KEYS HISTORY: TAVERNIER’S DOC LOWE WAS A MAN OF MANY HATS

Edward R. Lowe was born circa 1882 and first arrived in the Florida Keys following the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. During the war, he served as a medic. He showed up in the Keys as a teenager, and his time on the islands can be described as nothing short of colorful. 

Though he studied law and medicine, he never earned a formal degree in either discipline. It did not stop him from becoming “Doc” Lowe. In 1910, during the construction of Henry Flagler’s Over-Sea Railroad, he was placed in charge of the Marathon hospital erected to tend to railroad workers. He also served as the local coroner. 1910 was a busy year for Lowe, who, on Sept. 3, was commissioned as a justice of the peace, too.

Lowe did not always live in the Keys, and after his work with the railroad, he moved to the Miami area. In 1915, he ran for chief of police and lost. When he moved back to the Keys, he settled in the Key Largo community of Tavernier, where he became a man who wore many hats. As an officer of the court, Lowe became acquainted with Robert Toombs Smith after meeting at a murder trial held in Jacksonville. The two became friends, and over several summers during the mid-1920s, Doc Lowe and his family began vacationing with the Smiths at their family homestead. 

During Prohibition, the Smith property served as a distribution portal for rum runners and bootleggers. A telegraph operator would alert Smith whenever a shipment of booze was coming in from Nassau. Shortly after that, rum runners would come up Mullet Creek, in the Indian River area where the 159-acre Smith homestead had been established, and unload their contraband. 

In a taped interview conducted by Ken Knudsen in 1990, Captain Bill Smith, the son of Lowe’s friend, said, “Sometimes there would be as many as 50 cars parked on our property waiting to get loaded up.” Smith said he saw over $1 million in cash move across the family’s kitchen table. According to Captain Bill, Doc Lowe enjoyed the Smith family’s corn whiskey.

Bill and his brother John became charter captains licensed by the Coast Guard in 1928. Later that year, Doc Lowe contacted the Smith boys to say he needed a couple of charter boat captains to work at his new Tavernier club. Doc Lowe, who operated a “professional and businessmen’s” club in Coral Gables, opened a secondary location in the Keys where he could entertain his members. When the Tavernier club opened, it was a two-story house on a piece of oceanfront property near the Leonard Lowe family – the two Lowes were unrelated.

Captain Bill went on to work for Doc Lowe until he left the Keys in 1930. Doc Lowe and his club continued to operate, as was detailed in the December 1931 issue of Motor Boat Magazine: 

“Capt. Doc Lowe will be found a regular fount head of information on boats, tackle, and places to go. All sorts of fishing tackle, boats, in season, can be secured. Capt. Eugene Lowe is also a reliable guide. Captain Doc Lowe runs a fishing club famous for its fine eating, and from Tarpon down the fishing is good in the proper season.”

In 1935, Doc Lowe was living in Tavernier when the Category 5 Labor Day Hurricane ripped the Florida Keys apart. One account of the storm published in The Miami News on September 4, 1935, described the Lowe family experience. “In one corner, huddled in stark fear were Mr. and Mrs. Doc Lowe, their son and daughter-in-law and the latter’s nine-month-old baby. They were too frightened to talk at first. Doc was wounded in the head, maybe seriously. But they finally told us of the four of them taking turns holding the baby and clinging to a tree for four hours, before they were able to make their way to the Prevo bungalow.”

The Lowes remained in Tavernier after the storm, and, in 1937, Doc built a modern real-estate office, at which point he was wearing the hats of a real estate agent, justice of the peace and local historian. Lowe was elected president of the Florida Association of Justices and Constables in 1939. It would not be the last of his political aspirations, and he ran for state senator in 1946.

In one of his political advertisements, he said: “I have an unlimited and unsatisfied curiosity, always wanted to know what made the wheels turn and what caused them to click. As a result, I have attended each session of the Legislature for the past 14 years to study its mechanism or modus operandi as they would express it. I found that there were wheels and wheels within wheels, and that they all turned mighty. But more often than not, there was just a whir and not a click.”

Edward R. “Doc” Lowe suffered a stroke in 1951 and died at 70 years of age on June 10, 1952. He left behind his wife Ellie and son Claude. Doc Lowe was buried at Miami’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

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Brad Bertelli is an author, speaker, and Florida Keys historian. His latest book, “The Florida Keys Skunk Ape Files,” is a fun blend of two of his favorite subjects — Florida Keys history and the Skunk Ape.