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By TONI COLLINS
North Key, the westernmost island of the collection of islands known as “the Cedar Keys,” was reserved for government use in 1840 at the urging of General Zachary Taylor.
Several years later, several citizens of Madison County urged the government to establish a Commercial Depot on the key for the purpose of shipping out products coming off the Suwannee River. Their appeals were ignored.
However, many persons may not be aware how close the island came to being the site of a National Leprosarium for the care and medical treatment of persons afflicted with the dreadful disease of leprosy. In 1920, the U.S. Public Health Service was authorized to locate a proper place and selected North Key, about three miles from the city of Cedar Key, as the most suitable location.
Leading the opposition to the location of such an institution in the Cedar Keys was local resident, Captain T.R. Hodges. Recently returned from the war, Captain Hodges took a delegation from Levy County with him to Jacksonville to attend a hearing before the State Board of Health. Even though the members of the State Board of Health received thousands of letters from citizens, including a telegram from Governor Sidney Catts, disapproving the location of a leprosarium in the State of Florida, the Board of Health approved the move.
The next step was to go to Washington to a final hearing. The hearing was held in the Public Health Service building with Surgeon General Rupert Blue presiding and attended by the Florida Senators, Congressmen, Governor Catts, and his Cabinet, Florida State Health Officers, and Captain Hodges. After prolonged argument, General Blue announced that Cedar Key was the most suitable location and the leprosarium would be located there.
All thought the battle was lost except Captain Hodges. While in Washington, he paid a visit to Senator Duncan Fletcher. The Captain asked the Senator if he wanted to be re-elected U.S. Senator from Florida and he said he did. Then Captain Hodges suggested the Senator take the matter of the location of the leprosarium to the White House.
Ten days later it was announced by Senator Fletcher that the leprosarium would be permanently located at Carrville, Louisiana on the Mississippi River, not in the Cedar Keys.
Toni Collins is a historian from Levy County who has published books. She can be contacted through her website, www.suwanneeriverpublishing.com.