And we have Key West!

And finally I got the idea to write about a very lointime and favorite city of my life’s travel and residency. As I lived in different points in Florida for 18 years and 13 years in NJ i have come here often. Family still have boats base there, and I last saw in 2002. Therefore , the pictures are before that. However, like to keep it in my blog for the souvenirs, memories, recuerdos of my life. Let me tell you a bit about Key West Florida.

There is plenty to see here other than museum , aquariums, and beach activities. My coming here was to do fish barbecues after boating and coming back to landfill in the mangroves to do the cooking, awesome. I did also scuba diving in those years and jet ski riding. Many folks comes for the beaches and the fact of its closesness to Cuba and the tropical party ambiance. Key West is special and worth the detour. I like to tell you more on the historical aspect of it as I am afraid for the tourist look you need to look up updated information.

Key West is located at the western end of the Florida Keys archipelago in the State of Florida USA. The city occupies the whole of the last of the islands from which it takes its name, as well as a set of islets surrounding it. The portion of Stock Island north of Federal Highway 1 (US 1 commonly call), Fleming Key and Sigsbee Park to the north (two military grounds with restricted access) and Sunset Key (formerly called Tank Island and with limited access to residents) to the west are part of the city of Key West , it is also the county seat of Monroe County. The city is known for being the southernmost point of the contiguous United States and the southern terminal of Highway 1. Located 207 km (about 128 miles) from Miami and 170 km (about 105 miles) from Havana, Cuba, it offers an incomparable strategic position on the Strait of Florida less than 150 km (about 93 miles) from the coast of Cuba.

key west

A bit of history I like

Before the Spanish arrived on the North American continent, the island was populated by the Calusa Indians. Spotted by Ponce de Leon in 1521, it was only sporadically occupied by fishermen and wreck hunters during the Spanish era. Originally called “Cayo Hueso”  (and still call in Spanish today) that is to say island of bones by the Spanish because of the many bones they found there when they arrived, vestiges of battles between natives or Spaniards, the name was changed by the English in Key West, according to some because the pronunciation of the Spanish word hueso was close to the English word west, according to others because of the geographical position of the island.

In 1763, when Florida came under British control (Treaty of Paris in exchange for Cuba), Spanish and Native Americans who occupied the island were expelled to Cuba. When Florida returned to the Spanish again twenty years later, the island was only sporadically inhabited without permanent colonization. Fishermen from Cuba or the Bahamas, then later after the independence of the United States, others from the Atlantic coast, used the island as a seasonal refuge. In 1815, the governor of Havana gave the island to Juan Pablo Salas, an artillery officer of the Spanish navy stationed in Saint Augustine, Florida (oldest city in the USA 1565) . Salas hastened to sell the island when Florida came under US control. In fact, he sold it to an American merchant, John W. Simonton, whom he met in a tavern in Havana, for a sum equivalent to $ 2,000 ,at the time a huge sum (the amount has not been corroborated) .

John Whitehead had spoken to Simonton, about the strategic position it occupied on the Strait of Florida when he had discovered it during a sinking in 1819. It was the deep-water port that had especially impressed and he compared to a West Gibraltar. On March 25, 1822, Matthew C. Perry arrived in Key West on the USS Shark and took possession of the island on behalf of the United States.

John Simonton subdivided the island into plots which he sold to: John Whitehead, a friend who had advised him to buy the island, John Fleeming, an English merchant of Mobile in Alabama, John Mountain and John Warner who resold immediately their plot to Pardon C. Greene. It was the latter alone who made Key West his permanent residence and who became a successful merchant and for a time mayor of the city. The names of these four “Fathers of the Modern City” as we like to call them, are found in Key West today and were given to the arteries of the historic district during the first cadastre established in 1829 by William Adee Whitehead, a younger brother of John Whitehead. This cadastre is still in force today and has undergone few modifications. Fleming Street is however spelled with a single “e”. The main street that crosses the historic district from north to south was named after the first governor of Florida, William Pope Duval, governor from 1822 to 1834 as Duval Street.

key west

During the American Civil War, while Florida joined Confederation in January 1861, Key West and its naval base remained under Union control. Fort Zachary Taylor, built from 1845 to 1866, played an important role during the conflict. Two other fortifications, the Martello East and West Towers, were built from 1861 to serve as a depot for arms and batteries annexed to Fort Taylor. They were later connected to the fort by a railway to facilitate the movement of ammunition. Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, located 110 km from Key West (halfway almost to Cuba), served as a prison at the end of the Civil War and his most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, accused of conspiracy for treating the Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

