No Name Key Fishing Camp. His request was allowed and the lease was $1 a year. I have heard stories of a fish camp, but always assumed it was the No Name Lodge which had fishing facilities, rentals, etc. The original Matcovich homesteaded property was on the east side of the highway, not to say that he had not purchased/traded other properties.
Another source of ‘abandoned buildings’ at a later time may have been from the Florida Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). At federal level the agency was created by FDR on May 22, 1933 to give WW-I veterans employment. Only Florida and South Carolina participated. The date of their arrival would have been before November 1934 as the first contingent arrived in the Keys at Camp One on Windley Key on that date – there was no specific mention of any going to NNK. The Keys part of Florida ERA along with the WPA were administered by Julius Stone from Key West. I believe the camps were numbered in order that they were created – Camp One through Camp Twelve.
In Monroe County there were four numbered Veterans Work Program camps (Camps 1, 3, 5 and 6) and a camp at Dry Tortugas. Most of the veterans were in the Upper Keys to build a through highway to replace the existing ferryboats and these were head quartered in the Hotel Matecumbe on Upper Matecumbe Key – MM 81.5. On March 20, 1935 they started a weekly newspaper named “The Key Veteran News.” I have collected all copies but one and in issue six, May 11th, I found a column on page six “NO NAME KEY NEWS ITEMS (CAMP 6), beginning with: “We the boys from our isolated spot here on No Name Key wish to thank the Key Veteran News for a spot each week in your paper….” Another tidbit was: “We expect to move this week from No Name. So until we get settled down do not expect any real news….” In the May 18th issue the writer states: “We have been working on an emergency airport. Now that this is about completed we no doubt work on straightening out the roads between Key West and No Name Key….” In the May 25th issue we read: Last Thursday we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ghent’s capable assistant, Jack Little.” Mr. Ghent was the state director with an office in Jacksonville. In the June 1st issue on page one is: “VETS LEAVE TORTUGAS AND NO NAME KEY. Fort Jefferson No Is In Charge of 2 Civilians Custodians, AIR FIELD FINISHED AT NO NAME KEY, Two Completed Projects Are Sample of Work Being Done.” The first paragraph reads: “All veterans from Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas and Camp 6 at No Name Key have been returned to Islamorada and assigned to Camps 1, 3 and 5….”
The new Overseas Highway directly to and from the Florida mainland and Key West opened March 29, 1938 and again officially July 4, 1938. The WW-I vets project was terminated with the 1935 Hurricane. This brought about the end of the ferryboat service and the end of a captive audience of vehicle traffic passing to and from Key West to points northward for the No Name Lodge.
Quoting from an article written by Pat Parks on September 6, 1973 in the Key West Citizen: “…The Craigs sold out to a retired army man, reputedly from a wealthy family which produced tractors. The object seemed to have been for the family to get the wayward son and his equally wayward wife (who had also served in the army) out of the way. We’re talking now, as far as I can ascertain, about sometime in the 1940s. Carlton and Grace had yearly guests that repeatedly visited their lodge. The was typical of lodges in the Keys that offered a large number of services.
“The couple had a 45-foot boat and did not suffer too much for lack of money. [I wonder if that is the boat in two photos above – JW] But it appears that he drank and she ran around a lot with other men. Climax of the unfortunate situation came when he was found shot to death, sitting in front of his gun cabinet.
“The official verdict was suicide. But those who remember the case always wondered why de, a right-handed man, would shoot himself in the left temple.
“The wealthy family saw to to that the wayward wife got nothing from the estate but the fishing camp. This she continued to operate until the 1948 hurricane completely ruined the Old Wooden Bridge….” [We do not know that since the ferryboats were not running if the name remained the same or not. There is stories of a No Name Fishing Camp. Could have been – JW]
Before advancing too late in time, one bit of primary documentation possibly worth preserving is an official government report following the 1935 hurricane which destroyed so much of the Upper Keys. The portion that I excerpted below applies to both Big Pine Key and No Name Key. The hurricane destroyed about 40 miles of track as well as totally washing out three major highway bridges; therefore, closing both the railroad and the highway to the mainland. The report follows:
Headquarters, District 9
Key West, Florida
September 16, 1935
CASE AIDES’ REPORT OF GENERAL CONDITIONS
OBSERVED ON UPPER KEYS FROM MATECUMBE TO KEY WEST
1. Big Pine Key. Visited. on September 11, 1935
2. No Name Key. Visited on September 11, 1935.
Very little damage was done by the storm on September 2nd to Big Pine Key and No Name key. In a few instances, tar paper roofing was blown away and screens of houses demolished.
