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Old Wooden Bridge: Now it’s a houseboat resort in the Keys

Old Wooden Bridge Resort and Marina started as a fish camp in the 1940s in a remote location on Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys.

For years, its rustic waterfront Dade-County-pine cabins attracted fishermen, kayakers and others who craved a taste of the Keys from a bygone era. We stayed there in 2010 and wrote about the charming historic location for Florida Rambler.

Hurricane Irma in 2017 changed all that.

Big Pine Key took a direct hit from Irma. When the water receded, seven of the old cabins and a two-story office and apartment could not be saved.

For months, the remaining cabins served as residences for Big Pine Key neighbors whose houses were destroyed.

Today, Old Wooden Bridge is busier than ever with more rooms available, thanks to the addition of a cluster of little houseboats that now fills the marina.

View of Old Wooden Bridge Resort on Big Pine Key from the bridge to No Name Key. You see the two types of houseboats in the foreground -- the new Aqualodges on the left, and the older "floating cabins" on the right. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
View of Old Wooden Bridge Resort on Big Pine Key from the bridge to No Name Key. You see the two types of houseboats in the foreground — the new Aqualodges on the left, and the older “floating cabins” on the right, where we stayed. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Old Wooden Bridge Resort reopened in early 2018 starting with two houseboats. Now, there are 13 houseboats along with six land cabins and a dozen power boats that can be rented, according to Manager Robin Lawson. Construction will begin soon on two additional duplex cabins on stilts.

Like the rest of the Keys, Old Wooden Bridge Resort bounced back from the hurricane with energy and resilience.

Staying in a houseboat at Old Wooden Bridge Resort

We loved our one-night stay in a houseboat. We chose one of two older “floating cabins,” which were purchased used from Tennessee, according to manager Lawson. We liked it because it was positioned at the end of the dock with a beautiful view of Pine Key Bight and the bridge (now concrete, not wooden, and with barely any traffic.)

Inside, the houseboat resembles a tiny wood cabin with a small serviceable kitchen, a queen-size bed plus bunks and a futon.

Interior of our houseboat, which is called a "floating cabin" at Old Wooden Bridge Resort. This houseboat and one other were purchased used from Tennessee and are called "floating cabins" becauses they have the rustic look of an old wooden cabin. The other houseboats, which are a brand called Aqualodges, were purchased new by the resort. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Interior of our houseboat, which is called a “floating cabin” at Old Wooden Bridge Resort. This houseboat and one other, were purchased used from Tennessee and have the rustic look of an older cabin. The other houseboats, which are a brand called Aqualodges, were purchased new by the resort. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

There is a small boat-like head with a foot-pump to flush the toilet and a request to use only the approved soap and shampoo because the shower drains directly into the water below. There are window air conditioners – noisy enough to make for a fitful night, I’m afraid. As an older used boat, it’s a bit worn and rustic.

My husband loved the backwoods feel and was intrigued by the vintage fittings: real seashells serve as doorknobs on the kitchen cabinets, for instance, and why is there a stained glass window?

The houseboats at Old Wooden Bridge fish camp face east, but the view was beautiful at sunset from our houseboat nonetheless. (Photo: David Blasco)
The marina and houseboats at Old Wooden Bridge fish camp face east, but the sky was beautiful at sunset from our houseboat (at left) nonetheless. (Photo: David Blasco)

The best thing about the houseboat is the small deck at the rear facing the water with a table and chairs, a breezy shaded place in the evening.

The houseboat sits in very shallow water; at low tide it appeared only inches deep.

The other houseboats are newer, slightly larger and are the brand Aqualodge, which you’ll find at a number of other Florida Keys resorts.

A few of the houseboats have unobstructed views of the bridge to No Name Key and the channel. Others are located in the marina. (Photo: David Blasco)
A few of the houseboats have unobstructed views of the bridge to No Name Key and the channel. Others are located in the marina. (Photo: David Blasco)

The area around Old Wooden Bridge Resort on Big Pine Key

What we loved most about staying at the Old Wooden Bridge houseboat, however, was the setting – away from the highway, on the water overlooking a low-traffic bridge known for its great fishing with plenty of wildlife to appreciate. It feels like an outpost from an earlier era.

In the morning, as we sipped coffee on the houseboat deck, an adolescent little blue heron (sporting both white and blue feathers as it transitions to its adult plumage) and a black necked stilt fished. At other times, magnificent frigate birds soared overhead.

In the evening, we saw Key deer repeatedly, one sauntering through the parking lot at Old Wooden Bridge at dusk.

When we kayaked here before (it was too windy this visit) we saw fish and rays in the clear water.

