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!

Florida’s First Steam-Powered Railway

On September 5, 1836, the Lake Wimico & St. Joseph Railroad ran its first train from the Apalachicola River to St. Joseph. It took about 25 minutes to move the eight cars and 300 passengers along the eight-mile stretch of track. An enthusiastic crowd met the train at its destination, delighted in both the local and statewide implications of this short voyage. In addition to boosting the local economy, the Lake Wimico & St. Joseph Railroad had the honor of being the first steam-powered railroad to operate in Florida.

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Lanark-by-the-Sea

If you’re looking for a scenic route to get you through the Florida Panhandle, there’s no substitute for U.S. Highway 98, which follows the Gulf coast all the way from Pensacola to Perry. You’re probably familiar with some of the larger waypoints along this road – Panama City, Destin, Apalachicola. The smaller communities, however, have a charm all their own, and a rich history in most cases. This is in part because many of these smaller communities weren’t always so small. Lanark Village in Franklin County is a prime example.

1950s-era highway map showing Lanark and vicinity on Florida's Gulf coast.

1950s-era highway map showing Lanark and vicinity on Florida’s Gulf coast.

In the 1880s, most of the Panhandle was still forested with virgin timber. The population was small, and most inhabitants had only small farms. The South was beginning to emerge from the economic malaise that followed the Civil War, and investors were beginning to take interest in Florida’s plentiful land and agreeable climate. William Clark, a Scotsman who had made his fortune in the textile industry, partnered with several of his colleagues in Scotland and New York to begin developing the area just east of the Apalachicola River. The Clark Syndicate, as it came to be called, eventually controlled a whole constellation of companies, including the Scottish Land & Improvement Company, the Georgia & Florida Investment Company, the Gulf Terminal & Navigation Company, and the Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad Company.

Map of Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad showing the proposed route of the road and lucrative timber resources along the route. This map was used to sell company bonds to investors (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Gulf Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

Map of Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad showing the proposed route of the road and lucrative timber resources along the route. This map was used to sell company bonds to investors (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Gulf Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

These projects were cleverly integrated. The railroad company captivated the interests of prospective bondholders by pointing out all the timber the company would have access to once it had penetrated south from Tallahassee to the Gulf. As the railroad progressed, the syndicate built stations and laid out communities along the way, so that workers could begin tapping the natural resources of the area to repay the bondholders and turn a profit. Arran, McIntyre, and Sopchoppy were founded in this way.

The railroad executives had special plans for the Gulf. Just east of Carrabelle, where the Carrabelle, Tallahassee, and Georgia line passed quite close to the coast, the company laid out a town and named it after William Clark’s home county of Lanarkshire. The original plan called for a street grid with 118 city blocks. The streets running north and south were named for various trees, while the avenues running east and west were named for board members of the Clark Syndicate. One broad street entering town from the north was to be called Bloxham Road, a nod to Governor William D. Bloxham.

Plan of Lanark-by-the-Sea (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

Plan of Lanark-by-the-Sea (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

The Clark Syndicate planned to advertise Lanark-by-the-Sea as a healthful and luxurious Florida resort, and sell town lots to wealthy Northerners who craved a little rest from the crowded cities and chilly weather. To get them to stick around for a bit while they fell in love with the place, the Scottish Land & Improvement Company built a fine hotel at the center of town. The establishment opened July 4, 1894. Water was drawn from nearby Lanark Spring into a 20,000 gallon water tank, where it could be used for the hotel, nearby town lot owners, or for fire protection. The coastline around Lanark doesn’t normally lend itself to white sandy beaches, but the developers were undaunted. According to one of the company’s annual reports, workers managed to fill in a section of shoreline with sand and invent a beach for guests to enjoy. The hotel also featured a wide veranda with rocking chairs, and a 500-foot boardwalk connecting the main building with a dancing pavilion near Lanark Spring. Parts of the spring were covered with a bath house, including private dressing rooms for men and women.

Newspaper ad for the Lanark Inn, date unknown. Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

Newspaper ad for the Lanark Inn, date unknown. Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.


Front view of the Lanark Inn, Franklin County (1898).

Front view of the Lanark Inn, Franklin County (1898).

The Lanark Inn, as it was called, became a popular getaway spot, not only for tourists, but also for wealthier locals from nearby Tallahassee. The railroad company offered special excursion ticket prices to entice visitors. In 1896, company executives reported offering $1.00 tickets from any point on the railroad to Lanark each Sunday during the summer. In addition, the steamer “Crescent City” brought more guests over from nearby Apalachicola.

