Cedar Key Historic and Archaeological District
The historic town of Cedar Key has remained a well-known spot among explorers since the 1500s. With its status as a pirate’s refuge to its variety of legendary visitors, including St. Clair Whitman and John Muir, the Cedar Key Historic and Archaeological District enables all visitors to take a step into the past and discover the area’s lavish history. Before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors around 1542, when the area was called “Las Islas Sabines” by a Spanish cartographer, archaeological evidence shows that the Cedar Key cluster of islands was inhabited by Native American tribes of the Deptford period between 500 B.C. to 200 A.D. However, arrowheads and spearpoints dated to 12,000 B.C. were also found in the area. Between the exploration of La Florida in the 16th century and its permanent occupation at the beginning of the 19th century, Cedar Key was used as a watering stop for ships returning to Spain from Mexico, a home for the Seminole Indians, and a safe refuge for pirates, including Jean Lafitte and Captain Kidd. Once Florida was added to the Union in 1865, the role of Cedar Key dramatically changed. The Town of Cedar Key was incorporated in 1869, and industry soon boomed in the area. The cross-Florida railroad from Fernadina to Cedar Key was reinstated; John Muir completed his 1,000-mile walk in 1867 to Cedar Key (starting from Kentucky); and the cedar industry grew. The cedar was eventually used in the booming pencil industry, and businesses such as the Eagle Pencil Company mill would form important roots on the keys. Nowadays, the Cedar Key Historic and Archaeological District retains its fame for accurately showcasing life in Florida in the early 20th century, much of which is reminiscent of the oyster and fishing booms marking that era. In 1989, the National Park Service listed the district on the National Register of Historic Places.
Backstory and Context
History of Cedar Key
The importance of the Cedar Key area goes back to around 500 BC, and according to archaeologists, Native American societies of the Deptford
Cedar Key was part of the Spanish exploration in the early 16th century, as maps of Cedar Key have been found that date back to 1542, when the island was labeled as Las Islas Sabines. Habitation was quite slim within the next few centuries, as the islands were mostly used by both merchant ships as well as pirates. Some of the most infamous pirates thought to have used Cedar Key included Jean Lafitte as well as Captain Kidd.
European colonization came to the keys following William Augustus Bowles's successfully completion of a watchtower on the island in 1801. Bowles was infamous for pursuing a separate American Indian state and for forming a short-lived state known as the State of Muskogee, from which he declared war on Spain. Due to this adversarial relationship between himself and Spain, the Spanish destroyed his watchtower in 1802.
The first true settlement on Cedar Key began in 1839, following General Zachary Taylor’s construction of Fort No. 4
Development finally took off in the Reconstruction Era, as railroad traffic resumed and commerce grew. By 1869, the incorporated Town of Cedar Key boasted a population of 400. Fishing, sponge-collecting, pencil manufacturing (from the namesake cedar trees on the island) and oystering dominated the local economy; however, the oyster beds soon became exhausted at the beginning of the 20-century. To protect the area, President Hoover established the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge in 1929. Today, tourism of the Cedar Key Historic District is a strong economic driver of the area, providing visitors with an interesting view into the colorful and
Cedar Key Museum State Park
The Cedar Key Museum State Park showcases items of historical significance collected by Saint Clair Whitman, who was a local resident from the late 19th-century until the early 20th-century. The museum was first an informal affair, held in Whitman’s home and featuring collections of
John Muir Historic Marker
Also at the Cedar Key Museum State Park is the "John Muir at Cedar Key" historical marker. In fact, Cedar Key was John Muir’s ending destination during his famed walk from Kentucky to Florida. He arrived in Cedar Key in 1867, where he contracted malaria working at a local sawmill. He was nursed back to health in the house of the mill owner’s superintendent, and he would then sail to Cuba in 1868 before making his famed travels to the Sierra. 1