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Cedar Key

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A couple weeks ago I stopped by Cedar Key. There is presently no sign of oil there, and I hope it stays that way. This is a beautiful fishing village and a favorite place in Florida to visit.

In 1839 during the 2nd Seminole War, General Zachary Taylor established his headquarters here. The previous army commander in Florida was Army Quartermaster General Thomas Jesup, who emphasized that the Army needs supplies and support to continue a campaign. Well Taylor continued that idea and put it into practice, and established Cedar Key as the Army Depot for the west coast of Florida. In Florida Taylor ordered the construction of hundreds of miles of roads, hundreds of bridges, and dozens of forts watching over twenty mile wide squares in east Florida. While Jesup knew how to get support and supplies delivered to the troops during a campaign, Taylor implemented a permanent supply network.

If Cedar Key became a quartermaster depot, calling it an army headquarters was no big deal. Any place the commander of forces in Florida was at the time is called the headquarters. Since news traveled slow back then, any place the commander of forces stood would become the headquarters. The commander himself was the headquarters.

At the time the island was called Depot Key. After the war it was renamed Atsena Otie Key, which is from the Muskogee words for cedar key or cedar island. (Vcenv OtE for the correct Muskogee spelling.) This island became a major lumber source for Faber pencils with the many cedar trees that were harvested until they were gone.

Below: Atsena Otie Key from the docks at Dock Street on Cedar Key.

Below: restaurants and shops on Dock Street, opposite the channel from Atsena Otie.

After Taylor, General Walker Armisted established the Army Hospital on Depot Key. And Next commander Colonel William Worth directed much of his war effort from here. Worth’s orders to end the war on August 14th, 1842 were issued from Cedar Key.

Atsena Otie is now abandoned, due to the hurricane in 1896 that wiped out the town and destroyed many of the structures. It is now part of the National Wildlife Refuge. You can visit by kayak. The town moved to the next island inland.

About three miles off in the gulf, you can see Seahorse Key. Seminoles who were captured or surrendered were placed on this island awaiting deportation. It is obviously too far to swim to shore. At the end of the war, there were three companies of soldiers on Seahorse Key at Cantonment Morgan.

Below: Seahorse Key in the distance.

I find it ironic that the Creeks who were being removed from Alabama in 1836 were placed on Mobile Point where Fort Morgan still stands today. Why is it those two military installations both named Morgan were used for Indian removal? Anyway, a hurricane in October 1842 wiped out the military installation at both Seahorse and Depot Key, and they were abandoned.

But the islands at the Cedar Keys have always bounced back, with the lumber industry after the war. Senator David Levy Yulee built the Florida railroad across the peninsula that terminated here, with the other end at Fernandina Beach on the east coast. The railroad was opened just in time for the War Between the States, and dismantled by the Yankees ten months later. The war ruined Yulee, but the railroad was eventually rebuilt. Part of the abandoned railroad grade on the island is a walking trail today.

While I was going to the Cedar Key Museum (State Park) I saw this cemetery along the way that I could not pass up. The Cedar Key Cemetery has many markers from the 19th century. Here is the grave of a confederate veteran.

Here is the grave of Big Ed, born 100 years after the war who considered himself a confederate.

The Cedar Key Museum is worth the visit, and also on the grounds is the Whitman house. (Below)

St. Clair Whitman was the local historian who started the first museum in his house. His museum mostly consisted of shells and arrowhead he collected. The house has original furnishings from the early 20th century.

In the dining room, you may wonder about the parrot. Whitman picked up a parrot as a pet when he once sailed down to Key West. The bird was a family pet for many years and even outlived Whitman himself.

Whitman’s museum and his curious collection. Here you can see arrowheads that are mounted on a backgammon board.

A few miles north of Cedar Key is a historical marker from the town of Rosewood. Most will remember this as the town that was destroyed by race riots in 1923. Nearby is another ghost town of Wylly, and all that remains of it are a street sign.

Cedar Key is worth the visit. I had a very pleasant stay at a local cottage. The houses in town are a mix of houses built in the late 1800s where people still live. From gabbled roofs to even an old log cabin with chinking still used as a home. To mid-20th century run-down trailers. An interesting mix. It is fun to just drive around and look.
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