Historic Markers Across Florida

Passage Key - Gateway To Historic Tampa Bay

Marker ID: FLHM F-253
Location: North Bay Blvd in Bay Front Park.
County: Manatee
Coordinates: N 27° 32.099    W 082° 44.138
  27.53498333    -82.73563333
Waymark: WM291F


Passage Key - Gateway to Historic Tampa Bay

Less than a mile to the north lies Passage Key, marking the southerly entrance into Tampa Bay. Since Ponce de Leon explored this coast in 1513, this island has served to guide ships into the great bay beyond, called by early Spanish explorers "Bahia del Espiritu Santo." After being named "Isla de San Francisco y Leon" by the Spanish in 1757, and renamed "Burnaby Island" by the English in 1765, it was later called "Pollux Key," corresponding with the name "Castor Key" given to nearby Egmont Key. The island finally became known as "Cayo del Paseje" in 1783, during the second Spanish occupation. This is the origin of today's name - Passage Key. Formerly much larger than it is today, the island contained a fresh water lake surrounded by large trees. During the early 1830's Passage Key was the site of a fishing "rancho" operated by Baltimore sea captain, William Bunce. The island was later a haven for refugees seeking safety from marauding Indian war parties. The fresh water lake, probably spring fed, was a watering station for coastal voyagers. In 1836, the U.S. Schooner Grampus and Revenue Cutters Washington and Jefferson anchored close ashore while their guns and shore parties protected settlers from the Indians. Passage Key was designated a migratory bird refuge by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. The island thereafter served for a time as the home of Captain Asa N. Pillsbury, Jr., a National Audubon Society warden, who in 1910 reported 102 species of birds sighted on the island. Captain Pillsbury remained warden of the island until 1921 when, during the night of October 25-26, the island disappeared under a hurricane-spawned tidal wave. Since then the island has gradually re-emerged and is once again a sea bird sanctuary, having been declared a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System by the U.S. Department of Interior.

F-253 Florida maritime Historical society, inc.
Dewey A. Dye, jr.
in cooperation with Department of State


City: Anna Maria Island, FL