Atsena Otie Key - Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge
Decades before there was a Miami, the town of Cedar Key was a bustling port town on the west coast of Florida. But few people realize that the original settlement for Cedar Key was actually on an island just offshore from the town's current location ... on Atsena Otie Key. The name "Atsena Otie" is derived from Muscogean Indian words meaning "Cedar Island".

First occupied by native Americans more than 2,000 years ago, the island was first settled in modern times in the 1820's and used as an army headquarters during the Second Seminole War. Originally known as "Depot Key", the army ordered construction of a hospital on the island in 1840. However, in 1842 the island was devastated by a hurricane and the post was abandoned.

In 1843, the island was settled again, followed soon after by the establishment of a post office in 1845. In 1858 the town of Atsena Otie was officially chartered by the Florida Legislature. By 1860, the population of Atsena Otie Key was more than 200 people, and the town included a wharf and two warehouses. During the Civil War, most of the structures on the island were destroyed by the Union Army. But after the war ended, a reconstruction boom ensued, including cedar production and a pencil factory.

In 1896 a hurricane and a ten foot storm surge ravaged the island, and most residents abandoned it for the mainland or inner islands. By the early 1900's no one remained on Atsena Otie Key ... and a new town was established on Way Key - the current site of the city of Cedar Key. In 1997 the island was purchased by the Suwannee River Water Management District, and is now managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.

Atsena Otie Key is open to the public year round, and is an interesting destination for boaters and kayakers. Remnants of the old buildings can still be seen, along with concrete cisterns and foundation blocks. One of the most interesting sites is the historic cemetery that dates back to 1877.

There are several charter companies that provide trips to the island, and offer "drop-off" service for those who want to spend some time here. Boaters will need to beach their craft and wade to shore because the old pier is no longer usable. Probably the best way to come to the island is by kayak ... there are several kayak rental services in the town of Cedar Key.
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