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By Jerry Wilkinson

- The Key Largo Angler's Club -

 The Key Largo Angler's Club was slowly materializing long before the Ocean Reef Club. It began as private property being transferred from one owner to another back in the 1880s, as did most of the Island of Key Largo. In 1912 a W.A. Scott of Fargo, North Dakota acquired the property and constructed a fine two-story coral-rock house, part of which remains today as part of the dining room.

The first Over seas Highway was opened in 1928 passing over the Card Sound road just south of the Scott property - farther south than it is today (2001). Lost is the deed transferring the property to L.J. Stranahan; however, in 1932 Stranahan transferred the property and the Scott house to the Roney Investment Company which owned other Florida inns including the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables and the Roney Plaza at Miami Beach.
The Roney Investment Company was owned by Henry L. Doherty, the founder/owner of Cities Services Corporation. The property and house was developed into an early exclusive resort. A car pulling a semi-trailer type of bus, known as the Aerocar, was used to transport guests from its Miami enterprises to the Angler's Club. 

Another unusual mode of transportation, unique to the Florida Year Round Club was the Auto gyro. This airship was apparently an early half-breed between an airplane and a helicopter. Unlike the Aerocar, only the wealthiest guests were delivered from Miami and other destinations via the Auto gyro. These guests were either pressed for time or enjoyed the status of arrival on the "high-tech" vessel of the day. Either way, the arrival of the Auto gyro was the most talked about event of the era. The club was managed by Dave Curtis and assisted by Don Miller. The club was for all practical purposes closed for the WW-II years.

Soon things were attractive enough for President Hoover to vacation there for fishing trips and we are not certain what this date was. President Hoover fished at other Keys locations such as the Flagler's Long Key Fishing Camp, Craig's Camp and Bill Thompson's Dock in the Marathon area. The late Slim Pinder of Tavernier was one of Mr. Hoover's early fishing guides and perhaps the last guide was Calvin Albury of Rock Harbor. President Hoover is quoted as saying, "The Assyrian tablet of 2000 B.C. says 'The Gods do not subtract from the allotted span of men's lives the hours spent fishing.'" A circa 1950 oil painting of Mr. Hoover and guide Calvin Albury adorns a wall of an additional to the original Scott house.oil Well

      Seldom mentioned is the crude oil discovery program in Florida. It passed a bill in 1941 called Florida Oil Discovery Award Bill. $50000 was to be given the first company to strike oil - not sure of the exact wording. Humble Oil won with a producing well near Immokalee, but the race was on. Not certain of the precise schedule but permits began in 1944 out in Barnes Sound near now Turkey Point but only asphalt was found (Republic Oil Co.). Again the Sinclair and Commonwealth Oil Co. tried again in 1953 in the area near  (northeast) where the Missile site will be later built with an actual derrick supposedly down to 11,968 feet and no reported oil - That was a large project!. For years pieces of the core samples were thrown about. Local geologist Eugene Shinn participated in many surveys but I recall not in Keys Water - Bahamas and Cuban before Castro.

In 1946 the property was purchased by the CAMRAY Corporation, A Florida incorporation 06/19/1946. The "CAM" of CAMRAY was company representative representative Clint Campbell, a former manager of the Florida Year Round Club. The "RAY" Camray Don and Nina Rayburn, Don was a wealthy Michigan petroleum producer. CAMRAY company representative, Clint Campbell and wife Kay, occupied the club's East Cottage as Resident Mangers. Renewed interest and investment revived the club and a breakwater with a dock was constructed. Under Clint, a complete face-lift was done that included a new clubhouse and swimming pool. Mr. Hoover occupied the Dashiell Hammett cottage which became known as the Hoover cottage.

The mid-1960s slowed the club with the unexpected loss of owner/manager Clint Campbell. His wife, Kay, and brother, Whitney, made the transition just in time for August 1965 Hurricane Betsy to cause considerable damage. As with most natural catastrophe's, the club improved it infrastructure under the leadership of Kay, Whitney and a dedicated membership. In 1969, the new concrete Card Sound Bridge greatly improved the egress and ingress with the mainland.

