Key Largo – Island in Florida

Joe Walsh, Commissioner of the Greater Northeast Athletic Conference, is from Boston. He and his wife Deb are longtime winter residents of Buttonwood Bay Club. They reside for the season in a townhouse here in Key Largo immediately next to our own. We both happened to be at the central pool this morning. Joe approached me, in his inimitable way with clipboard in hand and the indisputable air of an estate agent, to enquire whether I approved of Buttonwood Bay Club (by which I interpreted he meant Key Largo as well).  I replied succinctly that we had already contracted with the owner’s agent to return next year.  Joe’s casual enquiry revived a number of personal recollections about the Florida Keys in particular and the State of Florida in general.

The scope of my memories encompass not only the more recent and decidedly entertaining visits to Key West (hearkening back to 1976) but also a very distant youthful memory (from the time I was about 11 years of age) in what I recall was Daytona Beach. About 1959 my parents, my sister and I lived in Washington DC at 4412 Edmunds St NW. I recollect my father driving us in his grey Oldsmobile 4-door sedan to Daytona Beach for a holiday.  I am guessing it was Daytona Beach because I remember the beach down the boardwalk from our ocean-front cottage was very broad. I suspect as well that Daytona Beach was our destination because my father was a car buff and the  Daytona Beach Speedway was no doubt an attraction especially so because years later when my parents lived in Stockholm, Sweden he took our family to the Francorchamps Grand Prix race in Belgium. To this day, as much as I salivate over the North American passenger sedan, there is nothing that would spirit me to endure another car race.

Daytona International Speedway is a race track in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States. Since opening in 1959, it has been the home of the Daytona 500, the most prestigious race in NASCAR as well as its season opening event.

The most memorable event of that childhood visit was my mother scorching the front of her hair after having stuck her head partway into the gas oven before lighting a match to make it operable. In those days everything about Florida (apart perhaps from Miami) was small, low-level structures alongside the main highway.

Following are some on-line particulars of Key Largo which I hope will add some useful intelligence to the topic.

Key Largo is an island in the Florida Keys, an archipelago off the south coast of the U.S. state. It’s a popular holiday destination where onshore and offshore state parks provide opportunities for wildlife encounters, fishing, kayaking and diving. Divers and snorkelers visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to view tropical fish and an underwater statue of Christ.

Key Largo (Spanish: Cayo Largo) is an island in the upper Florida Keys archipelago and is the largest section of the keys, at 33 miles (53 km) long. It is one of the northernmost of the Florida Keys in Monroe County, and the northernmost of the keys connected by U.S. Highway 1 (the Overseas Highway).

Key Largo is the first of the fabulous Florida Keys and is the self-proclaimed Dive Capital of the World.

Both islands (Key West and Key Largo) are beautiful, but Key Largo has more natural beauty whereas Key West has more tourist attractions and historical sites. Key West is a small island city with a bustling nightlife and plenty of activity. Key Largo is a larger, less developed island with a more relaxed and laid-back vibe.

The best time to visit Key Largo is between December and March. During this time, you will find dry weather and temperatures that aren’t too hot, but are still warm enough for the beach and other outdoor activities. Cannon Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Key Largo, and for a good reason. The beach is beautiful with its white sand and turquoise waters. It’s perfect for swimming, sunbathing and snorkelling.

The classic film noir (Key Largo) by John Huston stars Humphrey Bogart as World War II vet Frank McCloud. Visiting Key Largo to pay his respects to the family of his late war buddy, McCloud attempts to comfort his comrade’s widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall), and father, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), who operate a hotel. But McCloud realizes that mobsters, led by the infamous Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) are staying in the hotel. When the criminals take over the establishment conflict is inevitable. While most of the film was shot in Los Angeles, some exterior shots were filmed at the Caribbean Club at Mile Marker 105 on US 1.

Anyone who has driven to Key West is familiar with the Overseas Highway which originally constituted the Overseas Railroad. Coincidentally I spoke yesterday with a chap who advised that the construction of the Overseas Railroad may have inadvertently contributed to much of Florida’s mounting seashore difficulties.  The theory is that the obstructions between the islands in the archipelago of the Florida Keys inhibited the free flow of water from the North Atlantic Ocean into the Gulf of Mexico. I won’t attempt to expand upon the particulars though there appears to be a case for the unnatural alteration of water flow.

The Overseas Highway had been a longtime ambition of mine after having initially flown from Miami to Key West (when the airport there was a small landing strip with the passenger terminal merely a step away off the plane).  On the flight from Miami to Key West we joked that we could tap the pilot on his shoulder! The drive on the Overseas Highway was like penetrating a turquoise jewel.

The Overseas Railroad (also known as Florida Overseas Railroad, the Overseas Extension, and Flagler’s Folly) was an extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to Key West, a city located 128 miles (206 km) beyond the end of the Florida peninsula. Work on the line started in 1905 and it operated from 1912 to 1935, when it was partially destroyed by the Labor Day Hurricane. Some of the remaining infrastructure was used for the Overseas Highway.

Henry Flagler (1830–1913) was a principal in Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler and later a founder of Standard Oil during the Gilded Age in the United States. The wealthy Flagler took an interest in Florida while seeking a warmer climate for his ailing first wife in the late 1870s. Returning to Florida in 1881, he became the builder and developer of resort hotels and railroads along the east coast of Florida.

Beginning with St. Augustine, he moved progressively south. Flagler helped develop Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, and Palm Beach, and became known as the Father of Miami, Florida.

This afternoon while lounging and swimming at the pool I serendipitously engaged in conversation with artist Kenneth Cotlar. He is a poignant reminder that it isn’t only Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett of Margaritaville notoriety who are among the many talented people who have frequented our immediate community. Cotlar’s work exhibits his familiarity with modern and European blends.

Kenneth Cotlar, Artist

We have yet to hit the pinnacle of activity on Key Largo as more and more interlopers daily arrive primarily from the northeastern US states and central Canada. Judging by what I overhear regularly from those lingering about Buttonwood Bay Club, Key Largo has proven to be a very desirable place to hang one’s Panama hat; and that departure is such sweet sorrow.