Recognized as the boating destination of the Keys, Marathon is made up of a colorful group of small islands named Boot, Knights, Hog, Vaca, Stirrup, Crawl and Little Crawl keys — plus East and West Sister’s Island, Deer and Fat Deer keys, Long Pine and Grassy keys.
The area of Marathon itself got its name from workers constructing the monumental Over-Sea Railroad from mainland Florida throughout the Keys in the early 1900s. Laboring night and day to meet the grueling construction schedule, workers reputedly complained, “This is getting to be a real Marathon!”
Speaking of names, consider the monikers of some area eateries — like the Stuffed Pig and the Barracuda Grill — as well as dive shops like Captain Hook’s, Daffy Doug’s exuberant retail emporium, and fishing charterboats like Captain Dave Schugar’s Sweet E’Nuf. They’re all great examples of the fun-loving spirit that characterizes the Marathon area.
These days, however, Marathon is focused on street names — looking to the past for the original appellations that contributed to the region’s rich heritage and character. Here, in an article in the Keynoter newspaper, Keys writer Ryan McCarthy explains why the old is new again on the street signs of Marathon.
Not many Marathon residents could tell you if they live on Tipton Lane, Vaca Road, Pearce Street or any number of other thoroughfares throughout the city.
Those and many other Middle Keys road names were changed many years ago in favor of a numbered system — Tipton is now 46th Street, Vaca Road is 50th Street and Pearce Street is 50th Court.
But the city of Marathon is embracing its history as it replaces out-of-date signs throughout the city. At the bottom of each sign, in small lettering, is the official name of each road as long-time residents might remember it.
One of those residents, Mike Puto, remembers that time well. He said putting the original street names on each sign is a nice touch.
“My hat’s off to whoever came through with it. It’s kind of neat to have that; it brings in the history of the area,” he said.
Puto said he remembers when streets all over the city — then in unincorporated Monroe County — were named after founding families. That includes the Putos, Sadowskis and Schmitts. Sylvia Avenue, named after Puto’s mother, still exists off 107th Street.
“You gotta love it,” he said. “That’s how the town was back then.”
City Planning Director George Garrett said landowners years ago named their own streets.
“All of these streets have names that come with their original plats and actually, we’ve got a list of the street names and I’ve gone back through for the purposes of doing my GIS maps,” he said.
Garrett said most of the plats were established in the late 1950s and ’60s.
“I think it was a way of getting a historic feel and it kind of personalizes the city. Numbered streets are impersonal to a certain degree,” he said.
Garrett said street-sign standards have changed over the years, such as a federal requirement to use reflective paint on them.
“Regardless, the [City Council] had expressed an interest in changing them out. They want a consistent look and appearance,” he said.
However, don’t think about using the old street names to send mail: The U.S. Postal Service doesn’t have those names in its database.