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A little about key west and why we are here


Key West began as a coral forest under the sea -

Marine life was its population!

As the polar ice caps reformed and the sea level dropped, terrestrial plant and animal life found its way.  Soil
was formed by decaying organic matter and storm actions. For millenniums the ocean continued to drop and
the ocean currents, wind currents, birds and the like continued to propagate the islands. Eventually human
life forms found their way. This pyramiding of trillions of life cells, along with the forces of nature, produced
an island called Cayo Hueso (Key West) by early Spanish travelers.

As the southernmost city of continental United States, Key West is often called America's Caribbean island
and boasts an impressive history. Most people do not know that Key West is much closer to Havana than
it is to Miami (90 miles).

This is the Monument marking the southernmost point in the continental United States accessible by civilians,
located at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street. One of the biggest attractions on the island is a
concrete replica of a buoy at the corner of South and Whitehead Streets that claims to be the southernmost
point in the contiguous 48 states. The point was originally just marked with a sign, which was often stolen.
In response to this, the city of Key West erected the now famous monument in 1983. Brightly painted and
labeled "SOUTHERNMOST POINT CONTINENTAL U.S.A.", it is one of the most visited and photographed
attractions in Key West. As the southernmost city of the United States, Key West was the island belonging
to the indigenous people known as the Calusa.  The first explorer to discover the island was Spanish Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1521.

In 1890, Key West had a population of nearly 18,800 and was the biggest and richest city in Florida. Half the residents were said to be of Cuban origin, and Key West regularly had Cuban mayors, including the son of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, father of the Cuban Republic who was elected mayor in 1876.  Cubans were actively involved in reportedly 200 factories in town, producing 100 million cigars annually.

In 1982 the city of Key West briefly declared its "independence" as the Conch Republic in a protest over a United States Border Patrol blockade. This blockade was set up on U.S. 1 where the northern end of the Overseas Highway meets the mainland at Florida City. The blockade was in response to the Mariel Boatlift. A traffic jam of 17 miles ensued while the Border Patrol stopped every car leaving the Keys, supposedly searching for illegal immigrants attempting to enter the mainland United States.  This paralyzed the Florida Keys, which rely heavily on the tourism industry. Flags, T-shirts and other merchandise representing the Conch Republic are still popular souvenirs for visitors to Key West, and the Conch Republic Independence Celebration—including parades and parties—is celebrated every April 23.

Key West has a tropical climate similar to the Caribbean islands.  Like most tropical climates, Key West has only a small difference in monthly mean temperatures between the coolest month (January) and the warmest month (July) – with the annual range of monthly mean temperatures around 78°F (25.5°C). The stable climate and warm winter weather is what makes Key West a popular tourist destination for many travelers from North American and Europe much of the year outside of the hot summer months. Key West averages more than 3000 hrs of sunshine annually. In fact, Key West is the only location in the mainland U.S. known to never have had a frost or freeze – the lowest temperature on record was 41 °F on January 12, 1886.

The original Key West settlement on the western part of the island is called "Old Town" and comprises the Key West Historic District. It includes the major tourist destinations of the island, including Mallory Square, Duval Street, the Truman Annex and Fort Zachary Taylor. It is where are found the classic bungalows and guest mansions.

Generally, the structures date from 1886 to 1912. The basic features that distinguish the local architecture include wood-frame construction of one- to two-and-a-half-story structures set on foundation piers about three feet above the ground. Exterior characteristics of the buildings are peaked "metal" roofs, horizontal wood siding, gingerbread trim, pastel shades of paint, side-hinged louvered shutters, covered porches along the fronts of the and wood lattice screens covering the area elevated by the piers.

Although
 Spain claimed Key West, no single nation exercised control over the island until 1822 when Lt. Commander Matthew C. Perry claimed it for the United States.  The first people to develop Key West were John Simonton, Pardon C. Greene, John Whitehead and John W.C. Fleming whose names are still remembered as part of local history on avenues and buildings within the modern city of Key West.


Many Bahamians fled here during the 1830s and these people were commonly called Conchs (a term which is still used as a nickname for Key West locals today).  Industries like fishing and salt production were big business in the 19th century.

By 1860, Key West had developed into one of the richest cities in the United States. Today's Old Town still preserves much history from this era. There are well-articulated tours of the city, or alternatively, you can visit the Museum of Art and History at the Customs House on Front Street.

During the 1800s, salvaging became one of the most important industries in Key West.  At one stage, houses here were renowned for containing stunningly manufactured furniture, chandeliers and other expensive items salvaged from local shipwrecks. The city's Shipwreck Museum provides tourists with a detailed look at the influences of shipwrecks on the city.


The American Civil War (1861 to 1865) played a significant role in the development of Key West history. Fort Zachary Taylor, constructed between 1845 and 1866, was used by the Union Army despite Florida's joining of the Confederacy. The fort can still be explored today and now ranks as a State Historic Park. Of note, gun running earned a fortune for Key West at this time.

By 1889, cigar-making overtook salt and fishing industries as the major economic source. However, the city was relatively isolated until the Overseas Railway was constructed in 1912, which connected the island with the mainland. Following the railway's demise in a hurricane in 1935, the Overseas Highway was built in 1938, making it easier for tourists to access the Florida Keys. Even today it acts as a lifeline, putting Key West in touch with Miami is a mere three and a half hours.


Author Ernest Hemingway spent much of his life residing in his winter home in Key West. Several US Presidents also favored the city, especially, Harry S. Truman. The city became a popular destination for celebrities too, especially after the Overseas Highway was constructed. The Hemmingway House is available for tours, and visitors can even see a descendant of his famous 'seven-toed' cat, Snowball. The annual Hemingway look-alike competition is a highlight on the city's events calendar.


The city experienced a large influx of Cuban immigrants from the late 1800s until the Cuban revolution of 1959, and most were employed primarily in the cigar-making industry. During WWII, the naval base at Fort Taylor was expanded, with the US Navy still having a major presence here today.


Today's Key West attracts many tourists from around the world and is the city's largest industry by far.  From fisherman to history buffs the city is always abuzz in parades, festivals and special events.  
In 1979 the Key West Tourist Development Association, Inc., started Fantasy Fest to attract tourists at the traditionally slow time of Halloween, which is at the end of the hurricane season. Fantasy Fest regularly attracts approximately 100,000 people to the island and has become a huge success.

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