Friday, May 7, 2010

Sugarloaf Bat Tower

This essay originally posted in May 2009 and appears here today courtesy of AT&T's inability to restart Internet service on Ramrod Key, which has been down for a week. I hope normal service will resume shortly. I apologize of course, abjectly for the major corporation's shortcomings.So here's the thing: it's 1929 and you are an unfortunately named land speculator who wants to make a killing in those booms years. You've found a delightfully uninhabited island in the Florida Keys, connected by rail and a rickety roadway to Key West some 13 miles to the south, and you want to develop the hell out of it. There's one problem; it's a mosquito infested swamp.Because you're smart and an innovator you know exactly what the solution is to this pesky problem: bats! That's right, Richter Clyde Perky figured that if he built a bat tower in the middle of Sugarloaf Key the flying mammals would eat up the mosquitoes freeing his land for development and profit.A dude in Texas was selling plans for what he called a Hygiostatic Bat Roost, and Perky built the thing fully expecting bats to love his new home for them. Well, I never figured bats for ungrateful beasts but history says they never took to Dr Campbell's Bat Roost, and no sooner did Perky pop them in their slots than they flew away never to return: It is my habit to bring guests to this tower, which is a somewhat well known landmark among local people who pay attention to this sort of thing. It is one of three surviving Campbell Bat Roosts, and the other two are found in Texas so this pile of wood is actually quite rare. Originally there were fourteen around the world but the others have faded away. So here we have our splendid oddity,gently crumbling in the heat and wet of Florida's climate.I have used the bat tower as a back drop in several of my photos but I decided that perhaps it was time to devote a few pictures to it before the thing crumbles away completely:The tower is of course irresistible to graffiti artists who stop by, as this area is a hang out for youngsters, but of restorers or supporters of this historical structure there are no signs: While I was taking my pictures a walking jogger arrived and made a circuit. We talked momentarily about the tower and it's chances of survival, especially with hurricane season upon us once again. I was glad to be taking the time to snap the pictures. He hobbled off, a martyr to his back problems he said, as I bent back to get some angled pictures of the tower:If you look at a map the bat tower is located in a place some geographers call Perky as though there were a town here, which there isn't. Old man Perky had hoped to be immortalised with a town named after him, but all there are is mosquitoes, a bat tower, a few homes near the airstrip and a bunch of trash:And to top off this slightly bizarre story there is the even more bizarre fact that there are no signs to this monument to optimism and unbridled development. Come to think of it I suppose we should be grateful to the mosquitoes for thwarting Perky's plans for sprawling suburbs around here. Yet you'd think there would be one measly little sign on the Highway marking this well known tower. Not a bit of it.No one in authority seems to care much about the Bat Tower, so if you want to find this sylvan spot turn off Highway One beyond the Sugarloaf Lodge as you drive towards Key West. Turn north at the first roadway past the lodge, at the sign to the airport, which is an airstrip nearby. The Bat Tower is unmarked, unloved and unheralded, noted less even than a 2700 foot landing strip of no great account. Typical of the Florida Keys.


cpa3485 (JIM) said...

That developer really tried, but it looks like he needed the ability to sell refrigerators to eskimos. Extremely interesting post.

Anonymous said...

We've been there - actually looked at buying one of those 4 houses there a couple years ago. The tower was crumbling then. It's one of those surprises that every area has that few know of - the fun little quirky things!

Diana in Citrus

Anonymous said...

Too bad they cannot come up with a way to preservice it for the future. Fascinating story.

Ride on,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sir:

One more time you delve into the history and local color that makes this blog the international toast of the town. Bat Towers! Amazing. I have sent this latest episode of KWD to a friend of mine who is an archeologist and a history buff, who likes bats. He will no doubt take it to his wall in the garage.

It must be nice to ride off and find an entire island to yourself. Is that highway bridge still rickety? And I wonder... Where did the bats go? Are there bats anyplace else in Key West?

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Steven said...

Tim Dorsey uses it as a location in one of his books, Torpedo Juice or The Big Bamboo if I remember correctly.

Allen Madding said...

I believe the bats went to abide in mother-in-law suites in the homes of their daughters and son-in-laws throughout the Keys and the mainland.

Steven - I believe it was Torpedo Juice.

Conchmichael - very nice posting. I'm guessing you employed skeeter spray. The smart developer would have probably been better served with an assortment of purple martin houses and gourds. They certainly seem to be wroking well on the Gulf coast.


Conchscooter said...

The rickety wooden bridges that connected Key West to the ferry landing at No Name Key were replaced by the Overseas Highway in 1938, which in turn were replaced by the modern bridges in 1982.
Of bats I only know one nest that was found lurking in school maintenance buildings I think on Seminary Street. They were said to be Cuban migrants and an outcry followed school district plans to cement the entrance closed. It was quite the thing for a while to go see the bats drip out of the hole down the building wall at dusk. I didn't keep a blog or a camera at trhe time. Then I guess we all forgot and the bats probably got banned.

bobskoot said...

Mr Conchscooter:
I always thought Bats liked cool and dark subterranium dwellings. Key West seems an unlikely home for them

Who owns this land now ? Is there a chance we (from the Northern regions) can commandeer this for our personal dwellings under the authority of the Conch Republic ? It would be a way for us to own a piece of paradise

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Anonymous said...

Past is Prolouge

Along US#1 & the entrance to the airstrip sat a forlorn Cessna with sagging wings & tail beckoning tourists for it still there? The Sugarloaf Inn, also forlorn and sagging has an interesting history...a future story perhaps.

Your haunts were & are mine...keep it up.

Conchscooter said...

Yes it's still there and they put the door back on after the last hurricane. I'm doing an essay on the sugarloaf airstrip soon as well ( I was there in the neighborhood). The lodge? as soon as I can talk someone ( the wife?)into eating there.

Observer said...

One can only imagine what duty that airstrip served during Florida's drug heyday...

Anonymous said...

I love the bat tower. Here in G'ville there was a local tragedy when our bat house blew down in a storm, leaving only the scent of bat guano in the air.