A toilet, carved in rock, flushed by the sea. Streets laid out through a tropical forest. Grand homes built by wreckers, who rowed out to the coral reefs to claim the ruins of Spanish ships that shredded in the shallows.
It was a rough and rowdy place, this island where Dade County began long before Miami showed up. Infamous wrecker Jacob Housman owned the island and filled it with tropical plantings. When botanist Dr. Henry Perrine arrived in 1838, he began experimental cultivation of sisal hemp and applied for an agricultural grant from Congress to experiment with tropical species. Perrine started the Tropical Plant Company of Florida here with partners Judge James Webb of Key West and Charles Howe, the postmaster of Indian Key, to whom Perrine had been shipping tropical seeds from Mexico for the previous decade.
On August 7, 1840, more than 100 Indians attacked the island. Perrine’s family and others escaped to safety, but Perrine attempted to talk to the attackers and was killed. Abandoned soon after, the ruins of the community are now surrounded by interesting tropical trees and plants grown wild from Perrine’s original stock, including limes that might be the original key limes.
Although you can see it from US 1, Indian Key Historic State Park is accessible only by boat. There is no longer ferry service to the island. Check at Robbie’s Marina at MM 78.5 for kayak rentals, as it’s a comfortable paddle in nice weather. Local historian Brad Bertelli leads guided historical tours of the island on a regular basis.