Historical Notes on Key Colony Beach
Charles H. Anderson
Notes on the background and development of Key Colony Beach, Florida. A presentation
to the Key
Colony Beach Chamber of Commerce "Town Meeting" in conjunction with the City Commission
of Key Colony Beach, February 28, 1984.
Just by way of letting you know that I am not of only recent acquaintance with the
Florida Keys, let
me go back in time for about fifty years.
Sarasota, on the Florida west coast, was home. The name, Florida Keys didn't mean too
However, mention the name Marathon among members of the commercial fishing fleet and you
would be on familiar ground. Marathon, in the 1920's and 1930's was winter home of
fishermen from both the east and west coasts of the state, all in search of the then
These were hook and line fishermen; the great nets of today's commercial fleets was either
or unaffordable. These fishermen came by the hundreds. The name Marathon was synonymous
My very first look at the area was during the summer of 1932. It was vacation time
University of Florida. Vacation time meant a couple of weeks of sailing time with school
Clinton Johnson. We had sailed our 21 foot open boat from Sarasota out to the Marquesas,
West and were sort of coasting back towards home. We put into this place called Marathon
on a few staples and find a couple of jugs of water.
We docked at a rough and tumble facility at just about where the Marathon Yacht Club is
located and made our way the long block up to the commercial center of the village of
That being the intersection of the railroad track and the rutted path, one car wide, from
area. "The Store" was what you would call a general store owned and operated by a Mr.
We made considerable purchases of canned milk, vienna sausage, corn flakes and pork and
exhausted our meager finances. We asked about fresh water and found two kinds were
Five cent water and ten cent water. The ten cent water was from a clean tank that was
tank cars railroaded down from Homestead. The nickle per gallon water was something else.
was from a large cypress tank into which was collected rainwater from the store building's
you could say was quite a bargain, considering all of the proteins that came with the
in the way of mosquito larvae and wiggle tails. No problem really. You just strained the
through a handkerchief or drank the water in the dark. Either way, the additives didn't
bother us much.
Sailing up the bay we passed Vaca Cut, Pull `N Be Damned Creek, noticed the names Fat
and Shelter Key on the chart. Fat Deer Keys were several islands beginning at Shelter Key
Colony Beach) and including what is now Coco Plum and several other smaller islands to the
Incidentally, there was no passage through Vaca Cut at the time. Most of the smaller
between the islands had been filled in during the period of railroad construction
1906-1912. It was
easier and less expensive to fill rather than to construct bridges.
The great and exclusive resort, the Long Key Fishing Camp, founded by Zane Gray in 1916,
located on the western tip of Long Key. This was a complex of buildings left over from
construction period and redesigned into a retreat for affluent sportsmen around the world.
cottages were installed in a park like setting of a tropical coconut grove. A two story
as lobby, recreation room, restaurant and hotel. We docked our twenty-one footer at the
on the bay side where the Edgewater Lodge is now located.
An elderly couple invited us to lunch in the club house. After hearing lively tales of
adventure, the same couple again invited us to the evening dinner, even engaged one of the
rooms for us for the night. I have always been proud of the fact I was privileged to
spend a night in
the somewhat historic building that was completely blown away just three years later in
hurricane of 1935.
The next time I had a connection with the Florida Keys, I was editor of the Florida
Bureau in Tallahassee. This was the publicity and promotional arm of the Florida State
Commission, now the Florida Department of Commerce. Into my office one day, came a short,
rotund, jolly man who introduced himself as Phil Sadowski, developer of Marathon Shores.
about two hours I heard great and glowing tales of what was happening in the Florida Keys.
Especially with reference to what Phil Sadowski was doing. My summation at the time was,
must be on dope. No one pours that kind of money into those swampy mangrove islands. How
wrong I was.
During the early fall of 1953 I was involved in a Key Deer count with the Fish and
and the Boone and Crockett Club (which was instrumental in establishing the Key Deer
toll road was still collecting fees then. After the survey was complete on Big Pine Key,
I stopped in
to see Phil at his office in the new hotel he had under construction. It was then named
Colony Hotel, later became the Jack Tar, then Salty Dog and now is a cooperative, the
Phil, gracious host that he was, treated me to all the amenities. Early the second day
of my visit I was
hustled into a work boat at his marina on the ocean side of the closed Vaca Cut. Out
ocean, Phil first pointed out a small mangrove covered island, eventually to become Yacht
Island. Next came a much larger, but equally low island, but with an ocean beach. This,
pointed out, was going to be his finest achievement, Key Colony Beach. With great good
we traveled along off shore on the ocean side of the island, Phil pointed to one spot and
this would be an ocean front apartment building, next would be a two hundred seat
bar, and a three story hotel would be right over there. Of course, I was seeing nothing
but water and
a ragged looking beach. My reply to all of this was, "Mr. Sadowski, that is 18 feet of
pointing to. Well, as you can see today all of the buildings he mentioned, and others
were built as
Phil was a great one for getting the finest of free publicity. He became associated
with the Florida
Outdoor Writers Association and had this group as his guests for semi-annual conferences
he was still pumping in what was to be Key Colony Beach.
