Indian Key – Islamorada, Florida - Atlas Obscura
Join us on an Atlas Obscura Trip in 2019 »

Islamorada, Florida

Indian Key

This lush Florida island is home to the ruins of a crooked ship breaker's tiny empire. 

Florida’s Indian Key is located a just north of Matacumbe Key on the ocean side, and while it was once inhabited by a shady ship-breaker, it is now a lush ghost town of stone ruins and wild vegetation.   

Jacob Houseman purchased Indian Key in 1831 to compete with the wrecking monopoly in Key West. At the time wrecking and salvaging shipwrecks was legal, not to mention extremely lucrative. Houseman had a sketchy reputation at best and was constantly at odds with the other wreckers in the Keys. His small empire consisted of a hotel, store, warehouses, docks, cisterns, residences, and possibly a post office all held on Indian Key. In 1836, in an effort to become independent from Key West, Indian Key was established as the first ever county seat for Miami Dade County at  Housman’s request.

Unfortunately Housman’s fortunes began to decline after he lost numerous court battles,  eventually resulting in the loss of his wreckers license. When the Second Seminole War broke out in 1835, Housman lost his Indian trade agreements and eventually mortgaged the island to Dr. Henry Perrine. The doctor moved to the key with his family to wait the war out. Perrine wanted to use a government grant to cultivate commercially viable plants on the mainland like the agave plants seen throughout the island. Unfortunately for the good doctor, the island was attacked in 1840 by indians after its well-stocked stores. During the siege, every building on the island was destroyed except for one. Many inhabitants escaped including Houseman., but Dr. Perrine was killed.

Today, the island is uninhabited but protected as a state park. It can only be reached via boat, but the fascinating ruins and stone foundations make it well worth the trip. 

Know Before You Go

A few hundred yards southeast of us1 just north of Matacumbe key