ISLAMORADA, Florida Keys – Islamorada is closer to becoming a focal point for Florida Keys history as dignitaries broke ceremonial ground Monday on the much-anticipated Irving R. Eyster Museum of Florida Keys History.
Actual work on the structure, located at the Islander Resort (Mile Marker 82.1) is to begin this week with expected completion in spring 2012. The nearly 7,000 square feet museum exhibition space is to share the building’s overall 15,300 square feet featuring a conference center for the resort.
The museum’s namesake, archeologist and historian Irving Reade Eyster, is called “Mr. History” in Upper Keys circles, and at nearly 93 years of age, is busy chronicling his personal cache of thousands of artifacts and valuable materials slated to fill the museum.
“I felt like [Henry] Flagler did when he came into Key West. He was not well, he was almost blind, and his hearing had gone,” said Eyster.
“But he said it was one of the happiest days of his life, that finally he’d connected Key West with the mainland. And that’s the way I feel about this,” he said.
Museum exhibits are to include various interactive displays depicting the Florida Keys’ early explorers, pirates, settlers, native Indians, Spaniards, shipwreck and lighthouse memorabilia as well as the “Eye of the Storm” theater, an entertainment centerpiece for visitors to view historic documentaries and films.
“There’s history on every island, and we’re trying to save that,” said Eyster.
Eyster settled on Lower Matecumbe Key with his wife Jeane nearly 60 years ago, as the eighth family to build there. In historical lectures, articles and books Eyster described the Keys then as being “in a wild state, jungles with birds and lots of critters, and only a few houses, separated by dense woods.”
Together with daughter Barbara Edgar, the Eyster’s created The Matecumbe Historical Trust, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the education, history and preservation of the Florida Keys, and a driving force behind developing the Upper Keys museum.
“The museum will geologically go back tens of thousands of years … and bring us to the current day,” said Richard Russell, the Trust’s vice president and great great grandson of Upper Matecumbe’s founding family, Richard and Mary Ann Russell.