In 1971, Edith and Benson Ford purchased the club from Don Rayburn and continued the progress under their ownership, stewardship and leadership. In 1978, Mr. Ford passed away transferring ownership to his wife and two years later Mrs. Ford passed away. The Ford estate leased the club to the club members for $1 a year with the understanding that the members would acquire the property. The Anglers Club Members Association, Inc. was formed in March 17, 1982.

Eventually, an equity member owned private club evolved that continued its privacy, charm and beauty while offering social and recreational amenities consistent with conservation and preservation visions of its founders. This was well tested  by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and remains a superb old Florida Keys fishing camp.

- The Ocean Reef Club

Moving northeast to the oceanside of north Key Largo, Floride (Flo) Robinson provided first-hand knowledge of the property, later to become known as Ocean Reef.  Flo, with her husband Seymour and children Diane, David and Carol, were caretakers of the Despatch Creek Fishing Camp in 1942. The house had four cabins and some docks, all of which were accessible by a rough, rutted and muddy road continuing from the Angler's Club entrance. The Robinsons were well acquainted with Dave and Ron Miller of the Angler's Club. They frequently purchased vegetables from Mr. Lowe's road-side stand just south of the Angler's Club. Fresh water that ran off the roof was caught in barrels. Cooking and light was provided by kerosene. They bathed in Dispatch Creek, except during their family visits and shopping trips to Miami. 

The Robinson's moved to Key West when Diane was old enough to attend school and the closest school being about 30 miles away in Tavernier - a 60-mile a day trip. It is believed their house was improved, with a water tower added, and the home eventually became the fish camp owned by Morris Baker. Today, this is the Ocean Reef Club, one of the wealthiest property developments in America. Morris Baker

With specific regard to Ocean Reef, Morris and Alice Baker of Minneapolis, Minnesota wanted to buy the Angler's Club. See photo to the right. It was not for sale at the time, so they purchased sight-unseen 40 acres of property to its northeast at the mouth of Despatch Creek - The Despatch Creek Fishing Camp.  By the end of the 50s, Morris had increased his stake to about 1,300 acres.

For example, 80 acres were originally owned by Gen. Ivor Thord-Gray who had died and the Irvine family of St. Paul then owned it. Thord-Gray was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1778, came to the U.S. in 1922, I believe he moved to Florida in 1933 and served as as Major General for the Florida Militia in 1935 as well as on the personal staff of the governor. But, who was this man?  He is known world wide, but not in Florida otheGarvik Harborr than the street named Grayvik Drive (also Grayvik Harbor) at Ocean Reef.  The Swedish that I have corresponded with say "Gray" means 'the colour and the General's name' and "vik" means 'bay.' His 1920s house in Connecticut was named 'Gray Court.' See 1958 aerial of Gravik Harbor at Ocean Reef to the rignt.

According to a letter written by Mrs. Alice Baker, Morris Baker's wife, the fishing camp was still much as described by Flo Robinson when Mr. Baker made his first visit in 1946. The Bakers, as is apparent today, had vision. Channels were dredged, docks built, land filled, roads made and finally an inn, with coffee shop, gas station and water tower were added. The airport, with a landing strip of 2,000 feet was dedicated on May 18-20, 1956. Ocean Reef was now accessible by land, sea and air. 

Morris Baker passed away in 1959 and progress continued, with the construction of many recreational facilities, villas, golf courses, country clubs and homes under sons, William and Roger Baker. The Miami Herald announced 300 home sites offered for sale in October 1959. A model home by Edward Rempe of Coral Gables was near completion at a sale price of $25,000. During the same period, the concept of Yachtel''s were introduced. Small prefabed luxury cottages were trucked in and installed along selected waterways where boat owners could have their boats and live in small individual rented residences. It also constructed its own dedicated employee housing, a subject of much discussion today.

The Monroe County Commission approved another Ocean Reef plat in July 1963. Ownership was transferred to Harper Sibley Jr.  and his partner Morris Burke in 1969 and it became officially The Ocean Reef Club. Expansion was the game with a full time medical facility the Ocean Reef Chapel and other amenities. The constant additional of the most modern facilities required equally modern financial services which was the American Financial Corporation.

