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Red Cross Houses

Red Cross houses built for survivors of the <br/>Russell family on Upper Matecumbe
Red Cross houses built for survivors of the
Russell family on Upper Matecumbe
Building a cistern into the <br/>foundation
Building a cistern into the
foundation

In the aftermath of the 1935 hurricane, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) combined forces with the Red Cross to build 28 concrete houses, two wooden residential structures, and two wooden commercial structures to help displaced residents. The 28 concrete houses, or hurricane houses, were single family homes consisting of between one and four bedroom floor plans that were built for families that had lost their homes in the hurricane. In exchange for the family showing proof that they owned the property, the houses were built and given free of charge.

The homes were constructed to withstand a powerful hurricane and built on elevated foundations of poured concrete 18-inches thick. Walls were built 12-inches thick and reinforced with rebar. Additionally, a two-cell cistern was built into the foundation to provide enough fresh water to last a small family through the dry season.

Many of the hurricane houses were constructed near the original town site of Matecumbe. In total, 19 concrete houses were constructed on Upper Matecummbe as well as two wooden residential buildings and two commercial buildings. Nine additional hurricane houses were built in the Upper Keys, including seven homes on Plantation Key and two in Tavernier.

Pouring concrete into reinforced wall forms
Pouring concrete into reinforced wall forms
Like the Red Cross houses, the new Matecumbe School, today the Islamorada Library building, was also built on a raised foundation with reinforced concrete walls (Image Credit: Arthur Rothstein Collection)
Like the Red Cross houses, the new Matecumbe School, today the Islamorada Library building, was also built on a raised foundation with reinforced concrete walls (Image Credit: Arthur Rothstein Collection)

During the reconstruction period of the community, Roy Wingate was sent to monitor the progress of the Keys Building Program. In a note regarding construction of the hurricane-proof structures, typed March 3, 1936, Wingate wrote to his superiors in Miami, “These buildings are as near wind and water proof as could be constructed. Cleverly designed and are being constructed as well as it is humanely possible to do so. The writer, since inspecting this project, feels that the Red Cross will have reason to feel proud of its part in this undertaking in the years to come.”