KEYS HISTORY: NEW ROAD DISRUPTS NO NAME PROPERTY OWNER’S PEACE

The automobile ferry Monroe County at the No Name Key terminal. FLORIDA KEYS LIBRARIES/John Harold Sands Jr. Collection

Nicholas Matcovich, once identified as the King of No Name Key, moved on to the great orchard in the sky on Aug. 14, 1919. His son Mosby, born in 1871, was an apple that did not fall too far from the family tree – at least on his father’s side. Like his father, Mosby was suspicious of those he did not know or even those he did not care to know.

Where his father was rumored to have booby-trapped his property with shotguns, Mosby actually pulled the trigger on his threat of violence against those who trespassed onto his property. Mosby moved to the family property following his father’s death and the subsequent hurricane that roughed up the Lower Keys in 1919. After his move to No Name Key, like his father, he farmed the Matcovich family homestead. Perhaps one of the things that had Mosby all riled up, on edge and pushed to violence were all the strangers who began arriving on the island.

In the 1920s, plans were made to connect the isolated No Name Key to the outside world via the building of State Road 4A. For someone like Mosby Matcovich, who did not want strangers coming onto his property, the development of the road that would become known as the first version of the Overseas Highway must have seemed invasive, noisy and infuriating.

When the road first opened to traffic in 1928, it looked a great deal different than it does today. This first version of the highway was an incomplete road with a 40-mile gap. From the mainland, it was possible to drive across Key Largo and over Islamorada to Lower Matecumbe Key, but it was there, at the far edge of the island, where the road stopped. State Road 4A picked back up again on “the southside shore” of No Name Key. In 1928, the road to Key West crossed Bogie Channel to Big Pine Key, connected to Watson Boulevard, and traveled across the island to Pine Channel, where a bridge delivered the conduit to Little Torch Key. From there, drivers could motor along the bumpy road all the rest of the way to Key West.

Lower Matecumbe and No Name keys were connected by an automobile ferry that docked at terminals built on the islands. Two ferries operated simultaneously and departed their respective docks at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily. Because the Matcovich property bordered the road and the ferry terminal, it can be imagined that cars lining up to board the ferry probably caused people to get out of their cars to stretch their legs and walk around a bit. 

Occasionally, they may have wandered off the road and onto Mosby’s land. The arrival of the ferry and that first version of the Overseas Highway did more than piss Mosby off; it also introduced new businesses to the island, like the No Name Key Fishing Lodge, on the other side of the road from the Matcovich property, which brought more people to his once quiet neck of the woods.

The Overseas Highway was redirected in 1938 when solid automobile bridges were created that physically linked Lower Matecumbe to Big Pine Key. The bridges eliminated the need for ferries and allowed the highway to bypass No Name Key. Traffic on No Name Key diminished but not Matcovich’s ire for trespassers. By 1936, his temperament began to catch up with him and his neighbors when Mosby appeared before Judge Gomez after No Name Key resident Carlton Craig alleged Matcovich was harassing and making threats against him. It would not be his last run-in with the law.

In 1938, he was convicted of attempted second-degree murder. According to Matcovich, fisherman Captain James Saunders was trespassing on his property and was advancing toward him and his home while proclaiming that he was “coming to get him” when Mosby allegedly leveled his shotgun at Saunders and fired. The investigation revealed that even though Matcovich claimed Saunders was approaching him in a threatening manner, Saunders was shot in the back and not with a shotgun but by a .32 caliber revolver.

Matcovich was initially sentenced to five years in the state prison, but his sentence was later reduced to one year in county jail and a $500 fine. If he could not pay the fine, Judge William Albury would tack on one more year. In 1947, 20 acres of the Matcovich homestead, advertised as being “at the old Ferry landing,” was listed in Key West Citizen for $6,000. In a Feb. 15, 1950, newspaper advertisement: “property at old Ferry landing, southside shore and road frontage, deep water and use of 1,000 foot pier – Mosby Matcovich, Key West”.

Mosby Matcovich passed to join his father in June 1964.

The opening of State Road 4A brought more than the ferry to No Name Key; it also brought tourism, including the exploits that have been associated with the No Name Pub, but that story will have to wait until next week.

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Brad Bertelli is an author, speaker, Florida Keys historian, and Honorary Conch who has been writing about the local history for two decades. Brad has called the Florida Keys home since 2001. He is the author of eight books, including The Florida Keys Skunk Ape Files, a book of historical fiction that blends two of his favorite subjects, the local history and Florida’s Bigfoot, the Skunk Ape. His latest book, Florida Keys History with Brad Bertelli, Volume 1, shares fascinating glimpses into the rich and sometimes surprising histories of the Florida Keys. To satisfy your daily history fix, join his Facebook group Florida Keys History with Brad Bertelli.