After the island was habitable and two hotels, a restaurant and this auditorium (now City
Hall - 600
West Ocean Drive) were built, he invited the Outdoor Writers of America Association to
island for the location of their 1958 convention.....The writers came 800 strong and just
the entire room market of the mid Keys. This building was officially dedicated to the
Writers of America with a large brass plaque at the front door confirming the fact. The
was later blown away in Hurricane Donna. Retrieved, it was thought to be of no great
Personally I delivered it to the Association during the annual seminar in Macon Georgia in
is now displayed in the organization's headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona.
In addition to outdoor writers, Phil was on the watch for travel writers, real estate
writers. In fact, just about any qualified journalist found a haven and a wealth of
information on the
Florida Keys, especially about Marathon Shores and Key Colony Beach. Naturally, all of
in reams of favorable publicity for the Sadowski product with many side benefits to other
ventures in the area.
Shelter Key, of the Fat Deer Keys, later to become the City of Key Colony Beach, was
plus acres of low laying island. There was a sandy beach on the ocean side, but most of
the land was
marginal, even flooded in periods of high tides. In the early 1950's a pair of Sadowski
an around the clock pumping operation. The small island was extended both south and east.
Eventually, it spread even to the north until the small island had grown to almost 400
from the bayside was dredged and pumped over the land. On the ocean side, Sadowski had
purchased the ocean bottom, legal at that time, for a distance of four hundred feet from
This was a coral sand bottom which was dredged and pumped in as the final fill on most of
It was only after the fill was solid that dredges began cutting in the canals putting the
the canals over the original fill to bring the island to six feet above mean sea level.
timbers were used to construct seawalls to hold back the filled land. The cypress walls
expected life of 20 years. And, they made it, but that was about all. Sea wall
requirements now are
strict and must conform to the city code for such structures.
During 1956 and 1957 the leaders of the community of Marathon were seriously talking of
incorporation. As presented by the pro-incorporation group, the plan at one time, was to
of the community of Marathon, Marathon Shores, what was to be Key Colony Beach and
even to Duck Key and possibly Conch Key; a real ambitious project. A great rally and a
on the matter, held at the ball park during a town hall type meeting saw the project
This happened on three different occasions.
It was not at all unknown that Phil Sadowski had been dreaming of incorporation of his
jewel of an island. The fear of the island being swallowed up in a blanket bill, such as
proposed by the Marathon group, prompted him to begin in earnest, incorporation for the
rapidly growing and developing island.
A Miami lawyer was engaged to draft articles of incorporation which were passed by the
State Legislature in June 1957. These were presented to the 11 freeholder families then
living in the
community of Key Colony Beach September 24, 1957. The vote for the acceptance of the
was 100% favorable. The community became the City of Key Colony Beach by this approval.
There is no one living on the island who was an appointed member of that first city
were investors in some manner of beach property. Of course, Phil was selected Mayor by
appointed members of the first council. I don't believe there is either point or time to
go into any of
the many early problems of the city. Growing pains they were, mostly.
A big event on a sunny, spring Sunday morning in 1957 brought national press coverage
days of comments on the popular Arthur Godfrey radio show. On that Sunday morning, I was
awakened by a pounding on the front door and with the shouts of Charlie, get your camera
on........well, the excitement was a boiling threshing muddy affair being created by,
believe it or not
50 to 75 whales that had found their way into the bay and were stranded in shallow water
the area where the marina is now. These were black fish or so called false killer whales.
mammals ranged from 15 to 35 feet with a weight estimated in tons. It was probably one of
greatest free attractions ever in the mid-Keys. The highway patrol was called to untangle
snarls on the muddy, rutted causeway. Efforts were made to tow the creatures back out to
to have them turn right around and come back and become stranded on the beach front. Here
died and began drifting away. Many were blown back on different areas between here and
For a week or more I was getting calls telling me to come get my whales off someone's
One of the big events of 1958 was the inaugural year for the well known and respected
Beach Sailfish Tournament. This was another Sadowski promotion that drew some 60 top
sports anglers. At the time, Guy Lombardo and his brothers had an option to purchase the
House Restaurant (on East Ocean Drive). The musician and Phil were hosts for the fishing
The competition was billed as the Guy Lombardo Tournament. Lombardo brought his entire
of Royal Canadians for a two evening performance right in this hall. One night was open
public, the second evening strictly for tournament participants.
