Key West History
Key West Florida is known all over the world as a virtual mecca…for everyone, from drop outs and millionaires to tourists and stars. Racy, raucous, bawdy, brilliant – these are only some of the words used to describe this fascinating place where a week’s vacation could well turn out to be one huge game of who’s who and where’s where.
The “who” in Key West history includes a list that could only be described as star-studded. Writers, artists, statesmen, and even state dignitaries come to this southernmost tip of the Florida Keys for a taste of the vibrant city and its beneficent climate. People like Hemingway, President Truman, Tennessee Williams, and John James Audubon have made their residences here at one time and now, their homes have been converted into museums where you can experience and see glimpses of Key West history that is still alive in every corner of the city’s streets.
The “where” of Key West history is virtually every building, house, and structure that dates back to the early 1800s in the Old Town. The unique Key West history has inspired many to fight to restore rather than build anew these wonderful pieces of the past, and in so doing, they inadvertently share this love of Key West history, architecture, literature, and local lore to tourists like you.
Rich Spanish Heritage
Key West history begins on a Sunday, May 15, 1513. This is the day that adventurer Ponce de Leon and fellow Spanish chronicler Antonio de Herrera set sail towards what we now know as the Florida Keys island chain. The two were searching for the fabled fountain of youth.
They never found the fountain, but they did find the Florida Keys.
In his chronicles of this portion of Key West Florida, Herrera wrote:
“To all this line of islands and rock islets they gave the name of Los Martires (The Martyrs) because, seen from a distance, the rocks as they rose to view appeared like men who were suffering; and the name remained fitting because of the many that have been lost there since.”
For hundreds of years after that, Key West history was largely dominated by pirates who found the islands to be a most convenient place to hide their ill-gotten treasures. But in 1822, the fledgling US Navy pirate fleet was established and the pirates were chased away, thus allowing for settlement to ensue.
And the rest is now Key West history as more and more people came to the islands. The earliest settlers set up groves of Key limes, tamarind and breadfruit as a means of subsistence. Then in the Lower Keys, the people set up pineapple farms from whence the first pineapple factory was built.
Today, the US Navy that once drove the pirates away have been in Key West history as a submarine base. Many of the buildings that were built since the time of the first settlers are still in existence, thanks to residents who fought to keep Key West history alive in this lively city of dreams, so that visitors from all over the world could see a glimpse of Florida’s rich past laden with Spanish exploration, hidden pirate treasures, and pineapple farms.