Historic Florida Keys Resort

A Celebrated Past

A pillar of the Islamorada community since 1946, Cheeca Lodge & Spa has a history that stretches over half a century. However, the legend of the Florida Keys starts much earlier with the Conchs. These hardy pioneers of the Keys chose to carve out a tenacious living in the isolated beauty of the undiscovered Florida Keys, naming it Islamorada – “Purple Isle" in Spanish – for the purple hues of the sunset and the native bougainvillea flowers.

Read our updated press release,  Cheeca's History Revisited 2014

Many years later Mrs. Clara Mae Downey from Olney, Maryland, opened the Olney Inn in 1946. She described this early bellwether of Cheeca as "different – rather comparable to the tropical estate of a gifted host." Clara's first guest was President Harry Truman, who cherished his time loafing around the pool and wandering amidst the resort's 22 quaint bungalows.

Fast horses, high society and a healthy dose of Keys vivacity marked the reign of the Twitchell Family in the 1960's. Cynthia, better known as "Chee," was an heiress to the A&P grocery chain and owner of a top thoroughbred racing farm. "We took my nickname, combined it with my husband Carl's, and came up with "Cheeca," she recalled. The Twitchells completely refurbished the property, adding the main lodge, the oceanfront villas, tennis courts, golf course and Cheeca's trademark wooden fishing pier. Chee raised miniature tarpon and her beloved seahorses in the aquariums throughout the resort. "Suzy the Seahorse" became Cheeca's mascot and logo, gracing the resort's menus, brochures, towels and linens.

Avid outdoorsman and Coca-Cola magnate Carl Navarre purchased Cheeca Lodge in 1976, hosting his Fortune 500 friends for sunny days of sportfishing and golf. Celebrities flocked to the hotel during the Navarre tenure, including Jack Parr, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Ted Williams and Jack Nicklaus. Famous guests were reeling in giant bonefish right off the resort's pier. The "Sportfishing Capital of the World" was born, seducing wealthy adventurers from around the world.

Perhaps the most famous angler to visit Islamorada in the 1970's was George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States. President Bush helped co-found the George Bush Cheeca Lodge Bonefish Tournament in 1994, which has raised thousands of dollars for various charities over the years. During the 2002 tournament Cheeca opened the doors of the George Bush Presidential Retreat, the resort's most luxurious accommodation, filled with priceless photos and mementos.

The most significant change occurred after 2008, when the resort was expanded from 203 to 214 luxurious room accommodations, restoring  the property and its surrounding grounds to their original grandeur, ensuring that they will be a cherished destination for generations to come. The Main Lodge was completely rebuilt with a fabulous open-air lobby, the Sunrise Ballroom, a spectacular banquet room with panoramic views, and an exclusive lounge area for club members.