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The Florida Keys

THE FLORIDA KEYS

An Overview
The Florida Keys is located in Monroe County. There are five incorporated cities in the Florida Keys: Key West, Key Colony Beach, Layton, Islamorada and Marathon. The citizens living in unincorporated Monroe County towns include the residents of Ocean Reef, Key Largo, Tavernier and Big Pine Key/Lower Keys. While most of eastern North America has had continuous development over the past 200 years, the Florida Keys, discovered much earlier, remained undeveloped until the middle of the twentieth century.

Discovered by Ponce De Leon on May 12, 1513, the Florida Keys proper are an elongated chain of low lying islands over 220 miles in length. They extend from the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula to the Dry Tortugas and lie between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The Keys are separated from the mainland by Biscayne Bay, Barnes Sound, Blackwater Sound and Florida Bay. Monroe County is made up of 822 islands, although only about 30 of them are actually inhabited. The western half or Everglades National Park and the southern tip of Big Cypress National Preserve are largely uninhabited. The highest point in the Keys, only 18 feet above sea level, lies on Windley Key. The Keys are islands of rock, therefore sandy beaches are not common and are mostly restricted to the Atlantic side of the larger islands.
        
Geographically and physiographically, the Florida Keys are built on top of the submerged foothills of the very old Appalachian mountains. A two-mile thick layer of limestone lies on top of these foothills, covered in the upper keys by the skeleton of an ancient coral reef, and in the lower keys by a naturally cemented limestone rock called Miami Oolite. No point in the Keys is more than four miles from water.

These islands are defined by the environmental benefits of diving, fishing, boating, unique wildlife, flora and fauna, and the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Monroe County has colorful politics, a varied cultural life, and unexcelled beauty.

Unlike most counties, there is no single county seat easily accessible to all; every service, every county function, must be accomplished in triplicate. Even with three hospital sites, there is a 45 mile ambulance run between them.

Monroe County is named after James Monroe, 5th President of the United States(1817-25). Monroe is a county of islands connected by an overseas highway that was built by the state utilizing 42 defunct railroad bridges between Key Largo and Key West. The original bridges have been replaced; in many cases the old bridges still run parallel to the new and some are utilized as fishing bridges. This highway contains 19.3 miles of bridge spans.

The population of the county has grown from 5,657 in 1870 to 79,589 in 2000. Currently, about 30% of the residents live in the city of Key West. The 2000 per capita income was $26,102. Monroe County has the highest cost of living of any county in the state of Florida.

The millions of tourists that visit the county each year provide the major source of employment for local residents. Retail services, commercial fishing and government employment are the other industries. In 2000, the labor force was 43,838. The unemployment rate in 2000 was 2.0%. The median housing cost for Monroe County 2000 is $241,200 with the average household size at 2.23.

Glossary

Bayside -The Florida Bay side of U.S. Highway 1, generally the northwestern side. As you are traveling U.S. 1 from Miami to Key West, the right side. Term is used interchangeably with “gulfside.”

Gulfside - The Gulf of Mexico side of U.S. Highway 1, generally the northwestern side. Term is used interchangeably with “bayside.”

Mainland - The large, land mass that begins north of mile marker 113. Includes Miami, Washington, D.C., etc.

Mainland Monroe County - The 1,070,162 square acres (pop. 282) of Monroe County that is part of Florida’s southwest mainland. Mostly includes parts of Everglades National Park and Cape Sable.

Mile Markers ("MM") - The green markers along U.S. 1 in the Florida Keys. They start at MM127 and end at MM0 in front of the Courthouse in Key West. Directions are frequently given like this: “I’m located at MM25½, Oceanside.”

Oceanside - The Atlantic Ocean side of U.S. Highway 1, generally the southeastern side. As you are traveling U.S. 1 from Miami to Key West, the left side.

 
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