The Conch Republic, which is also known as the Florida Keys, has quite a colorful history. Like many independent nations, their journey began in difficulty and ended with independence and lots of fun activities that are celebrated on a regular basis.
The Beginning of the Conch Republic
It happened April 23, 1982. What started as the succession of the city of Key West, Florida eventually expanded to include all of the Florida Keys. This entire event started earlier in March in response to a roadblock on a main highway between the Keys and mainland Florida. A border patrol set up a blockade north of the Keys at Florida City on Highway 1. The Border Patrol stopped vehicles to search for drugs and illegal immigrants. This roadblock and checkpoint initially created a massive traffic jam. As the roadblock and searches continued, it hindered tourism and was a major headache for residents in the area. To understand the severity of the entire event, one must be aware that there are only two roads that connect the Florida mainland to the Florida Keys. With this disruption along a main highway, it proved to be quite an inconvenience to the people.
Not every business or individual suffered during this time, however. A few businesses took advantage of the unfortunate situation. Eastern Airlines became the first and only airline to fly travelers from Key West to Miami. This was the only way visitors could get through without having law enforcement search their vehicles. But most of the residents and visitors found this continued roadblock to be a major hassle and humiliation.
Eventually city council members tried to stop the roadblocks and searches by taking a variety of measures. They issued complaints to the federal government as well as attempting to get court injunctions against the road blocks. All attempts failed. Mayor Dennis Wardlow, in a statement of protest, declared the independence of Key West on April 23, 1982. They reasoned that since the government had set up road blocks, that was basically the equivalent of a border station. Since the government was treating the Florida Keys like a foreign nation they might as well act like one.
The Mayor was designated the Prime Minister and the territory was given the name Conch Republic. This name came from the fact that many local citizens were often called Conchs. All of this hoopla generated a lot of publicity for the area. It wasn’t long until the road blocks were removed but the Conch Republic remained.
Conch Republic Invasion of 1995
September 20, 1995 proved an important date for the Conch Republic. A battalion of the U.S. Army Reserves conducted a training exercise at Key West. These reserves were to conduct a training exercise similar to what would happen if a country was being invaded. No one, however, notified any of the Conch Republic officials about this exercise. The Mayor organized a plan of attack against this hostile invasion. The battle involved firing pieces of stale bread at the enemy and firing water cannons. The reserves promptly apologized for their unannounced invasion and an official surrender ceremony was underway.
There have been other interesting incidents throughout the years involving the Conch Republic and their state of independence. During a federal shutdown that started in 1995, the Conch Republic tried to reopen a closed park. The locals raised money on their own to reopen the park but couldn’t find anyone to accept the money or open the park.
The Conch Republic Today
In 2012 the 30 year celebration of the Conch Republic was held. Tourists love to come to the city to celebrate the festivities along with the locals. There are a variety of activities including drag races, drag queens, music festivals, car shows, and an endless supply of food and dancing. These festivities usually last over a week.
Through the years the Conch representatives have been officially invited to various events and formal occasions. The Florida Jubilee in 1995 was an event in which the Conch Republic was officially represented. The Conch Republic offers their own version of passports, driver’s licenses, and identification cards.