Elliott Key Cont.

George (son of Asa Sweeting) with wife, Mary
George (son of Asa Sweeting) with wife, Mary

By 1887 the Sweeting compound had 30 acres of farmland producing pineapples, tomatoes, and key limes. As the family expanded, more homes were constructed until six main houses had been built along the Atlantic facing shore. Each was equipped with a corresponding pier stretching out into the Atlantic’s more navigable waters in order to produce viable conduits to the outside world. Other buildings constructed included a one-room structure used for the dual purposes of school and church, chicken house, workers’ cabin, and a grocery store.

A small house was also built in the middle of the island where safe refuge could be sought during heavy storms and hurricanes. The community’s resolve would be tested in the later days of October 1906 when a Category 3 hurricane whipped the island with storm surge and 120 mph winds. The Sweetings were left marooned for three days with nothing but the milk and meat of coconuts for sustenance.

Life as usual would not continue for the Sweetings after the storm. The island’s primary cash crop was destroyed by the salt-rich storm surge that covered the island during the hurricane largely ruining the northern keys for pineapples. Key lime trees, however, continued to flourish and became the northern keys’ primary crop. In less than two decades, the last Sweeting would leave the island—a departure hastened by the Great Depression. By 1932, the Sweeting’s association with Elliott Key remained only for history books.

The island, however, was not deserted. Charles M. Brookfield purchased 20 acres during the Great Depression years for a reported $160.00. A local historian, treasure hunter, and writer, Brookfield built a home on the island that doubled as a fishing lodge he appropriately dubbed Ledbury Lodge. Russ and Charlotte Neidhauk served as caretakers on the island in 1934 and 1935 before moving to serve as caretakers at Lignumvitae Key.