Visionaries among the local members began acquisition talks in 1985 but the Club was not for sale. A dedicated and tenacious Acquisition Committed succeeded on its quest on March 1, 1993 and American Finance chairman Carl Linder finalized the sale to the individual property owners association - ORCA.

The above aerial photos depicts the concentrated and rapid growth of the Ocean Reef Club area of North Key Largo half a century. Ocean Reef also operates an excellent museum of its role in the Keys.

North Key Largo has been a part of many dreams. In 1929, it was to be the southern terminus of a causeway linking the islands to the north to Miami Beach. The principal island is Elliott Key, however, there are others such as Old Rhodes Key, Sands Key, Boca Chita, Ragged Keys and Soldier Key. (Henry Flagler developed Soldier Key as an adjunct to the Royal Palm Hotel on the Miami River.  All of these linking islands were called "Islandia" under a Dade County charter. Islandia actually was not a part of Key Largo, but and it was a significant "but." If Islandia passed State's muster, its southern route would pass directly through Ocean Reef - from the very top to the very bottom. It did not happen, but below is short piece re Islandia.

- Islandia -

 From the times of Black Caesar there appears to have been some interest in this group of about 33 islands. In 1920, Miami Beach entrepreneur Carl Fisher took an interest is the area when he opened his millionaires get-away Coco Lobo Cay Clubhouse on Caesar's Creek (Adams Key). Four American presidents and untold other well-heeled citizens had visited the club, not to mention all the rum-runners that frequently the area.

I am not certain when the idea for the City of Islandia germinated, but as a group I believe it was before 1951. I have copy of the Islandia, Florida logo noting "Founded 1951". Islandia is generally pronounced "eye-LAN-dee-ah." It did officially incorporate as a municipality of Dade County on December 6, 1960. Twelve votes from twelve voters created the municipality - only in Florida. Its mayor was Ralph A. Fossey.

It seems as if there were 13 major islands forming Islandia, Elliott Key being the largest. In 1886, Jeremiah Saunders from Green Turtle Key, Bahamas, was was given a land grant signed by Grover Cleveland. This was probably the start of the large pineapple plantations for which Elliott Key became famous. Other Bahamian families were: William D. Albury, Henry Filer, George Sweeting, Thomas Sweeting, Arthur Higgs, Alfred Acheson, Parson Israel Lafayette Jones, etc.

From a copy of the May 1965 "Islandia News" a paragraph titled, "What's Cooking In Islandia" reads: "Right now, two bulldozers are clearing land in Islandia, - a drag line is digging a new harbor, a pile driver is building docks and there are 10 (count'en) cars and trucks in the city." The issue continues about the Islandia Ferry service. A special notice was "The FERRY runs daily except Thursdays to allow for necessary maintenance, etc. Use the Ferry during the week."

The development of Islandia was seriously opposed by environmentalists. However, Islandia's experienced a huge problem when Daniel K. Ludwig, a reclusive billionaire, at first (January 1961) sought to build a huge bulk cargo port east of Homestead. He had purchased 18,000 acres of bay front land in 1959. Later in 1961 the seaport was to include a huge oil refinery - Seadade Industries - on the property now the Turkey Point Nuclear Electric plant. Ludwig's oil refinery petitioned the state for a permit to dredge a 30 foot deep access canal with a 40 foot deep port. Of course, this also outraged the environmentalists, but the cost to build a 65's elevated bridge in the Islandia 6-lane causeway was programmatic for the Islandia developers.

It is a long, long story and I am not certain that it is over now; however, in January of 1990 the state declared all its elections were illegal as none of the City Council lived in Islandia, were registered to vote in Dade County and only land owners could vote and many also voted in Dade County.

Congressman Dante Fascell resolved the situation when he successfully created the Biscayne National Monument, then the Biscayne National Park on June 28, 1980. [I believe Luvig built his oil refinery in the Bahamas - JW]

It is believed that the Ocean Reef Club breathed a sigh of relief as the proposed highway would have passed right through the middle of the ORC.

