Today after a 311 mile motorcycle ride that started in Naples, Florida we are now in our room on “Cedar Key“. I love history and learning about an area is part of the reason I am on this ride. If we could eleminate the final three hours of this ride it woul’ve been perfect. Like I said earlier it was a long day.
Cedar key was established in 1860 because of the western terminus of the Florida Railroad, connecting it to Fernandina on the east coast of Florida.
Cedar Key like Key West goes way back in history. It was founded in the 1850s but its big break was in 1861, when it became the western station on the Florida Railroad, the first link across the state, originating in Fernandina on Amelia Island.
Prior to 1896 the city of Cedar Key was located on Asenta Otie Island. Asenta Otie was used by the Spanish as as a way station for treasure galleons on the way back from Mexico to Spain. Ships would pick up water and drop ballast in the harbor before circling the tip of Florida on their return trips with gold from Mexico.
Pirates used the area to raid shipping. In the late 19th century a treasure chest was recovered from the area around Fowler’s Bluff on the Suwannee. Rumor and tales relate that Baird Hardware in Gainesville, FL was started with part of this discovery.
During the Second Seminole War Cantonment Morgan, a U.S. government military hospital and internment camp for Indians, was located on Seahorse Key nearby.
From this point Indians were shipped west to reservations. How else do you think we got rid of the Indians stil living on good productive lands?
In 1851, by order of the President, Seahorse Key was reserved as a lighthouse site.
On August 1, 1854 the light was first lit to guide shipping in and out of Cedar Key.
The first census of Florida as an American Territory was taken in 1830. Among the first settlers listed was David Yulee Levy. David Levy was born in 1810 on the Virgin Island of St. Thomas (then a Danish possession).
On May 26, 1845 two months after Florida became a state, voters elected David Levy to be Florida’s first elected member of Congress.
Levy County, and its first county seat, Levyville were named for him during this same year. Also during 1845 the Florida Legislature authorized Levy to change his last name to Yulee. Two bills were introduced in the legislature to change the name of Levy County, but died on the floor of the House.
Except for a matter of timing, this county would have been named Yulee County.
David Yulee was instrumental in the building of the first railroad in Florida. His dream of a trans-Florida railroad began as early as 1835, and development began in about 1844 and was completed on March 1, 1861.
The Florida Railroad Company built a 155 mile line that ran from Fernandina Beach on the Atlantic to Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico.
During the Civil War Cedar Key was occupied by Federal forces on January 15, 1862. In March of that same year Federal forces took Fernandina. The railroad was basically closed down for the duration of the war.
Yulee was not able to reestablish his railroad following the Civil War and the line was merged and consolidated with other lines until it became part of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.
Cedar Key was one of the primary population centers during the frontier days of Florida. Produce was shipped down the Mississippi River and then carried across the Gulf of Mexico to Cedar Key. Here the produce was off loaded to boxcars and transported across the state to Fernandina Beach and then north to population centers in the Northeastern United States. This avoided the dangerous trip around the tip of Florida during hurricane season.
Cedar Key again became a shipping point for produce, cedar, and seafood. Its population grew to around 10,000 people. Faber and Eagle Pencil Companies operated factories on Asenta Otie and Way Keys.
The vast stands of cedar that covered the islands and the nearby coast supplied the companies with the raw materials needed to produce quality pencils for the world . Cedar Key became one of the major source of pencil cedar for the world at that time.
In 1880 Henry Plant organized the Plant Investment Company and purchased the Florida Transit & Peninsular Railroad, one of the railroad lines which had absorbed the Yulee’s original line. Cedar Key was a major population center at the time, had a deepwater port, and shipped oysters throughout the Southeastern United States.
Steamships plied the waters between New Orleans, Havana, and Cedar Key . The Suwannee River’s mouth was located just to the north. The river was navigable for quite a distance inland. Plant discovered that he had purchased all the rail line except the railhead at Cedar Key.
When the owners refused to sell, he abandoned his plans and instead moved his railhead to the small village of Tampa located approximately 100 miles to the south of Cedar Key.
On September 23rd, 1896 a hurricane wiped out the town of Cedar Key. All that remains on its original site on Asenta Otie Island is a graveyard.
Buildings were floated by barge across the channel separating Asentie Otie and Way Key and the town was reestablished. Sadly to say Faber and the Eagle Pencil Company moved elsewhere, leaving the forests depleted.
Though still shipping seafood over the railroad, the economy of Cedar Key declined. its population moved elsewhere and Cedar Key became a small fishing village.
And the rest as they say is all history.