A Guide to KEY WEST; Monroe Co, FL
Contributor: Joy R. Fisher <sdgenweb AT yahoo.com>
Date Contributed: 18 Jun 2010
A Guide to KEY WEST
Compiled by workers of the
Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration
in the State of Florida
AMERICAN GUIDE SERIES
FLORIDA STATE PLANNING BOARD
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
ROBERT S. ALLEN
The natural deep-water harbor is fringed with sponge and fish docks, turtle crawls, and markets, from which the city derives most of its living. The principal entrance to the harbor is through Old Nor'west Channel, a charted course leading from the northern reef to the western end of the island, that in its recorded three centuries has known Indian canoes, Spanish galleons, pirate craft, and sailing vessels of many nations.
Like the majority of the Florida Keys, a comparatively high ridge extends along the ocean front and deep water. This was the site of the original settlement; and here, until the growth of the city's commercial life, and the development of the U. S. Naval Station, the more substantial residences were built.
Although entirely surrounded by water, the greater part of the island city water front is occupied by Government property—the Naval Station, Fort Taylor Military Reservation, the West Martello Tower, and Trumbo Island, a pumped-in area once used as a railway terminal. Bordering three sides of the island's eastern end, are North and South Roosevelt Boulevards, broad landscaped drives constructed with Government money during the city's rehabilitation period. Only Duval Street, the principal thoroughfare, completely traverses the island, extending from a pleasure pier on the Atlantic to the Old Island Trading Post on the Gulf.
Practically all plant life here has been introduced by wind, birds, and the sea, or has sprung from seed brought by seafaring men from many world ports. The only remains of the arboreous portion of the original old hammock once existing on the island are the Jamaica dogwood, tallowwood, and two varieties of stopper. The black mangrove and buttonwood are found in swamp areas to the northwest.
Today tropical trees and shrubs flourish on every side—the banyan, tamarind, frangipani, a variety of native and exotic palms, and a host of others. Lime, coconut, avocado, mango, and guava trees, forever green, provide fruit as well as grateful shade along the streets, the narrow alleyways, and on the grounds of public and private buildings. Only the limited area of the city precludes cultivation of fruits on a commercial scale.
Homesites and parks are bowers of crotons, with their multicolored leaves, purple and dark red bougainvilleas, pink and red hibiscus and oleanders. Coral vines, the orange bignonia, and the golden allamanda contribute their galaxy of colors to the tropical background. Throughout the island, from early June until late September, the royal poinciana trees display their great umbrellas of orange-colored blossoms; and during Christmas holidays poinsettias flaunt white-and-crimson flowers in almost every yard. After a tropical shower, the clean, sweet odor of the witch-hazel trees drifts over Key West.
At first glance this may seem a dilapidated city; small native dwellings and balconied houses are for the most part gray and untainted. These venerable structures, however, their framework put together with trenails or wooden pegs, and anchored deep in coral rock, have withstood many hurricanes. The absence of chimneys and the presence of many broad sloping roofs, some with two and three combs, are noticeable. The latter are essential, for every inch of roof space drains into pipes leading to backyard cisterns. Mild winters as a rule make heating systems unnecessary; but rainfall is carefully husbanded, since drilled wells are brackish, and inhabitants depend solely upon rain for their drinking water.
As Key West became tourist-conscious in the 1930's under the stimulus of Federal relief and lending agencies, streets were repaired, yards and vacant lots were cleared, and many old houses took new coats of paint. This effective beautification program was initiated under the direction of Julius Stone, then State head of the Florida Emergency Relief Administration.
Streets in the business section are practically deserted during early afternoons. Shops and residences are shuttered, and the siesta of the tropics is in order. The few pedestrians are seldom in a hurry; there are no streetcars or city busses; automobiles and bicycles are the popular means of conveyance.
Isolation played a large part in Key West's social existence until the advent of the railway in 1912, and the overseas highway and ferry in 1926. Four generations of isolation has had its effect on the mental and social outlook of the inhabitants. Citizens think first, last, and always of Key West, and a surprisingly large number have never been off the island.
The majority of residents are descendants of pioneers from Virginia, New England, and the West Indies, but various racial groups have contributed to the Old World life existing here. The "Conchs," Latins, and Negroes each preserve characteristics peculiar to their groups. About a fourth of the population is descended from Cubans and Spaniards that migrated here in the 1860's with the establishment of the cigar factories, and from refugees of the Cuban Revolution of 1868 and 1898. Key West "Conchs" are offspring of cockney and Tory English, one group migrating to the Bahamas from England in 1649, and another moving from Florida to the Bahamas when Spain regained Florida in 1783. Their descendants settled on the Florida Keys during the early 1800's, attracted by marine salvaging and commercial fishing. Both white and Negro immigrants from the Bahamas speak with a cockney accent and retain cockney words and phrases. The Negro population, occupying a restricted area, is nearly all of Bahama origin.
Fishermen and ships' carpenters, who have always formed a large part of the population gather in various places nightly. Their world is the sea; and it is ever of the sea they speak. Almost every night these men congregate on the streets near Garrison Bight, or in one of the many water front cafes. The long "o's," dropping and adding "h's," substituting "w" for "v," all these habits of speech make for a picturesque and charming patois.
