Family Photos from the 1960s
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, Florida, is one of my favorite state parks in the U.S. It's also one
of the nation's most unique parks. It was created in 1963 and is the oldest state park in the Florida Keys. It was also
the first undersea park in the U.S. and protects the only coral reef in the continental United States.
Above: This is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park when it opened in 1963. The marina
is at the top and the campground, surrounding two freshwater ponds, is at the bottom. The campground is a lot more grown
over now. In fact, you can't even see the ponds anymore. This photo is hanging in the park's Visitor Center.
I grew up in Michigan in the 1960s and my family drove down to Florida to visit Pennekamp State Park twice, during the summer
of 1964 when I was four years old and again in the spring of 1967. One of the main reasons we took those trips was to go scuba
diving at Pennekamp. My dad, one of the original Navy SEALs, was trained in scuba diving during World War II and, in fact, was
one of the very first scuba divers. Over the years, he taught all of my older brothers and I how to scuba dive. Diving in
the coral reefs at Pennekamp State Park during the 1960s was a real thrill for our whole family. Well, O.K., I didn't start scuba
diving until I was older, but I did some snorkeling at Pennekamp.
Visiting Pennekamp State Park in the 1960s is one of my fondest childhood memories. I taught myself how to swim in the freshwater
pond there, in 1964 when I was four years old, and I'll never forget our 1967 trip out to the reef. We anchored about five miles
offshore and, since we had rented glass-bottom boats, my mom and I could see everyone diving below.
The park hasn't changed that much over the last 40 years and is still a great place to visit. It has a 47-site campground (reservations
are a must), a marina, swimming beach, and visitor center. Below, I've posted photos from our family trips to the park in 1964 and
1967, and my most recent visit in 2005, which I've described in my August 7, 2005 entry. More information about
Pennekamp State Park can be be found on their website here.
Above left: I taught myself how to swim here in the freshwater pond at Pennekamp when I was four years old
(I'm in blue, my brother's on the right), which I remember vividly. This is at the little round pond seen in the aerial photo above.
Today the pond is totally filled in by a mangrove forest. In fact, you can't even see the pond today.
Above right: My dad rented a boat so he and my brothers could dive on the reef, about five miles offshore.
This is my brother Don after a swim.
Above left: My brother Dave with a conch (pronounced "konk"), the most beloved mollusk in the
Keys. Conchs were so common back then that there were no restrictions on collecting them. Today, you're not allowed to hunt for conchs.
Above right: This is in Key West after visiting Pennekamp State Park. With my arms crossed, I was getting
tired of my dad taking pictures and wanted to get on the Conch Train so I could apply my future transportation planning skills.
Above left: My family drove down from Michigan to the Keys with some friends during
spring break of 1967. These are our two boats out on the reef.
Above center: That's me in the boat with my sailor hat pulled down. I was too young
to scuba dive, but I had a great time anyway.
Above right: Dive, dive, dive!
Above left: Our friends from Michigan after a dive.
Above center: My brother Dave scuba diving.
Above right: My brother Dwight at the swimming beach at Pennekamp State Park.
Above left: This is my family camping next to the freshwater pond in 1964. My brother Dave is
playing the guitar (a very 60's thing to do) while my mom is lighting a cigarette (another very 60's thing to do).
Above right: This is the swimming beach at Pennekamp State Park. It still looks the same today.
I'm in the water next to my brother Dwight, who has the snorkel. My brother Dave is lying on the right.
Above left: I visited Pennekamp State Park during my 2005 trip to Florida (see News Update from August 7,
2005). This is the sign at the park entrance.
Above right: I stayed a night in the campground. The campground had changed a lot since the mid-1960s,
as you'll note.
Above left: Eating dinner on a quiet evening near the amphitheatre.
Above right: The dive shop and marina store where you can buy a t-shirt or fill your scuba tanks.
Above left: The popular marina at Pennekamp. You can rent a glass-bottom boat here or hop
on a sailboat to go snorkeling out in the reefs, about five miles offshore.
Above right: This is the swimming beach, which hasn't changed much over the last 40 years (see
photo above in 1967).