P. Marlin February 2020
Just south of the entrance to the Suwannee River is a group of low-lying islands known as the Cedar Keys. A few of the individual islands are Rattlesnake Key, Atsena Otie Key, Scale Key, Way Key, Live Oak Key, and Seahorse Key (named so because its contour resembles a seahorse). Cedar Keys, the name for these islands, comes from the Cedar trees that occupied the area.
1884 Map of Cedar Key
During the Second Seminole War, Cantonment Morgan, a U.S. government military hospital and internment camp for Indians, was located on Seahorse Key. From this point, Indians were shipped west to reservations. In 1851, by order of the President, Seahorse Key was reserved as a lighthouse site.
The present lighthouse at Seahorse Key was built in 1854 when the town of Cedar Key was the depot for all trade and communication up and down the Suwannee River. On August 1, 1854 the light was first lit to guide shipping in and out of Cedar Key. The lighthouse consisted of a seventy-foot-square dwelling with a hipped roof, through the center of which a spiral staircase led upward to the lantern room. Cedar Keys Lighthouse had a focal plane of sevent y-five feet, which made the light visible for fifteen miles. The mound on which the lighthouse was built, rose fifty-two feet above the sea, reportedly making it the highest point on Florida’s west coast.
In 1862 Union forces from the U.S.S. Hatteras attacked the port and rail terminus at Cedar Key and destroyed all structures of military value at Seahorse Key. The Cedar Keys Lighthouse was extinguished at the onset of the war, and in January 1862, Union forces aboard the USS Hatteras blockaded the keys, ruined the port and rail terminus at Cedar Key, and destroyed all structures of military value at Seahorse Key. Following the war, the lighthouse was returned to service on August 23, 1866, after having been overhauled and repaired. That same year, William Wilson, the first keeper of the light who had served just under a year, was buried on the island.
The light station was discontinued as a navigational beacon in 1915. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is used as a dormitory by groups who use the island for educational and research purposes.
In 1951 the University of Florida established a Marine Laboratory, which is leased for this purpose from the U.S. Department of Interior. The location of Seahorse Key provides access to diverse habitats including extensive marine grasses and algae, sandy beaches, mangroves, sand and mud flats, oyster bars, sponge e-shell litter channels, and salt marshes.1
Cedar Key Lighthouse at Seahorse Key in 1893. Florida Memory
Cedar Key Lighthouse at Seahorse Key present day.
The view of Seahorse Key and Gulf of Mexico from the lighthouse.
Seahorse Key Beach
William Wilson, the first light keeper at Seahorse Key Lighthouse (1854-1855).
The grave of Joseph Napoleon Crevasse who died in 1874. He was a blockade-runner during the Civil War.
Timothy Batiste Crevasse, son of Joseph Crevasse.
Catherine Hobday was the mother of lightkeeper, Andrew D. Hobday. Catharine was the only female to serve at the Cedar Keys Light Station. She served as an Assistant Keeper from 1873 until her death in 1879.
Ephraim Hearn was seaman off Ft Henry. He enlisted in 1861 and died at 20 years old of pulmonary troubles.
Prior to 1896, the original town of Cedar Key was located on Asenta Otie Key. "Atsena-Otie" comes from Creek indian words meaning "Cedar Island." During the Second Seminole War, the army occupied the island and maintained a supply depot and hospital there. More than 200 people lived on the island in 1860.
With the local lighthouse, the Cedar Keys area soon started to attract commercial enterprises. With an eye on using the area’s plentiful cedar trees for the manufacturing of pencils, industrialist Eberhard Faber purchased large tracts of land around Cedar Keys in 1855. A pencil mill was established on Atsena Otie Key. During its peak in the 1880s, the mill employed roughly one hundred people.
By Eberhard Faber's death in 1879, the mill had nearly exhausted the supply of cedar. Then, in 1896, the mills were severely damaged by a storm surge during a hurricane. The mill finally closed in 1899 and by 1940, the island was deserted, with most residents moving inland.
Faber Cedar Mill.
After the devastation of Atsena-Otie, structures were rebuilt on Way Key, a more protected island inland. Way Key would develop into a fishing village named Cedar Key. At the start of the 20th century, fishing, sponge hooking, and oystering had become the major industries, but around 1909, the oyster beds were exhausted. President Herbert Hoover established the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge in 1929 and today, the old-fashioned fishing village is mainly a tourist area.