Historic Homes Paint Colorful Key West History for Visitors

| september 14, 2012 | 1 Comment

hemingway sailfish 150x150 Historic Homes Paint Colorful Key West History for VisitorsWhile many tourists visit Key West for its wilder side – shark fishing, SCUBA diving, famous bars and watering holes – not to mention the no holds barred, anything goes week of revelry called “Fantasy Fest” some travelers visit for the Southernmost City for its quaint and colorful history. The tales from the island city’s earliest days were just as wild as its present day reputation – swash buckling pirates, wreckers who braved tropical storms to save lives and valuable cargo from ships foundering on the treacherous reefs. Civil war drama and literary legends delight the most voracious of history buffs.

Start with the Oldest House on Duval Street for a glimpse of how early settlers in Key West lived. The attraction was built in 1829 and a sea captain and his wife and 7 daughters lived there. The family and descendants remained in the home until 1969 – which meant that much of the original furnishings and character were preserved. Of particular interest is the detached cook house. Early Key West homes had separate buildings for a cooking hearth – not just to keep heat away from the home, but to make the main house safe from fire.

The home and its gardens are owned by the State of Florida and are a free attraction. Tours are given daily by docents, but the gardens alone provide a lovely respite from the heat and hustle bustle of downtown Duval.

The Hemingway House offers visitors a more contemporary story – and a literary one. America’s most celebrated writer of the 20th Century made the Southernmost City his home for almost a decade in the 1930s. He fell in love with Key West primarily for the deep sea fishing in the surrounding blue waters of the Florida Straits – and for its watering holes – like the Sloppy Joe’s which is famous for its best known patron. Hemingway targeted and caught marlin – and became so enamored of the Gulfstream and its opportunities for big game sport fishing that he commissioned his own fishing yacht. He named her the Pilar, and hired a Cuban fisherman, Gregorio Fuentes to be his first mate. Many believe this stories Fuentes shared with Papa were the inspiration for the Old Man and The Sea, which won the author a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. The book was also integral to Hemingway being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature the next year.

On a tour of the Hemingway House, you’ll hear more about the author’s love life and many marriages than literary or Key West history, but the tales are compelling, and the house is different than any other property in Key West. It was built in a Spanish Colonial style in 1849 by a wealthy Key West wrecker, Asa Tift.

No history buff would want to miss the Harry S Truman Little White House. The nondescript building was originally constructed as US Naval officers’ quarters – and had been converted to a single family dwelling for the base commander in 1912, but when Truman became enamored of Key West it was converted for presidential use. President Truman spent 175 days of “working vacations” at this Southernmost White House. The building was originally waterfront, but the over the years the Navy dredged the channels and use the fill to create more land.

Other presidents have graced the Little White House including former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. President John Kennedy hosted a one day “summit” with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in March of 1961; and visited again in after the Cuban Missile Crisis in1962.

For those who love Civil War history, key West boasts several significant sites. A Yankee Army captain who was stationed in Key West at the outbreak of the war quickly took action to secure Fort Zachary Taylor, an unfinished fort on an island about a quarter of a mile off Key West. In the dead of night, Captain Brannaman moved his men and supplies to Fort Zach and declared Key West under Union rule. It remained under Yankee control for the entire Civil War.

Seventy miles west another unfinished structure, Fort Jefferson, was also secured for the Union. Between those two forts, the US navy was able to interfere significantly with shipping to Confederate ports in the Gulf of Mexico. Fort Zachary Taylor is now part of Key West (thanks to more fill from the Navy channel dredging) and is part of a state park. The fort can be toured any time and daily tours are also offered at no charge. There is a small fee to enter the state park, but the fort tours are gratis. The park’s beach is Key West’s loveliest, and offers great swimming, snorkeling and sunset watching. Fort Jefferson can be reached by ferry day trip or seaplane and is one of the highlights of a visit to Key West – not only for its historic value, but for spectacular snorkeling and excellent birding.

Other historic attractions in Key West include; the Mel Fisher Museum which showcases the treasure raised from the Atocha, a shipwrecked Spanish galleon, the Shipwreck Museum, the Flagler Museum, which highlights the “railroad to the sea” that was the first ‘connection’ to the mainland for Key West, and the Customs House, which displays historic artifacts and local works of art.  Key West has numerous other historic homes that can be toured – the Curry Mansion, the Audubon House – and the Pelican Path offers a walking tour of the many significant structures that can be seen  but not toured in Key West. Pelican Path maps are free and available at the Oldest House, 322 Duval.

If you’d like to live in your own historic home in Key West, writer and broker Rudy Molinet of Marquis Properties sells homes in Old Town, Truman Annex and the Casa Marina districts of Key West. More of his writing and his market reports on Key West real estate as well as local information on neighborhoods can be found on his blog: http://rudymolinet.com/keywestrealestatenews.

Category: Algemeen, Key West

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