Key West - History and things to do
Key West is the southernmost city in the continental U.S. and is the southern terminus of U.S. Route 1. It is 129 miles southwest of Miami and 98 miles north of Cuba. Juan Ponce de Leon was the first European visitor in 1521. The island was purchased by John W. Simonton in 1821 from the Spanish based on a recommendation of John Whitehead, due to the island’s strategic location. The island was considered the “Gibraltar of the West” because of its location on the shipping lane Straits of Florida which connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico.
During the civil war, Florida joined the Confederate States of America, but Key West remained in U.S. Union hands. Between 1845 and 1866 Fort Zachary Taylor was constructed on the island. Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, 68 miles to the west, served as a prison for Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.
Henry M. Flagler connected Key West with the mainland by constructing the Overseas Railroad in 1912. This railroad was destroyed in 1935 by a hurricane, but was rebuilt by the U.S. government in 1938 as a roadway extending of U.S. Highway 1 to Key West.
President Truman stayed in Key West for 175 days of his presidency. Ernest Hemingway wrote or worked on “A Farewell to Arms”, “Death in the Afternoon”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, and “The Short Life of Francis Macomber” while in Key West. Tennessee Williams wrote his first draft of “A Street Car Named Desire” while in Key West and listed Key West as his primary residence until his death in 1983.
In 1982 Key West declared its “independence” as the Conch Republic in protest over a U.S. Border Patrol blockade that was a response to the Mariel Boatlift from Cuba. You can still buy Conch Republic souvenirs on Duval Street.
Old Town, on the west side of the island, is the main tourist destination. Most structures date from 1886 to 1912 and have a distinctive architecture. New Town, the east end of the island, is built on a landfill and contains shopping centers, strip malls, and the airport.
The following are some of the sights to visit during your stay in Key West:
This website is maintained by Doug Dankel.
Page updated on 30-Apr-2007