Visitors to the Florida Keys can join in celebrating the bicentennial of the subtropical island chain throughout 2023, starting with the “200 Years of Paradise Kick-off Concert” on 25 March in Key West.
The concert and other activities will salute the 200th anniversary of the Florida legislature’s founding of Monroe County, which contains the entire Florida Keys, on 3 July 1823. From Key Largo to Key West, events in the coming months are set to recognize the historic anniversary and recall the Keys’ two centuries of rich and vibrant history.
Festivities begin at 6 pm on 25 March at Key West’s Coffee Butler Amphitheatre in Truman Waterfront Park with a free program combining live music, Keys history presentations and drone “fireworks.” Over two hundred drones will illuminate the sky over Truman Waterfront Park with imagery highlighting the Keys and their bicentennial.
Subsequent 200th anniversary events will include:
15-16 April – Naval Air Station Key West’s Southernmost Air Spectacular, a weekend air show starring the famed Blue Angels and honouring two centuries of the U.S. Navy’s presence in Key West.
10 June – A sea-to-table dinner in Islamorada highlighting the island chain’s local chefs, fishing captains, artists, and coral restoration initiatives.
3 July – Bicentennial Day festivities and fireworks in the Lower Keys, to feature the creation of the world’s largest Key lime pie.
In addition, museum exhibits around the Keys, regular annual festivals, and the Florida Keys Council of the Arts’ 300-canvas “Connections Project” mosaic mural will be themed to celebrate the historic bicentennial and the Keys’ multifaceted heritage.
Festivities throughout 2023 will illustrate ways the island chain’s vivid history has contributed to its present-day character and atmosphere, milestones that have contributed to its evolution since 1823, and the spirit and sense of community that underlie the Keys’ distinctive lifestyle.
Present day sites that bring the Keys’ past to life include:
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo – dedicated in 1960, this is the site of the United States’ first undersea park, named for newspaperman and conservationist John Pennekamp. Covering 70 nautical square miles, it’s famed for glass-bottom boat and snorkel tours of the Florida Keys’ coral reef and dive and snorkel tours to the Christ of the Deep statue. The park forms part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which protects the continental United States’ only living barrier coral reef.
Seven Mile Bridge – one of the world’s longest segmental bridges and the centerpiece of the iconic Florida Keys Overseas Highway. The majestic span, stretching above the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, connects Marathon to the Lower Keys. Paralleling it is the Old Seven Mile Bridge, part of the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that was conceived by visionary Henry Flagler and completed in 1912. Called the eighth wonder of the world, the railroad connected the Keys with each other and mainland Florida for the first time. Beneath the old bridge lies the tiny island of Pigeon Key, a former work camp for laborers constructing the bridge. Now featuring restored buildings and a museum, Pigeon Key offers visitors a journey back in time. It’s accessible by tram or by walking or bicycling a refurbished section of the Old Seven Mile Bridge, which re-opened in 2022.
Historic homes in Key West – history fans in Key West can tour both the Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum, Florida’s only presidential museum – constructed in 1890 as naval officers housing, it became the winter White House for President Harry S Truman for 175 days during 11 visits between 1946 and 1952 – and the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum where the legendary author lived and wrote for most of the 1930s.
For more information on the Florida Keys & Key West, visit www.fla-keys.co.uk