HISTORICAL PRESERVATION SOCIETY OF THE UPPER KEYS
Jerry Wilkinson · Key Largo, FL
The Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys meet at
Key Largo Library Community Room, second Monday of each
month. Most programs of a historical nature.
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Dr. Perrine wrote in 1840 that there were about 200 settlers on Key Vaca. This would make Key Vaca more
populated than Indian Key. Of course, it is also many times larger in size. It appears that Perrine was relying on
those settlers to help propagate his agricultural experiments.
Public records are a little confusing, but it appears that the General Land Office on September 12, 1845 declared
the Marathon area (and much of the other Keys) as a Military Reservation. It was not released until 1878.
During this later time was when the settlement of 'Conch Town' was reported by passersby. It appears to have
been on the northeast end of Key Vaca.
Of interest are excerpts from the Charleston Daily Courier dated January 10, 1858 of a voyage made to Knight's
Key with Charles Howe: "...Commenced with Knight's Key, containing about one hundred and twenty-five acres of
arable [plowable] land, and has a comfortable house and cistern. On this Key we have twelve hundred coconut
trees and about fifty thousand Sisal hemp plants, most of which are fit to cut and manufacture into hemp...." They
sailed on "...Passed Duck Key, where much money was expended on forming a salt pond...."
The Dade County Census of 1860 reveals Temple Pent Sr. (Mariner), wife Mary and sons John and David living on
Key Vaca. Their elder son, Temple Pent Jr., wife Elizabeth and three children were also on the island. There were
a total of six families listed and five bore the name Pent. The sixth family was John and Amelia (Pent) Skelton,
who had five children. The total 1860 population of Key Vaca was reported as 26 residents.
Legend has it that shortly after May, 1865, Judah Benjamin rendezvoused with a ship in the harbor of Knight's Key
to complete his escape to Bimini. Benjamin was the "retiring" Secretary of State in the Confederate cabinet. Using
multiple disguises, he traversed the mainland of Florida and stopped over at Knight's Key on the 16-foot yawl The
A U.S. census from the Act of 1866 revealed a complete depopulation of Key Vaca for reasons yet to be
determined. Population zero. Everyone had moved away! The Pents went to Bamboo Key, the Russell's to
Matecumbe, Beaseley to Coconut Grove, et cetera. Bamboo Key is north of Fat Deer Key and was reported to have
had no mosquitoes. My standard reference census of 1870 also listed no one on Key Vaca and Temple Pent Jr.
and 15 members of the Pent family on Bamboo Key.
Key Vaca remained almost uninhabited for years. Published in 1890, A Handbook of Florida by Charles Norton
noted the community of "Conch Town" on the bay side of the east end of Key Vaca.
In 1893, George Adderly and his wife Olivia moved from Upper Matecumbe Key to Key Vaca and built a home of
"tabby concrete." Tabby is a mixture of sand, gravel and lime and often was used as a mortar to hold rocks
together for making a concrete wall, pier, etc. The difference was, instead of purchasing lime, they made their lime
by burning and grinding seashells to produce homemade lime.
The next significant event for Key Vaca was Flagler beginning his construction of the Overseas Railroad. Key West
was the primary goal; Knight's Key the secondary. From docks on Knight's Key, Flagler operated his Peninsular
and Occidental (P & O) Steamship Company to and from Havana while awaiting the completion of the railroad to
The standard story for the derivation of the name Marathon has many variations, but most have to do with the
speeding up of the railroad construction work, or its long duration of completion. The popular exclamation was,
"What is this, a marathon?," or "This is getting to be a real marathon!" The marathon was of course the
unrelenting, day and night struggle to complete the railroad to Key West.
Information about the Florida Keys and Key West