- City of North Key Largo Beach 1955 to 2003 -

Monroe County had until recently only three incorporated cities, Key West, Key Colony Beach and Layton. However, it once had the fourth city before Islamorada. In 1955, the City of North Key Largo Beach was incorporated with 1,500 acres south of the Angler's Club by its city clerk, A. N. Spense. The land had been purchased in 1940 when prices were quite low.  The authority was Chapter 31037 of House Bill NO. 1933 Laws of Florida, 1955.

In 1944 the wooden Card Sound bridge burned and was not replaced. Nothing was ever built but when the Islandia project went defunct, the city was successful in arranging for a $2.6 million bond issue to build a new Card Sound toll bridge. In 1969, the new Card Sound bridge opened providing easy access to the mainland cutting 12-miles off the travel from the mainland to Ocean Reef and the Angler's Club.

Building was booming in the keys, but nothing much happened on North Key Largo. With the new bridge opened and Ocean Reef booming, the Key Largo Beach city fathers predicted in 1969 the town would grow to 5000 by 1974 and 100,000 by 1990. In 1973 a couple of Miami developers with $2.5 billion city of the future. The plan was for a three large marinas, four hotels and 10 health spas with single family homes for 35,000 people. To support the operation would be a heliport (back to the Auto gryo days), a hydrofoil base, a golf course, airport and monorail.

The mayor was Newton (Tubby) Field, who had bought and sold everything from mountain tops to cows. The thinking was that as a municipality, the City of North Key Largo Beach could set its own rules. Tubby Field was also involved in Islandia.

The following year (1975) the Florida Keys were declared an Area of Critical State Concern (discussed a few paragraphs later) and the state seized control of growth management. Compared with the fragile environment of the Keys, growth was out of control and this was the reins to rein it in. 

Threatened by the state legislature, the city developed a land-use plan with zoning for single unit houses and low density multi-family buildings - no high rises. The big dreams of a huge city had pretty much evaporated by 1982. The city remained officially on the books until 2003 when it was abolished by Chapter 2003-318, House Bill No. 307, dated June 23, 2003.

- Cuban Missile Crisis -

There were a series of events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Late in the event on October 14, 1962 a U-2 spy plane showed Soviet missiles in Cuba. On October 18 Russia said the missiles were "defensive." the next day the photos revealed larger missiles. On October 22, President announces the "quarantine." Within three days portable HAWK missiles were in Key West and a week later the Nike Hercules formed a defense perimeter from Miami southward. October 27 was "Black Saturday" and the next day Premier Khruschev accepted the offer to withdraw the missiles.

The two-week crisis was over but the temporary military bases remained. HM-40 was moved from the Florida City area to south of the road to dynamite docks. C-905 had a different path then and passed to the east of the missile site. The nation decided it needed continued protection and the site was upgraded with the HM-40 Nike Hercules Missile in 1965. 

At the site there were 120 men on 24-hour alert with 12 missiles with high explosive warheads on duty 24 hours a day. Nuclear warheads were in the arsenal but none reportedly were at the Key Largo site HM-40  The actual missiles were across the road south of this site in hardened storage bunkers now part of the Crocodile Refuge. The north Key Largo site was one of three local sites, the other two being in Key West and the Everglades near Florida City. All were interconnected and ready to launch simultaneously.

Even with the new bridge, the 269-acre home of B Battery, 2nd Missile Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Brigade was closed in 1979. The HIPAR radome was visible from the peak of the bridge. 'A Battery' is in the Everglades National Park and occasionally tours are given. Both the radar and launch areas are preserved there but without the radar towers. I have suggested moving our towers to there in order to present a better concept of operation. Call the park's visitor center for possible tour information. As with most abandoned military sites, many different uses have been proposed for the abandoned site. One use proposed was a minimum security prison in 1989, but the new jail at Stock Island was built instead. The radar towers are now in thick over growth and spotting them is difficult. The radar site portion east of CR-905 is under the control of Key Largo Hammocks Botanical State Park at about mile marker C-8.5. Permits to visit the site can be obtained at the Hqs at Pennekamp park. The missile launch site on the west side is in the federal Crocodile Lake Wildlife Preserve of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

For more information of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the missile site CLICK HERE.

