What’s a Bahia Honda?

The Florida Keys stretch for some 200 miles from Biscayne Bay near Miami to the Dry Tortugas. About 1,700 individual islands make up the archipelago. Looking on the bright side, that’s a lot of breathtaking Florida scenery to explore. On the other hand, that’s also an awful lot of islands to have to name and chart on a map!

Tough as it may have been to give each of the Florida Keys a unique and memorable name (and indeed there are still a few without names), explorers and locals have generally been up to the challenge over the years. Moreover, many of the names contain a little gem of history about the islands they’re identifying. Today’s blog explores a few of the more unusual place names in the Florida Keys, along with the history they represent.

First off, here’s a map showing the places we plan to discuss (click the map to enlarge it):

Excerpt of the Florida Department of Transportation's official 2014 Florida Highway Map showing the Florida Keys, highlighting the four unique place names we discuss in this post. Click the map to enlarge it.

Excerpt of the Florida Department of Transportation’s official 2014 Florida Highway Map showing the Florida Keys, highlighting the four unique place names we discuss in this post. Click the map to enlarge it.

Plantation Key

The Florida Keys might not seem much like the place to have a plantation, but that’s exactly how this island got its name. Plantation Key is located between Tavernier and Islamorada. Spanish charts generally do not give it a name, but by the 18th century it appeared on some maps as Long Island. The “Plantation” appellation likely stems from its use for coconut and pineapple production in the late 19th century by Captain Benjamin Baker. Baker was widely known as “King of the Wreckers,” engaged as he was in the business of salvaging the cargoes of ships that had foundered on the Florida Straits. An 1871 account in Harper’s Monthly Magazine claimed Baker had realized a profit of seven thousand dollars from a single year’s crop of pineapples. Not a bad haul for a second job!

Two men wearing leis made from sponges - Plantation Key (circa 1910).

Two men wearing leis made from sponges – Plantation Key (circa 1910).

Bahia Honda

No, this place name has nothing to do with foreign automobiles. Bahia Honda (pronounced Bah-EE-ah OWN-dah in Spanish) is a key located just southwest of the Seven Mile Bridge and northeast of Big Pine Key. The name, which means “deep bay” in Spanish, has appeared on maps and nautical charts at least as far back as the late 16th century. When Henry Flagler began building his Over-the-Sea Railroad through the Keys in the 1900s, Bahia Honda became home to two large dormitory-style buildings for the crews building the Bahia Honda Bridge connecting the island with West Summerland Key.

Excerpt of a 1763 British map of Florida showing the Florida Keys, including Bahia Honda. Map Collection, State Library of Florida. Click the map to enlarge it.

Excerpt of a 1763 British map of Florida showing the Florida Keys, including Bahia Honda. Map Collection, State Library of Florida. Click the map to enlarge it.

Original Bahia Honda Bridge under construction (circa 1908).

Original Bahia Honda Bridge under construction (circa 1908).

Ramrod Key

Ramrod Key is located about 25 miles northeast of Key West between Summerland and Big Pine keys. Despite the name, the island is shaped nothing like a ramrod. Evidence pointing to the origin of this unusual name is a bit hazy, but local experts generally agree the name hails from a British ship called Ramrod that wrecked nearby in the early 19th century. The name was well enough known by the 1850s that it began appearing on government surveys. A post office operated at Ramrod Key from 1917 to 1951, whereupon mail service was transferred to neighboring Summerland Key.

Ramrod Key Post Office (ca. 1950).

Ramrod Key Post Office (ca. 1950).

Lake Surprise

Lake Surprise is one of the first bodies of water crossed by the Overseas Highway after it leaves the Florida Mainland. As strange as it might seem, this is indeed a true lake contained entirely within Key Largo, and its discovery was truly a surprise, and not a pleasant one. The lake was unexpectedly encountered by the construction crews building Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway across Key Largo. The water had not appeared on preliminary surveys of the island, and it presented one of the earliest major obstacles for the project. When the crews attempted to fill in a causeway for the railroad rather than build a bridge, the fill material simply disappeared. Lake Surprise was eventually conquered, but only after 15 months of fill work.

Florida East Coast Railway engine #10 crossing Lake Surprise on a barge. The engine was used by railroad work crews during construction to transport workers, supplies, and building materials (1906).

Florida East Coast Railway engine #10 crossing Lake Surprise on a barge. The engine was used by railroad work crews during construction to transport workers, supplies, and building materials (1906).

These are, of course, only a sample of the many unusual names found throughout the Florida Keys, but hopefully it will inspire you to pull out a map and explore further. Who knows? You may get some ideas for a future Florida vacation!

A State Treasure at Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wasn’t just an author from Florida. She lived Florida. Her stories are laden with imagery and themes that Floridians know as their own. From South Moon Under to Cross Creek to The Yearling, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939, Rawlings’ books continue to give readers the opportunity to experience Old Florida charm with the turn of every page.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at her home in Cross Creek (circa 1940s).

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at her home in Cross Creek (circa 1940s).