The term Conchs like the eponymous seashell applies to natives of the Bahamas of European descent. These are the “Conchs” who arrived in large numbers after 1830 and populated Key West. The term today applies to the inhabitants of Key West in general but distinguishes the clean natives or “Conchs” and the long-standing inhabitants but born elsewhere or “Freshwater Conchs” that is to say conch of fresh water. Towards the end of the 19C, the cigar industry replaced the salt works and the shipwreck trade. The arrival of many Cubans during this period of rebellion against Spanish domination (Ten Years’ War, then War of Independence) provided an expert workforce for this industry. In 1890 the population of Key West was close to 18,800, half of whom were of Cuban origin. Nearly 200 factories produced a hundred million cigars annually. José Martí, the father of Cuban independence, came to Key West several times to recruit volunteers for the cause and founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party there. It was from Key West that the battleship Maine left, which sank in the port of Havana and started the Spanish-American War. The Maine crew is buried in Key West Cemetery. The annex was renamed Truman Annex and still bears that name today. The Cuban revolution of 1959 breathed new life into the naval air base and Key West rediscovered the strategic role of wartime. In November 1962, John Fitzgerald Kennedy visited Key West a month after the Cuban missile affair was resolved. Key West remained a base for the many Cuban exiles arriving by sea from 1960 to 1980.

key west

There are typical neighborhoods such as the New Town on the eastern part of the island (mistakenly referred to as the north), most of which has been reclaimed from mangroves and lagoons, constitutes the new districts for the most part residential and commercial along Roosevelt Boulevard with the centers shopping, many hotels, sports fields and the airport.   Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous United States and one of the city’s most photographed attractions is the landmark that marks this geographic point. In addition, the legend on the terminal indicates that the Cuban coast is “90 miles” according to the famous phrase of President Kennedy during the missile crisis, when it is actually 93 miles, or 150 km. And of course  ,do not miss Mallory square!!!and that is me!!!

key west

key west

One nice way to see the city main points and come back for more and something we have followed in many cities and countries is the little train ride and of course Key West has a good one !

key west

key west

There is also a nice small aquarium which I found one photo here

key west

In 1931 the house on Whitehead Street that you could visit today was a wedding present for the couple Hemingway who had previously occupied a room above the Ford garage on Simonton Street. The swimming pool Hemingway built there would have cost $ 20,000, an extravagant sum in the 1930s.

Charles Thompson, a hardware store owner, and Joe Russell, a bar owner – the famous owner of Sloppy Joe’s , introduced him to big game fishing. Joe Russell would have inspired the character of Freddy in To have it or not, a novel also strongly inspired by the Key West of the years of crisis. It was also during this period that Ernest Hemingway acquired the nickname “Papà”. It is estimated that it is in Key West that almost 70% of his works were written, in particular The Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, The Snow of Kilimanjaro, The Green Hills of Africa or For Whom the Bell Tolls. After his divorce in 1940 and the loss of his house, he rarely returned to Key West, preferring Havana. The polydactyl cats that surround the Hemingway house are believed to be descendants of Snowball, Hemingway’s cat. Like the novelist’s home, they are a typical Key West attraction.

Another famous imprint here was that of Tennessee Williams who came to Key West from 1941 and around 1947 reportedly began sketching A Streetcar Named Desire while he was staying at the La Concha hotel on Duval Street. In 1949, he bought the house on Duncan Street and made it his legal home until his death in 1983. Tennessee Williams’ house is a modest new town bungalow with no particular appeal. Today it is a private residence which is not open to the public. While Hemingway and Williams frequented Key West concurrently, they only met on one occasion in Havana, on Hemingway’s property, Finca Vigia.(west of Havana today controlled by the government).

Some webpages to help you plan your trip here and you must are

City of Key West on heritage

Tourist office of the Florida Keys on Key West

Tourist office of Florida on Key West

Tourist office of the USA on Key West

There you go , there is a world to discover at Key West a small space full of history, tropical architecture, and just plain tropical fun , and this is just one tip of the wonderful Florida keys! Hope you can enjoy it one day.

And remember, happy travel, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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