Keys archaeologist, historian Clupper dies at age 74

Jim Clupper of Islamorada spent much of his life making sure the long-ago history of the Florida Keys will not be forgotten.

An amateur archaeologist respected by the professionals, James Martin Clupper died Dec. 19 at the age of 74.

Clupper was the longtime manager of Monroe County's Helen Wadley Branch Library in Islamorada.

That job piqued his interest in studying Keys history, particularly the story of Native American tribes in these islands.

"Jim's passing is a terrific loss to the Keys community," Upper Keys historian Jerry Wilkinson said Wednesday. "The type of work he did on the early-Indian archaeology, nobody else here is doing that."

Robert S. Carr, executive director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy based in Broward County, said, "Jim was our go-to person, our first stop, when it came to any kind of archeology in the Florida Keys."

"He had so much local information and always greatly helped us when we were working on a Keys project," Carr said. "After he retired, he continued to help us on our overall archaeological survey of the Keys."

Clupper grew up in the Miami area and moved to the Keys in 1985. Two years later, he joined the staff at the Islamorada library and later was promoted to branch manager. He retired in April 2005.

"Jim Clupper was a great friend and a great asset for our library," said Norma Kula, director of the Monroe County Public Library. "We'll miss him terribly."

Clupper rebuilt and expanded a small corner of the Islamorada branch library dedicated to Florida history into a larger collection prized by historians.

"Jim often used his vacation to go to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to find ships' logs and all other types of historical documents," Kula said. "He created a fantastic collection of Keys [place] names and how they've changed through the years."

Wilkinson said, "Before Jim turned the [library's] Florida Room there into a true repository of information, I'd have to to Tallahassee or Key West to find anything. Now thousands of people have been able to visit there and thousands more will continue to learn our history."

Clupper became a recognized expert in using prehistoric tools and techniques to create replicas of actual prehistoric artifacts created from wood, shells, fish teeth and plant fibers.

"Jim was a great friend and a great historian who understood the need to share the history of Florida Keys," said Bert Bertelli, an author and curator for the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation in Islamorada.

Clupper served many years on the Monroe County Historical Preservation Board after his 2001 appointment, and helped found the Florida Keys Reef Lights Foundation in that same year.

Arrangements are being made for a celebration of life, expected to be scheduled in Islamorada in early February.

Memorial donations in lieu of flowers are suggested in Jim Clupper's name to the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy (4800 Davie Road, Suite 107, Davie, FL 33314), which Clupper served as a board member.

He is survived by family in North Carolina.