Traveling up the Overseas Highway and out of the Florida Keys, there are two ways to cross Key Largo. Just past Mile Marker 106, the usual option is to follow the gentle curve of the highway, cross the Jewfish Creek bridge and back up the 18 mile stretch. The other option is to go straight and take the slightly longer route.
The slightly longer route is equally scenic. It travels along County Road 905, over Monroe County’s only “hills” and through an interior more representative of how the islands looked before they were stripped of their natural hammocks. Several miles further, County Road 905 is interrupted by a three-way stop. Passing the stop sign and turning left, the route climbs and crosses the Card Sound Bridge before passing the legendary landmark and home of some of the best conch fritters in the world, Alabama Jacks.
Back at the three-way stop, instead of turning left and exiting Key Largo, it is possible to go straight ahead and continue north until you meet the Ocean Reef Private Club security gate. The route north and further into Key Largo was provided by the Island Holding Company, Richter Clyde Perky, General Manager. Beginning in 1914, the Island Holding Company began purchasing real estate in the Florida Keys until by 1924 it had accumulated 25,000 acres comprising 50 islands.
In Key Largo, the company owned 10,000 acres of North Key Largo known as Perkyland, and it included Perky’s grapefruit and lime groves. Carved out of Perkyland, on November 29, 1924, the Island Holding Company ceded a strip of land 66 feet wide to Monroe County. The land was used to build a hard surface road that started at what is today the three-lane stop where CR 905 and Card Sound Road intersect, travels north through Ocean Reef and ends just before Dispatch Creek. On the 1924 map created by the Island Holding Company, the extension of the road is identified as Dixie Highway.
At Dispatch Creek, a small fishing camp has been established. It was sold in 1945 to Seaboard Properties Inc. of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Morris Baker, president. In nearly every story associated with North Key Largo, what Baker bought, unseen, was a 40-acre property containing the Dispatch Creek Fishing Camp – some of which I have written about.
Turns out the same old story repeated over and over about how Morris Baker bought Dispatch Creek Fish Camp and the 40 acres surrounding it, unbeknownst to them, isn’t quite accurate.
He bought it without first seeing the property.
However, contemporary records do not identify a fishing camp called Dispatch Creek or substantiate the 40-acre claim. They reveal that the Tropical Isles Club Inc. sold the original Ocean Reef property to Seaboard Properties Inc. on September 25, 1945. The price was $20,000 and included the square footage, buildings and fishing camp inventory. . As for the size of the property identified in the transaction, the legal description had two separate lots, one of 80 acres and one of 33.76 acres for a total of 113.76 acres – a far cry from the 40 acres.
The name of the fishing camp also complicates the generally accepted history of the property. It was apparently not called Dispatch Creek Fishing Camp. Newspaper accounts from the early 1940s identify it as the Ocean Reef Fishing Camp. Also, it is listed in the bill of sale as Ocean Reef Camp.
Among the assets listed were a main two-story structure with a kitchen, a four-burner gas stove, a dining room on the ground floor and an open second floor with two single beds, a double bed, four pillows, a carpet of grass and an electric lamppost. Two smaller cabins are also listed, each containing two single beds, a grass mat and an electric lamp. Additionally, there is a boathouse containing various skiffs in “as is” condition and a Nassau dinghy.
According to several contemporary newspaper reports, Rex Pollard operated or managed the Ocean Reef Fishing Camp prior to its sale to Morris Baker and Seaboard Properties. After the sale, Pollard reportedly owned a charter boat which also rented landing craft. In 1948, Rex Pollard was identified as a deputy sheriff in Key Largo with a problem. Two months before, the wooden bridge at Steamboat Creek had burned down.
Leaving Key Largo and turning left at the three-way stop and driving down Card Sound Road, Steamboat Creek is the first body of water a car crosses. According to Pollard, since June, when the bridge burned, “three automobiles have plunged down the steep slope. Some of the occupants were hospitalized.
He wanted to erect some kind of barricade to stop the accidents, so he contacted the State Road Department. They told him to contact the Monroe County commission, so he contacted them. They told him to contact the state highway department. Fortunately, the lines of communication operating between local and state government entities are still wide open and crystal clear these days, so this kind of nonsense would never happen.