SPONGING AT KEY WEST
Although sponges from Florida waters were used by the inhabitants
of Key West since its settlement in 1822, not until 1849 did this product of
the sea have any commercial value. In that year a cargo of sponges was sent
to New York on a venture and the result was the gradual growth of this
industry in Florida.
Until 1891, Key West had a virtual monopoly of the sponge business.
In that year a small sponge market was established at Tarpon Springs. This
gradually increased in importance until now Tarpon Springs is the leading
sponge center of the world. This is for the most part due to the introduction
of diving apparatus in 1905.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is a sponge sales-day at Key
West where on the new deck, bunches and cartloads of sponges are offered
for sale. A small group of men accompanied by an auctioneer, goes from
one lot to another, making bids on slips of paper to be used by the
auctioneer. He then announces the name of the highest bidder to whom a
lot is sold, if the price is satisfactory to the owner. No more ceremony is
involved in the sale of a quantity valued at several thousand dollars than one
which brings only a few dollars.
There are two widely separated sponge areas-the "bay grounds,"
lying in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico from about St. Johns Pass to
St. Marks; and the "key grounds," stretching along among the reefs and keys
from Cape Florida to Boca Grande Key.