Jesse’s Home in the Content Keys
North of Big Pine Key, Florida
A number of readers have questioned the size of Jesse’s island in the Content Keys, just north of Big Pine Key, asking if it was possible to build all the structures on such a tiny island. Consider the average neighborhood with 2000 square foot homes built on quarter acre lots. That’s eight 2000 square foot houses on two acres. Now consider an NFL football field. It measures 160 feet by 360 feet, including both end zones. Jesse’s island is equal to about two NFL football fields.
Jesse’s island is a real place and its location is precisely described in my books. The island where Jesse’s fictional home and compound are located measures about 300 feet by 400 feet, as shown in the photo on the left. This is roughly 2.75 acres, or 11 neighborhood lots. Of course, the island is irregularly shaped, so Jesse uses the approximation of “two acres at low tide.”
This is an actual aerial photograph of the island, photo-shopped to eliminate the undergrowth that’s actually there and the various buildings added. The four structures, Jesse’s house, the Trent’s house and the two bunkhouses are exactly the same size, 1000 square feet each. The structures, including the aquaculture system, are drawn to scale and the helicopter in the middle of the clearing is also to scale.
So, just where is Jesse’s island? The Content Keys are north-northwest of Big Pine Key. Below are links to nautical charts #11442 and #11452, which show the Florida Keys from Alligator Reef to Sand Key, where much of my books take place. The Seven Mile Bridge is about where the two charts join, both showing the western part of the town of Marathon. Landlubbers will call these “maps of Tavernier to Key West”, but nautical charts don’t show a lot of land detail. On these charts you can follow Jesse and his friends as they travel by boat around the many channels, passes, shoals, and keys.
Jesse’s island is located on chart #11442. Zoom in by double clicking on the greenish area at the upper center of the chart until you see the Content Keys and Harbor Channel. Jesse’s island is just below and to the left of the H in Harbor Channel. The number 26, just to the east of Jesse’s Island is a deep hole in the channel, always good for lobster and grouper.
This is a map of the Florida Keys showing US-1 and the major towns and a few key locations you’ll recognize.
Jesse Describes his Island Home in Fallen Palm
Actually, my house is little more than a shack on stilts. Just over a thousand square feet with a large combination living room, dining room, and kitchen in front with a bedroom and head in back. It’s solid and keeps the summer rain and winter wind out. As far as solitude it’s better than sleeping on the boat, though not nearly as luxurious. I’d built this place by hand on an island in the Content Keys, northwest of Big Pine Key.
This group of islands is mostly uninhabited scrub and mangrove covered swamps and sand bars. When I retired I’d used up nearly all my savings, which I’d scraped together over twenty years in the Corps, supplemented it with my inheritance from my grandfather about six years ago, and bought my boat, Gaspar’s Revenge, and this tiny island. It’s no more than two acres in size at low tide. It has no beach and the water around it is so shallow you can walk to any of the neighboring islands and not get your shorts wet.
It took me a whole winter and spring to dig the small channel from Harbor Channel, just deep enough for my little skiff to get to the island. There I’d carved out a part of it and spent all summer building my stilt house above the channel. I’d planned to make the channel wide enough and deep enough to get Gaspar’s Revenge through it, but it proved to be too much work to do by hand. One day I’ll rent a dredge and do it, but for now I’ll keep running back and forth in the skiff.
I’d gone up to the commercial docks in Miami during that summer and scrounged through the discarded piles of pallets and lumber. There were lots of it from South America and I managed to find plenty of mahogany planks and quite a bit of discarded lignum vitae posts along with other hardwoods, rare in the states, but plentiful down there.
The exterior siding on my house is mostly mahogany. The roof is corrugated steel I’d scrounged from the Naval Air Station in Key West when they’d torn down some of the old Quonset huts that had been there since before WWII. The floor is fourteen feet above the narrow channel at high spring tide, just enough room for the Revenge. The floors, studs and beams are solid lignum vitae. My little house could withstand anything Mother Nature could conjure up.