On Thursday, the Islamorada Village Council renamed a local street to honor longtime Upper Keys historian and archeologist Irving Eyster.
When Eyster learned he was to recieve this honor, he said he was obviously very appreciative but also very curious, since the street, Johnson Street, carries a name of one of the early families to settle in Upper Keys and Key West.
“I wouldn’t want to do it without the permission of people who live there or the Johnsons,” Eyster said. “So, I started to do some research on it.”
Eyster, who will turn 90 in December, said he learned there are no Johnsons or other “old timers” living on that street, so he saw no problem with co-designating the roadway that runs from the Old Highway to the ocean at the west end of Cheeca Lodge Resort and Spa.
“It’s quite an honor, but I didn’t want to make anybody sore about it,” he said.
But as he usually does, Eyster turned up some interesting bits of history surrounding the short street, including possibly tragic ties to the Great Depression.
Eyster said he believes the street was named after the president of the Matecumbe Club, which built a clubhouse in the 1920s on the shore where Johnson Street currently ends.
According to Eyster and the website of the Upper Keys Historical Preservation Society, The club, also known as the Islamorada Fishing Club, the Matecumbe Fishing Club and the Millionaires Club, was a private refuge for 11 or 12 stockbrokers who worked on the New York Cotton Exchange.
“If I remember right, he [Johnson] and another guy from the club were in New York when the crash came, and he they both jumped off one of the buildings there,” Eyster said.
The Matecumbe Club itself was destroyed by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.
Village Manager Ken Fields said staff chose that particular street to honor Eyster because of its close proximity to the Labor Day Hurricane Monument, where Eyster has told numerous stories of that storm stemming from his years of research and investigation.
“The old street name remains the same when you do a designation, so it’s done in a way to have minimal impact” to the original name of the street, Fields said.
He referenced a similar situation with Ted Williams Way on Upper Matecumbe that marks a street on which the baseball hall-of-famer once lived.
Fields said the designation of Irving Eyster Street was supposed to be a secret to Eyster, however the historian said the venerable “coconut telegraph” clued him in on the surprise.
“I was in the hospital for a few days a couple weeks ago, and my room was right across from the nurses’ quarters. I got a lot of information from there,” Eyster said.
“This lady came in and she said, ‘who’s in that room?” The nurse said ‘that’s the historian and archeologist.’ The woman said, ‘Oh, that’s the one they’re giving the street to.’
“I thought it must be a mistake,” he said. “I was real honored to think they would want to do something like that.”
The Matecumbe Historical Trust will have a 90th birthday celebration for Eyster on Saturday, Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Elks Club in Tavernier.
The party will include a slideshow on Eyster’s life and work, dinner by Mangrove Mike’s restaurant and a cash bar. Tickets are $25 per person and all proceeds will go to help fund the creation of a Florida Keys history museum in Islamorada to be built in Eyster’s honor, organizers say.
To RSVP, call Barbara Edgar at 393-0940 or Dave Purdo at 393-6840.