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What is today Tavenier was originally inhabited by the Calusa and Tequesta Native Americans. The Tequesta occupied the area around Biscayne Bay, while the Calusa inhabited Southwest Florida. In 1513, the Florida Keys were discovered and mapped by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon who named the islands Los Martires (The Martyrs"), as they looked like suffering men from a distance. During Florida's First Spanish Period, the Keys remained isolated from imperial administration, as Spain focused its colonial efforts in Central and South America. In 1774, British cartographer Bernard Romans created a detailed map of the Keys, including Tavernier, which he mapped as Key Tabona. The Tavernier vicinity offered a favorable anchorage for Bahamian fisherman and wreckers due to its location near the hazardous Carysfort Reef. All of Tavernier's earliest settlers originated in the Bahamas. No settlement occurred in Tavernier during Florida's Territorial Period, although Key West began to grow as sponging, turtling, and wrecking became prominent in the economy of the Lower Keys.
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The Tavernier community began in the late 1800s on the oceanfront at Planter, located northeast of the present town center. This small settlement grew up around the Samuel Johnson farm, and a post office was established her in 1891. Surrounded by water, the community used both land and sea resources, and was served by sailing vessels such as the Island Home which was once captained by Samuel Williams. Products and passengers were carried from here to and from ports on the mainland to Key West. By 1895, the remainder of oceanfront Tavernier had been homesteaded by founders Robert Albury and Amos Lowe. Hurricanes, a pineapple blight, and new development around the F.E.C. Railroad contributed to the decline of Planter. Planter's post office closed in 1910, and a Tavernier post office opened near the railroad depot in 1911. In 1928, Hubert S. "Mac" McKenzie moved to Tavernier. He began a gradual development of commercial enterprises in the town providing services, supplies, and employment. Many of those businesses and descendants of Tavernier's founding families still remain in the town. Much of Tavernier's center has been designated a historic district by Monroe County to help preserve it.