Real estate was moving at a very favorable pace. There was even a bi-weekly mail out
newsletter, The Beachcomber, that told of happenings on the island. The idea of botels
on as these unique duplex residences were built along the Causeway and the length of
This too, was 1958 and 1959.........the selling price of the botel units were selling for
sides, furnished and with a dock installed. Prices of the ocean front apartments were
September 10, 1960 was a time of disaster. That was when we had a visit from the wild
lady, Hurricane Donna. To the best of knowledge, only one person remained on the island
Captain Harry Eville, then an employee of Ruttgers Motel, remained in that building.
p.m. on that Saturday evening and six a.m. Sunday morning, winds reached an unbelievable
an hour; this from a reading at the then manned Sombrero lighthouse. At the time about
had been constructed on the island. An aerial photo survey on the day after the howling
revealed only one complete roof. Some homes were completely de-roofed while others had
blown off. A number of walls had collapsed almost totaling the house.
All construction had been to Southern Building Standards. However, without the
boarding up windows and sliding glass doors, the great wind blew out the glass, compressed
in the buildings and actually lifted the roof right off the building. The island was a
But, by virtue of being an incorporated city with its own governmental body, the city was
federal grant to clean up the debris and to clear all canals of flotsam that would hinder
Monroe County received a grant of federal funds which were sort of doled out to the
of Marathon, Layton, Islamorada and other areas of significant damage. Key Colony Beach
first area returned to something like normal.
Actually, water was not available for almost a month, electricity was off for two
weeks. Our one
connection to the outside world was a single telephone. The mayor, Arthur Sterrit,
Southern Bell to run an on the ground, under the water extension from the pay phone at the
Colony Beach Motel to a connection near Vaca Cut. And, it worked. In fact had a great
constant line up of people. This phone was three weeks after the great blow. All of the
was piled high in an area of about the present Tall Condo. It made one great bonfire as
the torch was
That one roof I mentioned a moment ago was on the home of.......you guessed it, the
home had been completely boarded up or shuttered. One window was broken and that was the
of the damage. About high water, there was absolutely no raising water on this island
except for one
small area adjacent to the then wooden bridge on the Causeway.
After the storm, real estate prices went on the skids. This condition lasted for about
before beginning to escalate back to what might be called a norm before the storm. Then
Years 1961. Fidel Castro was marching into Havana. Eventually, the missile crisis
reached a boiling
point. Several anti-missile units were erected at key points throughout Monroe
Many residents began to get the jitters, packed up and actually removed themselves from
Many of these families left the Keys permanently. Once again, real estate prices dropped
Lots that had been on the market for five to eight or nine thousand dollars, tumbled to
far less than
half of the original price. Those same lots purchased by prudent buyers today are hard to
25,000 to 30,000 dollars. It was another four years after the Castro regime took over in
matters in the Keys began to stabilize.
Perhaps the biggest and longest period of community dissension occurred in the late
1960's. This was
the matter of installing a municipal sewer system for the entire island. This question
a bitter split among friends and neighbors on the island. Three families actually sold and
left the island
because of the bitterness created among neighbors. However, the city commissioners,
looking to the
future, won the matter and federal funds were granted for the system's construction.
Now, like Mark Twain once stated, "I don't have time to write a short letter", I don't
have time for
a short history.
(Charles "Charlie" Anderson came with his wife Billie and their children to live in the
Florida Keys in 1954. He was
a writer, photographer, sportsman, as well as a radio talk show host on WFFG for 20 years.
Their home, a converted
duplex on 4th Street was the first residence built in the city, formerly a model for the
Sadowski duplexes on the
Causeway. Charlie and Billie were among the first electors of the city and ran the Key
Colony Beach Sailfish
Tournament for 34 years. Charlie was a city commissioner four terms in the early years of
the city and also volunteered
as police chief during those years. The Andersons were good neighbors and good friends to