No Name Pub, a Keys icon with thousands of dollar bills on the walls, is a block away. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

For dinner, we walked one block to the iconic No Name Pub, a 1936 building that has been an off-the-beaten-path favorite of Keys visitors for decades with its wooden beams covered with signed dollar bills.

During the day, we visited the beautiful beaches at Bahia Honda State Park, which is 10 minutes away.

We particularly loved crossing the bridge to No Name Key, which is a little-developed island with a storied past. The bridge has a beautiful view of the sunset and was full of people fishing at night. One morning just after sunrise, we rode our bikes through No Name Key. There is almost no traffic on the paved dead-end road.

Welcome to No Name Key sign
Once you cross the bridge from Big Pine Key, you are welcome to No Name Key, where a few hundred people and lot of Key deer live. The island, which is mostly wildlife preserve, is called No Name Key on even the oldest maps. (Photo: David Blasco)

No Name Key: Once the main route to Key West

The 1,000-acre No Name Key has three side streets and about 40 houses. The rest of the island is a nature preserve where Key deer happily munch mangrove leaves.

Bicycling on No Name Key, we were enchanted by the various houses – including a big geodesic dome with a wrap-around porch and homes from modest to mansion.

Identified as No Name Key on even the oldest maps, it already had 45 settlers in 1870. (Big Pine Key had just one, according to Keys historian Jerry Wilkerson.) Early residents were from the Bahamas.

Boom time for No Name Key, however, was in the 1920s, when a road to Key West was inaugurated. To drive it, you had to take a ferry from what is now Islamorada to a ferry dock at the eastern end of No Name Key. That location is now where the main road on No Name Key ends at Florida Bay.

Biographers report that Ernest Hemingway fished at this ferry dock on No Name Key.

A Key deer with antlers emerging on No Name Key. (Photo: David Blasco)
A Key deer on No Name Key. (Photo: David Blasco)

With the ferry passing through, a lodge was built at the ferry docks and down the road, the building where No Name Pub now operates was constructed as a store. (It was, among other things, also a bordello.) The ferry service ended in 1938 when the current US 1 roadway was completed atop the ruins of Henry Flagler’s railroad.

No Name Key remained isolated after that, but saw action in the 1960s, when Cuban revolutionaries trained here for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Finally, a new concrete bridge replaced the “old wooden bridge” in 1967 and the first homes in decades were built on No Name Key. Originally powered by batteries, solar or wind energy, the homes were connected to the electrical grid only in 2013.

Still, historian Jerry Wilkerson calls the mostly wild No Name Key Monroe County’s “last frontier.”

Sign reads "Please close gate quickly. Plants need protection from deer." On No Name Key, there are 43 houses and lots of Key deer, who relish the tasty landscaping around the houses. (Photo: David Blasco)
On No Name Key, there are about 40 houses and lots of Key deer, who relish the tasty landscaping around the houses. (Photo: David Blasco)

Staying at Old Wooden Bridge Resort and Marina

Old Wooden Bridge Resort and Marina

1791 Bogie Drive, Big Pine Key, FL 33043
(305) 872-2241

  • There is a small pool and grills for guest use.
  • Houseboats start at $135 off-season and go to $249 in-season for the larger models.
  • Cottages range from $135 off season to $210.
  • Boat rentals range from $195 a day to $375 a day.
  • Kayak rentals start at $35 for a single for four hours. Guests can rent a kayak for $20 for the day. Guided tours by kayak can be arranged.

Things to do near Old Wooden Bridge Resort

Kayak around Pine Key Bight, the waterway between Big Pine Key and No Name Key. We circumnavigated No Name Key, but the prevailing winds on the opposite side of the island made paddling a challenge and next time we’ll just explore the waterway between Big Pine and No Name. You can rent kayaks at Old Wooden Bridge Resort or pay a $10 fee to launch your own.

Visit the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge Nature Center on Big Pine Key and take a walk around the Blue Hole, a fresh water lake in a former rock quarry, where you might see resident alligators in the water and Key deer in the woods.

Dine at No Name Pub on Big Pine Key.

Swim at and explore Bahia Honda State Park, with beautiful beaches and good kayaking. It’s 10 minutes away.

At low tide, a long white sandbar forms along Loggerhead Beach at Bahia Honda State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)
At low tide, a long white sandbar forms along Loggerhead Beach at Bahia Honda State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

Resources for planning a trip to the Lower Keys

Print out this mile marker guide to enhance your next road trip to the Florida Keys.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to the Lower Keys, including camping.

From the Editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm rates and details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. and International Copyright Laws. All rights are reserved. Re-publication of this article without written permission is illegal.

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