Rawlings died in 1953, but she left far more than just her iconic writings as a legacy. She also left her home at Cross Creek, a tiny community packed into a small strip of land between Orange and Lochloosa lakes in southern Alachua County. The area had been settled since the 19th century, but few would have known how to find it until Rawlings’ fame put it on the map.

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation Map showing Cross Creek and vicinity (1990).

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation Map showing Cross Creek and vicinity (1990).

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings purchased her Cross Creek home in 1928 and began renovating it in 1930. Historic preservation experts believe the house was originally built in the 1880s as a two-room cabin with a “dogtrot,” or a breezeway running through the house from front to back. Additional bedrooms were built in the 1890s, while a dining room and kitchen were added in the 1920s. The house was not electrified until Rawlings had been living in the house for ten years, and even then the source of power was a Delco generator installed in the nearby pump house.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home at Cross Creek (circa 1980s).

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home at Cross Creek (circa 1980s).

When Rawlings died, she left her home to the Florida Endowment Corporation, now known as the University of Florida Foundation. Since 1970 it has been managed by the Florida Park Service. Thousands of visitors come to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings house each year to tour the grounds and learn about the life and career of this remarkable Floridian. The house became so popular in the years following the release of the movie Cross Creek in 1983 that state officials closed the site for a year while the foundation was strengthened to handle the added burden.

A barn on the Rawlings property at Cross Creek (1965).

A barn on the Rawlings property at Cross Creek (1965).

The Florida Photographic Collection contains numerous pictures of Rawlings, Cross Creek, and other places associated with her stories. Some of the rarest photos were taken by agents of MGM Studios in the 1940s as they searched around north and central Florida for settings to use in a film adaptation of The Yearling. This first attempt at turning the prize-winning book into a film faltered, partly due to the onset of World War II. MGM finally released the movie in 1947. Gregory Peck, Claude Jarman, and Jane Wyman starred, and the film won two Oscars for art direction and cinematography. It was nominated for five other Academy Awards.

Farm house scouted by MGM Studios as a possible filming site for a film adaptation of The Yearling (1940).

Farm house scouted by MGM Studios as a possible filming site for a film adaptation of The Yearling (1940). Search the Florida Photographic Collection to find more MGM photos.

On September 29, 1970 (45 years ago this week), the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home was added to the National Register of Historic Places. If you haven’t been to see it, you owe it to yourself to visit when you’re in the area next. Click here for more information from the Florida Park Service.

Until you’re ready to make the trip, of course, you can always search for photos of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Cross Creek on Florida Memory!

Farming at Fellsmere

The town of Fellsmere is located just west of Sebastian off Interstate 95 in Indian River County. It was one of many small communities wrestled from the swampy plains of South Florida in the early 20th century to serve the growing number of farmers making their living in the region.
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Welcome to Dunedin

Floridians have a diverse collective heritage that connects the state with all parts of the world. Dunedin, a quiet city on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is a perfect illustration of this. Dunedin citizens take pride in their town’s Scottish roots, such that tartan kilts and bagpipes are as a common a sight as palm trees.

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Second Chances

Second chances come more easily in some cases than in others. When a 3,500-year old bald cypress tree near Longwood, Florida known as “The Senator” burned in 2012, local residents could not have imagined that any such second chance was in store for their beloved landmark. Thanks to the determination of the local community and a little luck, however, the outcome was nothing short of miraculous.

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Cherry Lake

Cherry Lake is a small community located less than five miles from the Georgia State Line in Madison County. It has been home to one of the state’s most vibrant 4-H summer camp programs since 1937, but it was a hub of activity long before that time.

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A State Park Under the Sea

One of the greatest strengths of Florida’s state park system is its diversity. Between the caves, springs, towering forests, picture-perfect beaches, and historic structures, there’s a park to suit almost every interest. Heck, Florida is even home to the nation’s first underwater state park, located down in the Florida Keys. Read more »

Jacksonville’s “Treaty Oak”

“Big Oak is really big.”

Someone once wrote these profound words on the back of a photograph to describe what may be one of the oldest single living things in the entire city of Jacksonville. “Big Oak,” now known as “Treaty Oak,” is an enormous Southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) estimated to be well over two centuries old. It’s located in Jacksonville’s Jessie Ball duPont Park, parts of which were once known as the Dixieland Amusement Park. Read more »

Aunt Aggie’s Unusual Garden

In the early 20th century, visitors to Lake City in Columbia County were often encouraged to visit the local gardens owned by an African-American woman known as “Aunt Aggie.” The plants were nice enough: calycanthus, oleander, crepe myrtle, spirea, wild azaleas, and at least eight varieties of roses. But that’s not what made the garden unique.

Aunt Aggie's

Aunt Aggie’s “Bone Yard” garden in Lake City (circa 1910).

What made Aunt Aggie’s garden such a popular place to visit were the thousands of creatively arranged animal bones that decorated the space.  For years, Aggie Jones and her husband Jenkins collected the bones of various animals, allowed them to dry and bleach out in the sun, and then arranged them into trellises, gateways, arches, flower bed borders, and other structures. Skulls topped many of these unusual features.

Agnes Jones, also known as

Agnes Jones, also known as “Aunt Aggie,” in her unusual bone-decorated garden in Lake City (circa 1908).

