In 1823, the Florida Territorial Legislature established Monroe County, which included a 125-mile-long string of islands at the southernmost tip of the territory. Now, two centuries later, everyone who’s a fan of the Florida Keys is invited to celebrate the island chain’s 200th birthday — starting with the “200 Years of Paradise Kick-off Concert” in Key West on Saturday, March 25.
Renowned Keys-based musician Howard Livingston is to headline the “200 Years of Paradise Kick-off Concert.” (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)
Named after the United States’ fifth president, James Monroe, the county was officially born July 3, 1823, but a bicentennial is FAR too important to be commemorated on just one day. So from Key Largo to Key West, events are taking place throughout 2023 to recognize the landmark anniversary and recall the Keys’ two centuries of colorful history.
The March 25 kick-off festivities are to combine live music, heritage presentations and drone “fireworks.” It all begins at 6 p.m. at Key West’s Coffee Butler Amphitheater in Truman Waterfront Park — and admission is free for everyone who wants to attend.
Popular local musician Nick Norman is to open the celebration, followed by a welcome from Monroe County Mayor Craig Cates. At 7:15 p.m., regional trop-rock all-star Howard Livingston is to take the stage to perform his signature Keys-inspired tunes.
Howard’s sets will alternate with commentary by local VIPs and segments of South Florida PBS’ documentary, “The Florida Keys: 200 Years of Paradise,” a riveting chronicle of the island chain’s dramatic history.
But that’s not all — a huge drone “fireworks” display is scheduled to cap the evening’s attractions. Plans call for an incredible 250 drones to illuminate the sky over Truman Waterfront Park with imagery highlighting the Keys and their bicentennial.
“The Florida Keys that our visitors and residents experience today are built on our unique and intriguing history, and that’s what we’re celebrating with the kick-off event and throughout our bicentennial year,” explained Craig Cates, who is a fifth-generation island chain resident. “We invite everyone who loves the Keys to join us in commemorating this milestone.”
Keys seafood like stone crabs, and the fishermen who harvest this bounty, are to be celebrated at a bicentennial sea-to-table dinner.
For visitors and Keys fans who can’t make the March 25 event, there are plenty of other opportunities to be part of the birthday festivities.
Subsequent 200th anniversary events include Naval Air Station Key West’s Southernmost Air Spectacular, an April 15-16 weekend air show starring the famed Blue Angels — and honoring two centuries of the U.S. Navy’s presence in Key West.
Foodies can enjoy the sea-to-table dinner set for Saturday, June 10, in Islamorada highlighting the island chain’s local chefs, fishing captains, artists and coral restoration initiatives.
And on Monday, July 3 — Bicentennial Day itself — festivities and fireworks are scheduled in the Lower Keys (FYI, insiders advise that the day is to include the creation of the world’s largest Key lime pie!).
In addition, museum exhibits around the Keys, annual festivals and the Florida Keys Council of the Arts’ 300-canvas “Connections Project” mosaic mural are themed to celebrate the bicentennial and the island chain’s multifaceted heritage.
It’s a heritage that includes the 1912 completion of Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, connecting the Keys with each other and mainland Florida for the first time … the establishment of four national wildlife refuges and a national marine sanctuary that protects the waters surrounding the entire island chain … the 1960 creation of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the United States’ first undersea park … pioneering work on coral restoration that will benefit reefs around the world … and much, much more.
For further information about the bicentennial festivities, just click here — and then make plans to head for the Keys to share in the one-of-a-kind celebration.