General outlook for the future of these people living on the lower Keys appears bleak. All rapid and direct transportation to mainland has been destroyed and their crawfishing, which they depended on as a livelihood, cannot be transported to the market. In a few instances, where residents have larger boats, if gasoline oil and food were supplied, they could move their location closer to market.
Referring to transportation of crawfish for these fishermen, residents state that it will be necessary to have much faster transportation than automobile due to the fact that crawfish must be placed on the market while living, and an automobile highway would not meet this requisite. It would be necessary that railroad be used as formerly, since refrigeration and time element is most important.
Very little gardening and farming was done on the lower Keys. A few of these homes have small fruit trees but they have not come into bearing as yet.
More complaints were received here concerning lack of food than on Marathon Key [sic]. Not a single request for food was refused. Those people were not in a more destitute condition than Marathon, however, some homes had enough food that would have lasted the family from three to seven day; longer than at the time of home visit. Some of these families had chickens and other fowl which were being used as food and they were selling same in Key West.
Residents on Big Pine who have been former FERA relief clients have always been difficult to deal with in that they refused work relief and until they were denied direct relief, they then accepted work relief.
There are no school facilities on these Keys at the present time. All children that are of age to go to school and those that have almost completed schooling on the Keys will be usable to continue under present lack of school facilities.
Highways and railroad to Key West are in working condition as these Keys were not in the center of storm area. Supplies can be purchased at Key West except for the transportation being destroyed, the general home conditions, except for the above mentioned conditions, are the same as before storm of recent date….”
After the Hurricane of 1948, the county begin to rebuild the wooden bridge. Before it was totally restored a fire destroyed a section and the county never redid the wooden bridge.
With WW-II over, the 1950s began the present growth movement throughout the Keys; however, without vehicular access, No Name Key sank into a slumberin, uninhabited wilderness other than the Key Deer. Ranger Jack Watson, Mr. Key Deer, of the National Key Deer Refuge was very pleased. Per acre there were more Key Deer on NNK than its neighbor BPK. Trees still produced sapodillas, but there was no one to pick them. Greenery eventually completely overgrew the old highway other than a small tunnel opening for the deer.
But not that many years passed before another group moved in, I should say groups. First, was a 1960 proposal to build a 7,000 foot causeway from West Summerland Key to No Name’s southern end. This was opposed by many and it was not just the causeway, but the significant fishing grounds it would disrupt. Descendants of the aforementioned Gibson family now living on Big Pine Key were particularly opposed for a number of reasons. One was the causeway would act as a dam and trap hurricane waters between it and Big Pine Keys much the same way as the railroad did in 1935 at the Upper Keys. The Lower Keys Association added that the area between Don Quixote and the Big Pine Mangrove Keys abound with large tarpon. However, no one seemed to object rebuilding the original wooden bridge in 1967.
Now for additional groups: Back in history, Mercenaries, or Cuban revolutionaries had used No Name Key for the preparation for the Cuban Revolution of 1895 which resulted in the Spanish American War (1898). A new era began when on January 1, 1959, Cuban President General Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by General Fidel Castro and his 26th of July Movement and other Cuban revolutionary organizations. No Name Key being relatively isolated and no permanent residents, other than the deer, was about to be involved in this second revolution – the Bay of Pigs (La Batalla de Giron). Note – It was not just NNK, but to some extent throughout southern Florida, especially Miami, the Everglades and the Keys. A second note is that No Name Key possibly was involved supporting General’s Castro revolution. With no access other than by water, it offered an out-of-site temporary stop-over for any one.
I detect Cuban activity on No Name Key being in four episodes:
1) that for the preparation for the Bay of Pigs – April 15 – April 21, 1960
2) Scenarios for the rescue and return of captured Bay of Pigs prisoners
3) Small and random ‘Revenge’ operations
4) Before and After excursions relating to the Cuban Missile Crisis – October 22-28, 1962.
Quietly, revolutionary activity picked up through out the Florida Keys, but no place more than on No Name Key (no one was living there), at least that is way stories flew via ‘The Coconut Telegraph.’ Most stories had at least a small reference or inference, to the CIA. Little is known as written fact, but participants occupied Keys such as Linderman Key, Lignumvitae Key, and a place known as ‘Dynamite Docks’ on Key Largo. Marinas began installing heavy duty steel surveying equipment, or camera, mounts in ‘Go Fast’ boats. New acronyms such as Interpen, IPF (International Penetration Force), FRD (Democratic Revolutionary Front), Alpha 60, Omega 7, Commandos L, etc. were being used in the local media’s.
