is located on Way Key just south of the mouth of the
Suwannee River. Prior to 1896 the city of Cedar Key was
located on Asenta Otie Island. Asenta Otie was used by
the Spanish as as a way station for treasure galleons on the
way back from Mexico to Spain. Ships would pick up water
and drop ballast in the harbor before circling the tip of
Florida on their return trips with gold from Mexico.
Pirates used the area to raid shipping. In the late 19th
century a treasure chest was recovered from the area around
Fowler's Bluff on the Suwannee. Rumor and tales relate
that Baird Hardware in Gainesville, FL was started with part
of this discovery.
During the Second Seminole
War Cantonment Morgan, a U.S. government military hospital and
internment camp for Indians, was located on Seahorse Key
nearby. From this point Indians were shipped west to
reservations. In 1851, by order of the President,
Seahorse Key was reserved as a lighthouse site. On
August 1, 1854 the light was first lit to guide shipping in
and out of Cedar Key.
The first census of Florida
as an American Territory was taken in 1830. Among the
first settlers listed was David Yulee Levy. David Levy
was born in 1810 on the Virgin Island of St. Thomas (then a
Danish possession). On May 26, 1845 two months after
Florida became a state, voters elected David Levy to be
Florida's first elected member of Congress. Levy County, and its first
county seat, Levyville were named for him during this same
year. Also during 1845 the Florida Legislature
authorized Levy to change his last name to Yulee. Two
bill were introduced in the legislature to change the name of
Levy County, but died on the floor of the House. Except
for a matter of timing, our county would have been named Yulee
County. Levyville was first named Sodom, then Mount
Pleasant, but at a meeting of the Board of County
Commissioners in January 1856, it was ordered to be named
David Yulee was instrumental
in the building of the first railroad in Florida. His
dream of a trans-Florida railroad began as early as 1835, and
development began in about 1844 and was completed on March 1,
1861. The Florida Railroad Company built a 155 mile line
that ran from Fernandina Beach on the Atlantic to Cedar Key on
the Gulf of Mexico.
During the Civil War Cedar
Key was occupied by Federal forces on January 15, 1862.
In March of that same year Federal forces took Fernandina.
The railroad was basically closed down for the duration of the
war. Rails were stripped north of Balwin to be used on
another line. Seahorse Key was used to house prisoners.
Skirmishes were fought between Federal and Confederate forces
at Number Four Bridge on the outskirts of Cedar Key.
Federal forces would also make frequent raids up the railroad
and Suwannee River to confiscate cotton and cattle.
In the final days of
the Civil War what was left of the Confederate treasury was
brought by train to David Yulee's plantation (Cottonwood) near
Archer. When Federal troops caught up with the
train it was found empty. Rumors and tales of the
treasury's disappearance abound in the area.
Yulee was not able to
reestablish his railroad following the Civil War and the line
was merged and consolidated with other lines until it became
part of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. The line ran
diagonally from southwest on the Gulf from Cedar Key through
Lukens (located at Number Four Bridge outside of Cedar Key),
Sumner, Rosewood, Wylly, Dutton's Spur, Ellzey, Otter Creek,
Lennon, Otella, Bronson, Merediths, Albion, and Camp Spur
located in the northeast quadrant of Levy County. From
there it ran to Archer in Alachua County. Each
year in June the town of Archer in Alachua Country holds a
Yulee Day festival.
Cedar Key was one of the
primary population centers during the frontier days of
Florida. Produce was shipped down the Mississippi River
and then carried across the Gulf of Mexico to Cedar Key.
Here the produce was off loaded to boxcars and transported
across the state to Fernandina Beach and then north to
population centers in the Northeastern United States.
This avoided the dangerous trip around the tip of Florida
during hurricane season.
Cedar Key again became a
shipping point for produce, cedar, and seafood. Its
population grew to around 10,000 people. Faber and Eagle
Pencil Companies operated factories on Asenta Otie and
Way Keys. The vast stands of cedar that covered the
islands and the nearby coast supplied the companies with the
raw materials needed to produce quality pencils for the world
. Cedar Key was became one of the major source of pencil
cedar for the world at that time.
In 1880 Henry Plant
organized the Plant Investment Company and purchased the
Florida Transit & Peninsular Railroad, one of the railroad
lines which had absorbed the Yulee's original line.
Cedar Key was a major population center at the time, had a
deepwater port, and shipped oysters throughout the
Southeastern United States. Steamships plied the waters
between New Orleans, Havana, and Cedar Key . The
Suwannee River's mouth was located just to the north.
The river was navigable for quite a distance inland.
Plant discovered that he had purchased all the rail line
except the railhead at Cedar Key. When the owners
refused to sell, he abandoned his plans and instead moved
his railhead to the small village of Tampa located
approximately 100 miles to the south of Cedar Key.
On September 23rd,
1896 a hurricane wiped out the town of Cedar Key. All
that remains on its original site on Asenta Otie Island is a
graveyard. Buildings were floated by
barge across the channel separating Asentie Otie and Way Key
and the town was reestablished. Sadly to say Faber and
the Eagle Pencil Company moved elsewhere, leaving the forests
Though still shipping seafood over the railroad, the economy
of Cedar Key declined. its population moved elsewhere
and Cedar Key became a small fishing village.
Cedar Key School started as
a private school in the 19th century. It was run by
Amelia and Eliza Hearn. In their will the school site was
given to Levy County with the stipulation that their grave
site locate within the school property would be maintained.
The grave site is directly behind the current gym.
The original two story high
school building built in 1932 was destroyed by fire on
December 21, 1943. It was replaced by a concrete one
story structure that served high school students until
February 25, 2002.
With the Net Ban voted by
Florida voters in the 1990's the fishing industry declined.
Commercial clamming has become the primary industry for the
community. Retirees and artist from throughout the
United States have settled in Cedar key. The community
is growing, but remains a delight for those who discover its