Did Treasure Island actually ever contain buried treasure? Why was Key West’s original translation “bone island”? We reveal the true origins of these town names in popular Opal destinations.
Did you know that Key West’s name origin has nothing to do with geography? Or that Bar Harbor is named after a place you hike across, not a place where you pull up a stool and order a pilsner? Here are a few of the intriguing, surprising, counterintuitive, and just plain odd back stories to cities and towns where you’ll find Opal destinations.
This gulf coast city has a litany of origin stories that reach back to the age of conquistadores. The most plausible: It’s a derivation of zara zota, a combination of indigenous and Spanish words loosely translated as “Sahara by the blue waters,” the Mediterranean-born explorers’ nearest point of comparison for Florida’s white sands.
Jensen Beach, Florida
John Laurence Jensen was an enterprising Danish immigrant who ventured south from New York City and cleared land for a pineapple plantation along southern Florida’s Atlantic Coast in 1888. By 1895, he was shipping millions of pineapples by rail and the town that sprung up around him – once dubbed “Pineapple Capital of the World” – took his name.
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Bar Harbor, Maine
The moniker of this Mount Desert Island village has nothing to do with the watering holes along Main Street: In 1918, the town formerly known as Eden was rechristened for the sandbar that forms a low-tide land bridge from Mount Desert Island to Bar Island.
Limestone production was the area’s dominant industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – its citizens shipped 300 casks of lime to Washington, DC, to repair the capitol building after the War of 1812 – and the name stuck when the town split from neighboring Camden in 1891.
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Key West, Florida
During the eighteenth century, after bloody battles between native tribes left hundreds dead on this westerly island in the archipelago off of Florida, Spanish visitors glimpsed the macabre remnants and named the island cayo hueso, or island of bones. After Great Britain took ownership, a few tweaks in elocution (since hueso sort of sounds like it could be the Spanish word for “west”) helped conceal that macabre origin story.
Before the arrival of Spanish explorers, natives called this area pocotopaug, or “clear water.” It was an allusion to the freshwater springs flowing through what would become the Tampa Bay area, including high on the bluffs where Clearwater’s city hall and downtown eventually formed. The springs are now gone, but that name now naturally applies to clear waters of the gulf that lap the white sandy beaches.
Treasure Island, Florida
During the Florida land boom of the early twentieth century, developers of a local hotel pulled a publicity stunt to draw attention: They surreptitiously buried wooden chests, pretended to discover them in the beach sand, and claimed they were filled with pirates’ treasure. Whether it had anyone fooled or not, the name stuck and, today, the real treasure is the town’s classic, laid-back beach vibe.
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Longboat Key, Florida
Once a place of respite for the Timucan and Caloosa Indians, this community’s name stems from the “longboat” vessel that Juan Anasco – a scout for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in the sixteenth century, and, presumably, the first non-native visitor – manned as he traveled through the north pass of the barrier island.
In the late nineteenth century, developers sought to turn southwest Florida into vacationland with favorable comparisons to the balmy climes and cerulean seas of coastal Italy. Travel publications picked up their words, and, with the founding of the Naples Town Improvement Company in 1886, those comparisons stuck for good.
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