There are many individuals who can provide amazing history lessons about Lower Matecumbe and the surrounding area. But perhaps the best lessons come from the man and his family who lived that history for so many years. Irving Eyster and his wife, Jeane, moved with their family to the island from Key West in 1952 when there were just seven homes on the island. Irving died in 2014, a much loved resident and historian. Read the story of Irvings accomplishments ...click here.
And for even more about the Eysters... read their story from a 2010 LMKA newsletter - click here.
So the start of our history lesson for Lower Matecumbe starts here:
Photos and stories on this page from the book
Islamorada and More by Irving and Jeane Eyster.
The 1935 Hurricane: On September 2, Labor Day, there were almost 600 veterans of World War I in the Islamorada area working on government relief programs. An emergency train intended to evacuate veterans and others arrived at the Islamorada station 15 minutes before the storm hit and with it the 18 foot storm surge and 200 MPH winds. Parts of a few buildings were all that was left of Islamorada. Almost 500 people died that night.
The Florida East Coast Railway, cut, twisted and missing sections from Snake Creek to Marathon, would never run again. The railroad sold the right-of-way from Florida City to Key West to the Overseas Road and Toll Bridge District for $640,000. The railway right-of-way and bridges would be turned into a highway... putting extensions on the side of bridges to make them wide enough to accommodate two way traffic.
On January 22. 1912, with the railroad complete, Flagler rode his train to Key West.
The railroad had been finished to Islamorada several years earlier with a station and packing houses allowing the shipping of limes, melons, and pineapples. And many people traveled to Islamorada to fish and enjoy the tropical breezes of the Florida Keys.... the beginning of the tourist industry.
On March 29, 1938 - 139 miles of roadway became part of U.S. 1. Motorists could drive to Key West for the first time without ferries. A toll booth was erected at the west end of Lower Matecumbe to collect $1 for car and driver and another $.25 per passenger. In 1953 Monroe County residents were issued windshield stickers and could travel without the toll. In 1954, the road became toll free to everyone.
During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, the government had no money to pay a bonus that was promised to World War I veterans. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president and with congress, he formed the Works Progress Administration to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, creating jobs and putting people back to work. One of the projects was to build a sections of the Overseas Highway to eliminate the need for the ferries.
In November 1934 the Federal government sent almost 600 of the veterans to the Keys to build bridges, quarry stone and build a school. Many veterans were assigned the task of creating a bridge across Channel Two at the south end of Lower Matecumbe. The veterans were working on that project when the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 struck Islamorada.
The railroad to Key West: Henry Flagler (1830 - 1913) was the founder of what became the Florida East Coast Railway. By 1896 Flagler had completed the railroad from Jacksonville south to Miami, building cities, schools, churches, and laying out streets along the way. His hope was to use steamships to connect the railroad from Miami to Cuba, Latin America and Key West. Realizing the channel from Miami was not deep enough, he decided to extend the railroad to Key West where there already was deep harbor. And thus work on the Overseas Extension of the railroad was started in April 1905.
The Overseas Highway: Another major effort that impacted travel to and from the Florida Keys was the highway. As early as 1908, the people of Islamorada petitioned Monroe County for a road. There were only a few settlements on Upper Matecumbe and thick jungles separated them, so to get from one to the other, residents would usually travel by boat, walk the beach, or walk along the railroad track. It was not until April 1926 that Monroe County began a road on Upper Matecumbe, known as the Overseas Motor Highway. Eventually this road connected with other islands and by November 1927, it was possible to travel from Miami to the west end of Lower Matecumbe by car. In October 1927, the County Commission approved the running of ferries to bridge the gap from Lower Matecumbe 40 miles to No Name Key. With the ferries, the first car drove into Key West on January 25, 1928.