- Area of Critical State Concern -

Numerous events in the 1940s lead to rapid growth in the Upper Florida Keys - public electricity, public water, an improved/shortened route of US-1, an accredited high school and mosquito control to mention a few.
  Federal laws enacted to protect its environment were the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act in the mid-1960s. President Nixon created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 the same year that the first Earth Day was celebrated. Following in 1972 the Clean Water Act was passed.

Dredging and filling throughout the Keys were rampant. In order to control local government's lack of ability/desire to control development, on April 15, 1975, the Florida Keys became an Area of Critical State Concern (ACSC). Last StandThis was supposed to control growth to prevent the Keys from becoming a concrete and asphalt jungle. However, in 1978 the Florida Supreme Court declared the ACSC process unconstitutional meaning all previous rulings were invalid. The Florida legislature revised the ACSC process the following year making 1979 the effective date. Details of the ACSC process can be found in the Florida Statute 380.05.

In 1982, DCA had a consultant (STAR) prepare "Inpact Analysis of Florida Keys Critical Area Designation" study. The 300 page report said generally what every one already knew - as in the 1930s prohibition days, the Keys had simply ignored it.

In 1983 the DCA threatened a state take over or moratorium for all new development and it development a management plan. The county countered that the state had not provided the necessary funds to development a land use map. Slowly, both sides began a compromise process.

Regardless, it was not very effective as by 1984 at least 51 new major developments were in the system, but not all approved. By 1982, there were 15 condominium projects just along CR-905 in the planning stages. The Miami Herald newspaper made a series of exposé's of the growth and the photo to the right is from one of the issues. The Miami Herald's numbers were that that North Key Largo alone would house from 25,000 to 45,00 new people. At the minimum, there would have been a larger population from MM 106.5 to Ocean Reef than from Tavernier Creek to MM 106.5 - an estimated 20,000 by the year 2000. Some thought the Monroe County carrying capacity could easily handle a population of 130,000. CR-905 was to be four-laned and an Upper Keys airport was to be built. Few noticed the $1.7 million 1979 12-inch pipeline from MM 106 to Ocean Reef - a pipeline that Ocean Reef did not even want. The developers needed the water line or it would not happen.

Most projects are now forgotten, but one of the larger projects of the mid-1970s was the North Key Largo Yacht Club, also known as Solarelle. Solarelle had property on both sides of highway 905 just north of the dividing point of US 1 and CR 905 on Key Largo - 406 acres. This project had been approved in 1974 before the state approved ACSC; therefore, had certain vested rights. In 1980, Fritz Sharenberg took over the project and renamed it Port Bougainville - the name we associate with today. Under Mr. Sharenberg, 2806 units were to be constructed. The development order was issued in 1982.

An October 18, 1982 Monroe County Grand Jury lengthy report felt,"... proper development of the Florida Keys is the most critical issue facing the people of this county...." but reported that, "... No evidence was presented to this Grand Jury showing criminal conduct by any public official or anyone involved in the Port Bougainville Development...." The report continued, "... This Grand Jury can only conclude that the performance of governmental agencies involved will stand as a landmark in ineptitude."

Environmental groups had swung into action in an all out attempt to save Key Largo and the reef. It was nip and tuck but the problem was solved by the lender bank. In July 1984, the Continental Illinois and Trust called in the $54 million construction loan in default and basically construction ground to a halt. It was originally a $180 million line of credit. Sharenberg filed a counter suit for $300 million and the project was placed in receivership to control day to day functions. All the environmental groups quietly celebrated, but small construction projects continued until January 1985. Port Bougainville is now history and slowly returning to its natural habitat.

At present, much of North Key Largo is being purchased as conservation areas by the government. The west side of highway 905 is being purchased by the federal government and the east side (Atlantic) is being purchased by the State of Florida. Basin Hills and High Mangrove Hammock are only names on some maps. Red Bird City is still an enigma. The approach to Dynamite Docks has been removed to allow better circulation of the ocean water. Developers are now seeking huge and expensive affordable housing complexes. 

Today, the Ocean Reef Club and the Anglers Club remain exclusive, isolated and private gated communities on the north tip of Key Largo. Both are easily accessible by land, air and sea. To their south, Florida Crocodiles sunbathe in the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

What does the future bring? This remains to be seen as movements within the county and state seek to deregulate Monroe County from being an ACSC.


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