By M.-J. Taylor
If you love birds and wildlife and natural history, Crane Point Museum and Nature Center is one of the top attractions for visitors to the middle Florida Keys.
The sixty-three acre preserve is home to a hardwood hammock, a thatch palm hammock, a mangrove forest, tidal lagoons wetland palms and all the indigenous animals you expect to encounter in these varied habitats. Evidence of human habitation on this tract dates back 700 years, and the home of the first documented settlers – George and Olivia Adderley, who lived on the property from 1902 until 1949.
The museums displays artifacts from early Florida Keys history — a 600 year-old dugout canoe is part of a display on the earliest known native inhabitants, remnants of pirate ships and wrecked cargo ships that foundered on the reef tell the swashbuckling tales of those who plied the Florida Straits to plunder the ships filled with gold and silver returning home from the Spanish Main. Another display illustrates the Railroad that Went to Sea … the Flagler East Coast Railway’s extension to Key West that brought visitors to the island chain from 1912 until the 1935 hurricane swept it – and 600 lives to sea.
The museum building also introduces visitors the local native wildlife – the diminutive Key deer as well as turtles, snails, snakes and whales. A moray eel in lurks in an aquarium and an “artificial” coral reef lets visitors get an idea of the undersea world not far away.
Children are particular enthralled by an interactive pirate ship – the “Los Ninos de Los Cayos” — where they can don pirate costumes and reenact the swashbuckling adventures of 17th century pirates in search of treasure!
Out of doors is the true museum – a nature trail — with labels to help identify the area’s native plants and animals – leads to the Adderly House. The home is constructed of “tabby” cement, a concrete like material made of burned conch shells mixed with sand, water. The Adderley house, the oldest house in the Florida Keys outside of Key West, is built in the classic vernacular style of the Bahamas.
The kitchen was a small building separated from the rest of the house for fear of fire. The Adderleys planted a kitchen garden with root vegetables, pigeon peas and fruit trees. George was a turtler and sponger – both industries were extremely lucrative in the early 20th Century — and made charcoal out of buttonwood. George had to sail to Key West to sell his goods prior to the railroad’s arrival – and in fact, it was his negotiations that led to the “Station Vaca” railway stop; George organized residents to refuse the right of way to Flagler unless a station was provided to the area. Without George’s insistence, Marathon and the Middle Keys might have grown much more slowly. In 1906, though, when the railroad surveyed the area, there were only 10 homes – and the small settlement of Bahamians was called Adderly Town.
In the late 1940s, George’s wife, Olivia, died, and George sold the property to Mary and Francis Crane – for whom the area is named – and moved to Key West. Visitors can see the Crane’s home; the first modern home to be built in the area.
There is a wild bird rescue center and a boardwalk along the shoreline that affords a spectacular view of the Florida Bay and backcountry.
The author, M.-J. Taylor, is a Florida Keys based writer who is fascinated by the history of the island chain. She writes articles for visitors to Marathon, Key Colony Beach and Key West. Connect with M.-J. on Google+ for more travel articles.