The Joneses of Porgy Key: Arthur and Lancelot

Meanwhile, Lancelot and Arthur carried on the key lime business. Using their 32-foot boat named the Lone Star, they would carry 250 bushels of limes into Miami every week. They paid John Graham twenty-five percent of their earnings to come up with a quote, then to pack and ship them. They were arguably the largest individual key lime producers in the state. But in 1938, Lancelot and Arthur left the lime business because they felt they couldn’t compete with key lime production in Mexico, which had a considerably better environment for growing limes. In addition, the 1926 hurricane had curtailed lime production. Known as the Great Hurricane, an estimated 392 people died and more than 17, 000 families were affected. Damage to businesses and homes were estimated to be around five million dollars. While the Jones boys managed to continue lime production, the effects of the hurricane initiated the changes that would eventually influence their decision to leave the lime business.

Three years earlier in 1935, the Jones brothers had started doing guiding. But during WWII, it became difficult to get fuel, so they stopped guiding for two or three years. They eventually went into bone fishing and resumed guiding. Lancelot fished with many notable men during the forties and fifties, including Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, Bebe Rebozo and Richard Nixon. These men would visit the Coco Lobo Club, a private club built in 1921 which eventually became the Coco Lobo Fishing club. Supported by wealthy families which included the Firestones and the Honeywells, Lancelot and Arthur provided stone crabs and lobster for the club’s guests. In addition, Lancelot’s expertise was well known and he was often hired as their guide.

During the forties, Arthur served as a technical sergeant in the army in World War II and had previously served in the Navy in World War I. Arthur died Feb. 22, 1966, in a VA hospital. He left a wife, Kathleen and a stepdaughter named Leah Forbes. Starting in 1961 and continuing throughout the sixties, a harsh political battle ensued between investors who incorporated the city of Islandia and hoped to develop the islands. Islandia was Miami-Dade County’s smallest municipality, comprised of a chain of thirty-two islands that included the Jone’s property. Lancelot and Arthur were the second largest property owners within Islandia. In addition, they were the only permanent yearlong residents from north Key Largo to Soldier Key. By 1985, only one other private citizen aside from Lancelot Jones lived within the boundaries of Islandia along with park rangers.

In 1968 the area was declared a National Monument and in 1980 it was declared a National Park. Motivated by the belief that the area should be preserved prompted Lancelot and his sister-in-law Kathleen to sell their share of the island to the National Park Service in 1970. Made up of more than 277 acres, the National Park Service paid them 1.2 million dollars. Lancelot Jones was granted the right to live out his remaining years in the family home.
Lancelot Jones
In the 1980s, Lancelot Jones continued to harvest and sell sponges from his Porgy Key home.
During this period, Lancelot spent most of his time alone, reading and relaxing in a home where he used solar panels for electricity and rainwater for washing. Sometimes Lancelot would share his ecological knowledge, particularly about sponges, with all who would listen, including school children who visited the nearby Adams Key Ranger Station’s Environmental Education Center. The sponge industry was a subject particularly close to Lancelot’s heart and important to the environmental history of the region. In 1890, hundreds of fishermen - Cuban, American and Bahamian – depended upon commercial sponge fishing for their livelihoods. At this time, sponging was a one million dollar a year business. But by the turn of the century, business began to decrease. When Lancelot wasn’t speaking to visitors, he would occasionally venture into Miami to visit friends or pick up mail.

Lancelot’s final years on the island were not without adversity. In 1982, the Jones family home burnt to the ground as a result of a propane tank gas fire. Lancelot moved into former caretaker’s shack nearby. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed the shack and Lancelot moved off the island, assisted by park rangers. For the second time, his home was destroyed. He lived out his remaining days with the Adderlys who were family friends. Lancelot Garfield Jones died on December 22, 1997, at the age of 99.

The Jones Homesite today
The Jones homesite today.

Brenda Lanzendorf

Today, the Jones homesite on Porgy Key is accessible only via shallow-draft vessel. In 2013, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and the park is identifying ways to stabilize the house's foundation and develop opportunities for visitors to experience the site without causing additional damage to the site. A bronze plaque, placed on the ruins of the structure by friends after Lancelot’s death, briefly outlines the fascinating story of this pioneering family.

Last updated: June 18, 2020

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