Marine life was its population!
If you want to know about Key West we have to start at the very beginning! As polar ice caps reformed and
sea levels dropped, plant and animal life found its way and soil was formed by decaying matter and storms.
For what seems like forever the ocean continued to drop. Winds, ocean currents, birds and the like continued
to propagate the islands and eventually human life forms found their way. Trillions of life cells, along with the
forces of nature, produced an island out of the sea called Cayo Hueso or "Key West" by early Spanish settlers.
Cayo Hueso is the southernmost city of the United States. Key West is also 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
to Miami - only 90 miles.
One of the most visited and largest attractions in Key West is a concrete replica of a buoy at the corner of South
and Whitehead Streets that claims to be the southernmost point in all of the USA. The city of Key West
erected the now famous buoy Southernmost monument in 1983. Brightly painted and labeled 'SOUTHERNMOST
POINT CONTINENTAL U.S.A.' this landmark has become one of the most photographed spots in all of the Keys.
The Studio Hair and Tan is proud to be in Southernmost City in the USA! Starting in 1890 Key West hosted nearly 19,000 residents and was the largest and richest city in all of Florida. It is not commonly known that almost half the residents were of Cuban origin. Since then Key West has consistently elected Cuban mayors including the son of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes who was the father of the entire Cuban Republic and elected Mayor in 1876. Cubans were also actively involved in 200 factories in the area producing 100 million cigars a year.
In 1982 Key West declared its independence for a short period and became known as the Conch Republic in a protest over a United States Border Patrol scenario. It set up a blockade on U.S. 1 where the Overseas Highway meets mainland Florida City. This blockade was in response to the Mariel Boatlift. A 17 mile traffic ensued while the Border Patrol stopped every car leaving the Keys searching for illegal immigrants trying to enter the mainland United States. The end result was a paralyzed Florida Keys since virtually of the island depends on the tourism industry and trade. Since this short lived event, Conch Republic Flags and other creative merchandise representing the Conch Republic appeared and are still popular souvenirs for visitors to Key West to this day. There is also an annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration including parades and parties which is celebrated every April 23.
Key West has a very tropical climate like any Caribbean island. In fact, Key West has only a small difference in monthly mean temperatures between the coldest month (JAN) and the hottest month (JULY). Annual range of monthly mean temperatures is around 78°F and averages more than 3000 hrs of sunshine annually allowing for a perfect tropical vacation for visitors. Key West is the only location in the mainland U.S. known to never have had a frost or freeze as the lowest temperature on record was 41 in the year 1886.
The original and oldest Key West settlement on the western part of the island is called "Old Town". It comprises the Key West Historic District and is the major tourist destination of the island including Duval Street, Mallory Square, Truman Annex and Fort Zachary. Old Town Key West structures date from 1886 to 1912 and some remain in the original condition they did then. This local architecture include wood-frame structures set on concrete blocks about 3' above the ground because of flood. Exterior characteristics are peaked metal roofs to help with the winds and hot sun- horizontal all wood siding and lovely gingerbread trim in pastel shades of paint. Louvered shutters, covered porches and lattice are also distinguished characteristics.
It is well known that Spain actually claimed Key West, however, no single nation exercised control over the island until 1822 when Commander Matthew Perry claimed it solely for the United States. The very first people to develop Key West were Simonton, Greene, Whitehead and Fleming whose names are in existence today vis popular street names and even building names in modern Key West.
During the 1830's many Bahamians also fled here. Commonly called Conchs, this term is still used as a nickname for locals today. Salt production and fishing were the businesses of the times in the 19th century.
By the year of 1860 Key West developed into one of the richest cities in the United States. Old Town still preserves much history from this era and there are well produced tours of the city or museums to visit to catch and feel the spirit of the times.
Salvaging also became one of the most important industries in Key West during the 1880's. Area residences were renowned for containing stunning furniture, chandeliers and other expensive items salvaged from many of the local shipwrecks. Key West's "Shipwreck Museum" provides tourists with a closer look on the effects of shipwrecks on the city.
From 1861 to 1865 the American Civil War played a significant role in the development of Key West history. Fort Zachary Taylor was built between 1845 and 1866 was used by the Army despite Florida's joining of the Confederacy. Tourists may still explore the fort today and it now is a Florida State Historic Park. Also of note was that actual gun running earned a career for many during this time period in Key West. However, by 1889 cigar-making overtook both the fishing and salt industries.
Key West remained isolated until the Overseas Railroad was built in 1912 connecting the islands with the mainland. In 1935 a famous hurricane virtually wiped out the entire railroad. In its place the now famous Overseas Highway (road) was completed in 1938, making it much easier for tourists to access the entire Florida Keys. Today US1 acts as a lifeline allowing Key West to be in touch with Miami and South Florida via vehicle with only a short 3 1/2 hour ride.
Ernest Hemingway also made Key West famous because he resided her in his winter home for years. Visitors and locals alike can tour the Hemmingway House and see the famous 7 toed cats. Many US Presidents also fell in love with the town, especially Harry S. Truman. Key West soon became a popular destination for celebrities too, especially after the Overseas Highway was built.
The Key West of today attracts many tourists from around the world. Today tourism remains the city's largest industry. Cruise ship visitors arrive on the island almost daily. Because of visitors, history fans, fisherman, divers and others, Key West is alway full of life with parades, special events and parties. In 1979 the Key West Tourist Development started a parade in October called FantasyFest. FantasyFest now attract up to 100,00 visitors each and every year over Halloween in a 10 day event. This timeframe also celebrates the end of the hurricane season.