The residents of Big Pine Key were almost daily aware of strange activities. Probably, the most aware were the owners and operators (1953) of the “Old Wooden Bridge Fishing Camp” Russell and Kathryn (Katy) Oettle. Their friend, Ed Barry, had built the fish camp on the BPK side of Bogie Channel and old state road 4A in 1952. With the wooden bridge out and a road from US1, the Oettles was the center of fishing operations away from the busy highway of U.S. 1. The remains of the old wooden bridge still existed and NNK only a half mile away across Bogie Channel was not permanently occupied by anyone other that the Key Deer.
There is little doubt that Gerald Patrick Hemming and his friends Roy Hargrave, Joe Garman, and Howard Davis were participating in training actives for Cuban revolutionaries at No Name Key in 1962. Also, there is no doubt that Bill Dempsey, a 22 year old Canadian and Ronald Ponce de Leon participated in some form of training in 1963.
There is an incident that seemed to have been carried over to any group that was on No Name Key with any Cuban group. One person was shot in the abdomen with a “… military style 30.06 rifle….” According to the Key West Citizen (KWC) newspaper, dated November 20, 1960, Russell Freeman Masker Jr. died of the gunshot wound after being airlifted from No Name Key. The incident was investigated, Rolando Capaneria was charged, adjudicated by a coroner’s jury with a verdict of “accidental homicide” and freed. The coroner’s inquest was conducted by Peace Justice Edelmiro Morales.
Reports of Cuban exile “Freedom fighters” continued. In a KWC article dated April 10, 1963, stated “… While we found only the nine would-be revolutionaries, we also discovered they were going about their training in a rather business-like manner – even though their equipment and standard of living is far below that you’d find at Ft. Dix or Camp Blanding….” The KWC again reported “Anti-Castro Trainees Are Poor Tenants” on April 29, 1963. This article states that there will not be further training at No Name Key after contingent of Coast Guard, Customs and sheriffs made a surprise raid and cleared the island. Then on August 20, 1963, Law enforcement officers reported that: “… [They] spotted not a single deer as they slogged through the boondocks Thursday in search of the elusive guerrillas, suspect in the case….”
At a cost of $717,221 the Mizner Marine company constructed a new concrete bridge in 1967 which opened the island for new development, one of which can be seen in a color photo at the end of this page. This development is just to the north of the former site of the No Name Lodge. In the photo The remains of the ferry landing is easily seen below the water as a white line indicating shallow and newly cleaned coral rock bottom. The dark line extending to the left of the now under water ferry landing is the clearing each side of the highway. The road across No Name Key had completely grown over after years of not being traveled and workmen from a subcontractor for the bridge cleared it. In 1968 the B&W photo at the right appeared in the Miami Herald newspaper showing remains of the former lodge slightly less that 40 years after its closing.
Just the announcement of a new bridge caused some ownership changes and by 1970 there were two canals and 92 developed lots prepared. There were no public electricity or water available. This did attract some folk who preferred the ‘back to nature’ living style while others thought it was just a question of time before these amenities would exist. Some built bare-bone houses while others built models of conservation and wise usage building materials and living space. Solar panels, wind mills, and generators provided electricity; cisterns collected rain water from roofs and some shallow well provided minimum potable water and fine mesh screens kept out the small insects.
The Florida Department of Environment Protection (FDEP) restored the shoreline at the ferry landing wiping out all artifacts in 1982/3 with the Audubon Society’s support/funds. It was not on the Florida State historic file or the Key West Preservation Board; therefore, not historically significant. They removed Dynamite Docks on Key Largo in the same time period. See the undated photo to the laft, but obviously later than 1983.
There have been numerous large developments proposed since the new bridge. To name one that was, perhaps still is, was the Galleon Bay in the late 1990s. It was not a huge development – only 13 single-family dwellings. The contention was based on Monroe County’s Comprehensive Use Plan. Most counties in Florida now know of ‘Comp Plans.’ Being in the 8,542 acre National Key Deer Refuge and lack of public electricity and potable water did not help the cause. Recently a central wastewater system was proposed and at the last time at bat, the County Commissioners opposed it after having proposed it in the first place.
Today, April 19, 2009, No Name Key remains without public electricity and potable water. Concrete foundations of the No Name Lodge remain close to a familiar clue of an early Keys development – a cluster of four mature date palms. No Name Key is probably Monroe County’s last privately owned ‘last frontier. There are about 45 homeowners on the Key at the time of this writing in 2009.
In 2013 No Name Key was permitted electricity ending a multi-year, multi-million dollar legal battle between the citizens of Monroe County and several residents of No Name Key.
No Name Key website. http://www.nonamekey.org/