Village to bring house down at Upper Mat preserve
November 7, 2018
ISLAMORADA — A concrete house at the Green Turtle Hammock property, owned by the village of Islamorada, may have some history but not enough to save it.
The Upper Matecumbe Key house, reportedly built by Eddie and Etta Sweeting more than a half-century ago, is scheduled to be demolished in late 2019 or 2020.
“It’s been there for a very long time and went through a huge hurricane,” said Barbara Edgar, “but in terms of actual historic significance, it doesn’t have it.”
Edgar, chair of Islamorada’s Historic Preservation Commission, said all members of the volunteer history panel agreed after touring the property at the Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve near mile marker 81.
Bringing the house down will create space for habitat restoration and better visitor access to a shallow boat basin leading to Little Basin, Yellow Shark Channel and Florida Bay. The property’s basin now is limited to paddlecraft and swimming.
The house has deteriorated over the decades to the point where it has become hazardous and uninhabitable. A price for making it habitable was estimated at $325,000.
“And that doesn’t take ongoing maintenance into account,” Edgar said.
“Rooms were added on over the years, so it’s got kind of a weird layout. It’s not what it once was,” she added. “It used to have a pool with very pretty blue tiles. That was filled in years ago.”
The house “really serves no purpose,” said Village Manager Seth Lawless. Removing it “will let us expand recreational activities and improve the little kayak launch there. We hope it will be a nice spot.”
The Sweetings’ daughter, Jackie, later married Tom Fouts and the couple moved into the home. It was later sold to the Rosenthals, Henry and then-wife Betty, in 1978, who installed the pool.
The purchase came with a legend that the U.S. government leased the property in the early 1960s as a base to launch covert boat runs to Cuba during the peak of the Cold War, Rosenthal said.
“What I really liked was the seclusion,” said Rosenthal, who acquired lots on either side of the main property.
It seemed like a good place to raise peacocks, so he did.
“There was already a cage there for some type of birds and we built two more big cages. We had peacocks roaming the property,” he said. “They’re pretty birds, but they’re also noisy, messy and lay about 20 eggs at a time. The next thing I knew, we were overrun by peacocks.”
Some of those birds found their way to Plantation Key, and reports say that some even reached the Ocean Reef Club. The Green Turtle Hammock peacocks are long gone.
The Old Russell Cottage, a historic old-Florida style wooden home that was moved to Green Turtle Hammock from another Upper Matecumbe Key site, will remain.