The hotel was the center of the community. After the train arrived each day, it was common for all of the cottage owners from around town to gather in the lobby to chat and receive their mail. Saturday nights were spent dancing in the hotel ballroom, and bridge games were popular during the day. The dock that extended out over the Gulf in front of the main building was a popular place to gather after supper for swimming, dancing, and reminiscing.

Florida Railway and Navigation Company Engine #15 at the Lanark Hotel (circa 1890s).

Florida Railway and Navigation Company Engine #15 at the Lanark Hotel (circa 1890s).

Over time, the fortunes of the Clark Syndicate began to decline. By 1926, a hard-surface highway between Tallahassee and Carrabelle was complete, which rendered the passenger railroad increasingly unnecessary. Timber was getting more scarce, and the Clark companies eventually began selling off parts of their former North Florida empire. The hotel suffered severe damage during a hurricane in 1929, and a fire destroyed the old hotel in the 1930s. It was rebuilt, but like most sequels, it never recaptured the vibrancy of the original.

Lanark was changing, but it had glory days yet to come. During World War II, the new hotel building served as the headquarters for a training base called Camp Gordon Johnston. Entire divisions of soldiers were trained in amphibious warfare techniques on the beaches here, including the use of amphibious vehicles. A number of the soldiers who trained here participated in the D-Day invasion of 1944.

Soldiers training on the beach at camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

Soldiers training on the beach at camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

After the war, the camp buildings fell into disrepair, but developers began planning for an entirely new settlement at Lanark. In 1955, Lanark Estates, Inc. filed a plat laying out a new subdivision where the Lanark Inn had once been a social center. The new community was called Lanark Village, and it is still visible today as you drive through on U.S. 98.

Florida is covered with small communities having stories like that of Lanark-by-the-Sea. The State Library and Archives of Florida have a wide variety of print and manuscript materials to help you uncover these gems of local history. Visit info.florida.gov to learn more about our resources!

Florida and the Civil War (June 1863)

Railroad Wars

Railroads played a decisive role in the Civil War. The ability to rapidly move troops and supplies on a vast scale greatly increased the war making potential of both sides. When the war began, two thirds of U.S. railroads were in the North, which could draw on its tremendous industrial base to repair, replenish and construct rail lines, cars and locomotives. The South had to conserve and utilize its limited railroad resources to the best possible effect. Paradoxically, for a nation built on the premise of limited government and state’s rights, the Confederacy, if it was to survive, had to subordinate the rights of private railroads to benefit the national war effort. One of the clearest examples of this conflict of interest occurred in Florida in the summer of 1863, when Governor John Milton sought to obtain rails from the Florida Railroad owned by former United States senator David Levy Yulee.

Excerpt from "Watson's New County, Railroad and Distance Map of Florida," 1875

Excerpt from “Watson’s New County, Railroad and Distance Map of Florida,” 1875

With 402 miles of track in 1860, Florida had the lowest track mileage in the South, which by the beginning of the war had a total of 9,000 miles compared to 21,000 miles in the North. In 1861, only two interstate lines between Florida and Alabama linked Florida to another state. In 1861, there was no rail link between Florida and Georgia, and there was no railroad between Pensacola and the rest of the state. The Pensacola & Georgia Railroad and the Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad companies were chartered to build a railroad from Jacksonville to Pensacola, but by 1861 the road only ran between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, just half of the planned route. In 1862, the route reached Quincy, 20 miles to the west of Tallahassee, but no further. Read more »

Do the Locomotion

Railroads opened Florida to new industry, expanded the tourist economy, and allowed for rapid residential and commercial development.

Tallahassee Rail Road Company banknote (Collection M77-155)

Tallahassee Rail Road Company banknote (Collection M77-155)

The first rail construction project authorized in Florida was the Tallahassee-St. Marks line, chartered in 1834. The first train to operate, however, was the Lake Wimico line that connected the boomtown of St. Joseph to the Apalachicola River in 1836. The Tallahassee-St. Marks train, which was initially mule-drawn, connected the highly productive cotton fields of Leon and Jefferson counties with the St. Marks River. These early efforts only hinted at the profound impact that railroads, passenger lines, and freight trains would have on Florida’s history.

First complete train from Bartow to Punta Gorda, late 1800s

First complete train from Bartow to Punta Gorda, late 1800s


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