Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Key Marco



There is a lot of confusion over where or what is “Key Marco.” Most new residents to the Island have heard of the “Key Marco Cat” and know vaguely that it is a small statue of a kneeling wooden feline image found on Marco in 1896. Others know that it was found by Frank Hamilton Cushing in his archaeological dig on Marco and it, along with over 2,000 other artifacts, were shipped off of the Island to places like the British Museum in London, the University of Pennsylvania and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. But the term “Key Marco” is usually misunderstood. Some of the confusion is due to physical changes to Marco Island and still more from recent re-naming.

First, the confusion in names: as part of the Deltona Corporation’s resolution of the extensive litigation to stop them from developing the eastern part of the Island, the “Big Key” and “Blue Hill Creek” areas (located north and south of San Marco Road on the way to Goodland), Deltona was permitted to develop certain higher elevation areas and allowed to transfer density off of the Island. Horr’s Island, formally owned by Captain John F. Horr who was a pineapple plantation owner in the late 1800’s, had a high ridge that was not so environmentally sensitive that it could not still be developed. Deltona sold it to Ronto Developments, Inc. in 1988 and Ronto changed the name of the Island, for marketing reasons, from Horr’s Island to Key Marco. So, actually, the current “Key Marco” or former Horr’s Island has nothing to do with the original Key Marco or the Key Marco Cat.

So, where was Key Marco? A clue is in the word “Key” meaning a separate island, as in the Florida Keys. It will surprise many to know that the original Key Marco is now known as Old Marco, and was once a separate Island located north of the main part of Marco Island. When Cushing arrived in 1896, he arrived by boat and docked along Collier Creek (the channel that leads from Collier Bay to the Marco River). Captain Bill (W.D.) Collier had just opened the Marco Inn to paying customers and Cushing was one of the first to stay there. The W. D. Collier store was located along Collier Creek in the location of where the Pavilion Condominium is today. Collier’s house was located on the grounds of the Old Marco Inn and, when digging for soil for his plants, he found wood carvings and cordage in the muck across from his house – a find that would be totally explored by Cushing. The area of the Cushing dig is now located approximately in the southwest end of Vernon Place, across the street from the Old Marco Inn.

In Cushing’s journals that have recently been found, he referred to the large island to the south of Key Marco as “Caxambas Island.” Between Key Marco and the main island of Caxambas to the south (now known as Marco Island) flowed and merged the waters of Collier Bay and Factory Bay. Cushing mentioned that area as being “an extensive mangrove swamp

Craig Woodward

Craig Woodward

around its southern borders, and forming at high water level an island by itself upon the northern edge of the greater Caxambas Island.” In addition many of the early settlers referred to traveling by boat or having to wade at low tide to get to Collier’s store from the main island. The artist on the Cushing expedition, Wells Sawyer, made a very good topographical map of Key Marco showing all of the old Calusa water channels and ceremonial mounds. The Calusa-built shell ridge shown on that map, which ran southwest of Key Marco along Collier Bay, later became the base for the original road to Old Marco, back at a time when the future access that would become Bald Eagle Drive was still under water.

In 1895 Captain Collier purchased 24.6 acres of “swamp lands” located just south of Key Marco from the State of Florida, which were the lands needed to connect Key Marco to the large island to the south. He paid $1.00 per acre or $24.60 for this property. Currently, the streets of Old Marco Lane, Ruppert Road and Gayer Way lie in this area.

In 1924 Captain Collier sold off his holdings in Old Marco for $80,000 to L.L. Buchanan, who was an agent for the San Marco Corporation, a New York group of investors. As part of their planned development of Old Marco, they incorporated the Island in 1925 into Collier City and in 1926 platted Key Marco into the Collier City Subdivision. They had 525 lots for sale priced from $6,000 to $10,000. The older wooden homes and structures you see today on the right side of Bald Eagle, as you head north toward the Snook Inn, were the former homes of residents who purchased lots in the Collier City Subdivision. In August of 1928 the San Marco Corporation purchased two more parcels of submerged land from the State of Florida. One parcel of 13.3 acres along Collier Bay became the southern part of Edington Place and the northern part of Old Marco Lane, and the other a parcel of 1.6 acres that is now under the Pier 81 Condominiums. The price paid to State per acre? $100 an acre for a total of $1,490.

Over an  eight year period (1927-1935) the San Marco Corporation only sold 8 lots; with horrible timing, they missed the 1920’s Florida land boom and found themselves trying to market during the Great Depression. George Ruppert, brother of the owner of the NY Yankees and a beer brewer, foreclosed his interests in 1936 taking full ownership of Key Marco in his corporation, The Marco Island Corporation. The submerged lands purchased from the State of Florida were all filled in the late 1950s and early 1960s connecting, permanently, the old Key Marco to the main island. Then, in 1963, the Marco Island Corporation platted and developed Old Marco Village, making it virtually impossible to now see that there was once a separate island where Old Marco now exists, once known as “Key Marco.”

Craig Woodward moved to Marco Island in 1968 and has practiced law in Collier County since 1980. Craig has led a history tour of the Island for the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Marco program.

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