Aggie and Jenkins Jones had both been born into slavery. Aggie came to Florida in 1844 with her owner, Elijah Mattox, who built a plantation near present-day Rose Creek in Columbia County. After Aggie was emancipated following the end of the Civil War, she continued to work for the Mattox family until she moved to Lake City. She bought property from one of her employers, Louise Cathey, in Lake City in 1883. It was on this property that Aunt Aggie began constructing her gardens.

So why the bones? There’s no clear answer, really. Bone meal is an excellent fertilizer; maybe this was part of Aggie’s motivation. Maybe it was just a bit of creative flair. At any rate, the “bone garden” became a popular tourist spot for travelers passing through Lake City by railroad or automobile. A pamphlet describing the garden says it was also a popular “lovers’ retreat.” Visitors would sometimes write their names and addresses on the bones – perhaps one of Florida’s most unusual guest books. Plants and fresh vegetables were almost always available for sale.

Aunt Aggie with a visitor in her garden (circa 1915).

Aunt Aggie with a visitor in her garden (circa 1915).

Time changes all things, and with Aunt Aggie’s garden it was no different. Aggie Jones died in 1918, and her garden and home were subsequently demolished to make way for a school. All that remains now are a handful of postcards and photographs, plus a few recollections written down by various visitors to Aunt Aggie’s mysterious creation.

What is the most unusual tourist attraction you’ve ever seen? Let us know by commenting below, or commenting on our Facebook page!

 

How Collier County Got Its Name

Several Florida counties bear the names of great leaders in state or national politics, such as Jefferson, Washington, Pasco, and Duval counties. Others are named for fallen soldiers, such as Bradford and (Miami-)Dade counties. Barron Gift Collier, for whom Collier County in Southwest Florida is named, was neither a war hero nor a great statesman. He did, however, have an inspiring vision for Florida’s southern Gulf coast, which he worked to make into a reality.

Barron Gift Collier (1873-1939), for whom Collier County is named (photo circa 1920s).

Barron Gift Collier (1873-1939), for whom Collier County is named (photo circa 1920s).

Barron Gift Collier was born March 23, 1873 in Memphis, Tennessee. He quit school at the age of 16 to go to work, and in ten years’ time had made his first million. Advertising was Collier’s specialty. He started out convincing freight shippers to use the Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago and New Orleans. Before long, he had moved on to producing advertisements for the interior and exterior of streetcars. He made his money by obtaining franchises from the streetcar companies to do all of their advertising. At the zenith of his career, Barron Collier had 70 offices in cities across the United States managing these franchises.

It was one of these deals that helped introduce Collier to South Florida. After the advertising mogul signed a new contract with a streetcar company president in Chicago named John Roach, Roach invited Collier down to Florida to visit his vacation home on Useppa Island. Collier was instantly smitten with the island, and ended up buying it from John Roach for $100,000 in 1911. Roach had developed a tarpon fishing resort on the island called the Useppa Inn; Collier expanded the facilities and made the inn into the anchor point of a new chain of luxury resorts on Florida’s Gulf coast.

Useppa Inn on Useppa Island off the coast of present-day Collier County. The inn was developed originally by John M. Roach of Chicago, and later bought by Barron G. Collier (photo circa 1910).

Useppa Inn on Useppa Island off the coast of present-day Lee County. The inn was developed originally by John M. Roach of Chicago, and later bought by Barron G. Collier (photo circa 1910).

Collier envisioned much more than coastal luxury for Southwest Florida. He began buying up the holdings of several large land companies, and by 1924 he owned more than a million acres. He turned his attention to the Tamiami Trail, which had been under construction for several years by 1922 when the State of Florida ran out of funds to finish the section crossing the Everglades. Collier offered to finance the road’s completion, so long as the State Legislature would move forward with plans to divide the vast territory of Lee County and create a new county for the Naples area. The Legislature complied, and named the new county Collier in honor of Barron Collier’s contributions to the development of the region.

Workers busy constructing a section of the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami across the Everglades. Pictured in the background is a

Workers busy constructing a section of the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami across the Everglades. Pictured in the background is a “walking dredge” used to lift limestone fill onto the roadbed. This dredge is now on display at Collier-Seminole State Park (photo circa 1920s).

When the Great Depression arrived, Barron Collier’s fortunes took a dive like so many others, although he still believed in the growth potential of Southwest Florida. In the 1930s, Collier struck oil at Sunniland, 12 miles south of Immokalee. In a few years Sunniland and neighboring oil fields were producing millions of barrels of oil annually.

Experts inspect oil well #1 at Sunniland near Immokalee (1943).

Experts inspect oil well #1 at Sunniland near Immokalee (1943).

Barron Collier died in New York in 1939 following an illness. His legacy in Southwest Florida is captured in the stretch of Tamiami Trail (now U.S. 41) that still uses the same path to cross the Everglades, as well as in the many developments he initiated in Naples and other nearby communities.

This is just one of many local Florida stories extracted from the collections of the State Library & Archives of Florida. If you’re interested in local history, consider searching our catalogs for relevant information, and then plan a visit! Go to info.florida.gov to learn more.