Latin coffee shops abound in Key West. They sell strong Cuban coffee, which is served with sweetened condensed milk straight from the can. Sugar is seldom used. Tasty little penny cakes—bollos—are popular with coffee sippers. Cooked in deep, boiling lard, these are made of black-eye pea flour, garlic, onions, salt, and pepper. Occasionally, a sandwich or sweet cake is ordered. The coffee is drunk at all hours of the day and night: not much at a time—un buchito—just a swallow. Local youths collect empty milk cans and dispose of them at 2c a dozen to coffee shops, where they are filled and sent out to customers in the streets, offices, and along the docks. Coffee shops are social institutions, patronized by judges, laborers, fishermen, and tourists. Here newspapers are read, problems of the day discussed, and local happenings reviewed. When conversation lags, patrons and proprietors turn their attention to the ever-present radios, which are tuned in on impassioned political addresses or the music of Latin rhumbas, broadcast from Havana and other Cuban cities.
Nearly as popular as the coffee shops are Key West's ice cream parlors. Hundreds of Conch and Negro children, and as many adults, pay daily visits to these, where they buy delicately flavored ice creams and fruit ices. The ingredients range from custard of green coconut and ripe tamarind to soursop, sugar apple, and sapodilla. Often eaten with the ices are mar quit as, or fried green plantains, which are sliced in thin cross sections and resemble potato chips in appearance.
The whole town promenades Duval Street on Saturday night. Everybody, dressed in his best, is out to see and to be seen. Townsfolk, visitors, and fishermen do their weekly shopping between sundown and 10 P. M. and give Duval Street its only traffic jam of the week. The stores are crowded and music and song pour from every open-front cafe, bar, and fruit-juice parlor. On gala occasions a band plays in the park, or a band of Cuban musicians serenades passers-by. An unfailing feature of every Saturday night is a "shouting meeting" held at the corner of Duval and Fleming Streets by three or more members of a fundamentalist religious sect. They exhort the shoppers, but only an infrequent tourist lingers within hearing distance of the singers and speakers.
With the arrival, in 1939, of several thousand men of the United States military and naval forces, an acute recreational problem rapidly developed. A community committee was formed, with the WPA Music, Recreation, and Art Proiects taking a leading part. Colonial Park, a central location, was made available, a band stand erected, and a varied program of recreation and entertainment was inaugurated for service men, citizens, and visitors.
Art classes, art exhibits, and band concerts are combined in the Key West WPA Community Art Center, a vital factor in the cultural life of the island city.
Wednesday afternoons radios are tuned to the weekly Cuban National lottery drawing held in Havana. Boys from an orphanage there chant the winning numbers as they are drawn from one cage, and the amount of the prize awards drawn from another. Key West listens attentively because Key West wagers on the last two digits of the three capital prize numbers, and some lucky citizens may hold a "piece" of a winning ticket.
As the immigrants to Key West brought with them their own customs and habits of living, so they cling to their native foods. Cubans continue the custom of having coffee and bread early in the morning because in early days work in cigar factories ceased about nine for a hearty breakfast. Dinner was eaten in mid-afternoon, and a light meal followed in the evening.
The majority of the restaurants are owned by Cubans; Cuban-American dishes and sea food are featured. Turtle steaks and soup, and conch steaks and stews usually appear on all menus. Among other items are bolichi roast, beef stuffed with hard-boiled eggs; alcaporado, beef stew with olives, raisins, and other ingredients; black bean and garbanzo soups, blended with potatoes, sausage, and cabbage; and arroz con polio, chicken with saffron rice and pimientos.
Crawfish, the Florida "lobster," unusually plentiful, is served boiled or broiled with melted butter, as the hot, peppery Cuban enchilada, or as a salad or cocktail. Fish, abundant at all seasons, and cooked in a variety of ways, are prominent on local menus. "Grunts, grits and gravy," it has been said, is the islanders' favorite repast. But the lowly grunt, despite its name and unlovely appearance, makes delicious eating. Yellowtail a la minuta, is among the appetizing pan fishes. Jewfish steaks, baked stuffed mutton fish or grouper, kingfish, Spanish mackerel, and chowders, add to the zest of Key West eating.
The variety of tropical fruits seems unlimited. Besides their meat, the coconut, pineapple, soursop, papaya, mamey, orange, lime, and grapefruit are relished for their juices. Sea grapes are made into jellies. Plantains, baked or fried, and baked guava duff with hard sauce, are popular dishes. The majority of fruits are used for salads; and the avocado, sometimes called alligator pear, is served both as a fruit and a vegetable.
Many artists spend the winter in and about the city. Among the earliest was John James Audubon, the ornithologist, who visited here in 1832 on his trip along the Florida Keys aboard the revenue cutter Marion. During his stay in the vicinity the artist spent his mornings ashore searching for birds and plants, and employed the remainder of the day in making sketches. It was customary for him to include in his drawings of birds such plants as were found on the scene. Among his paintings was that of a species of pigeon hitherto unknown to ornithologists, which he named Key West pigeon. It was included in his chief work, Birds of America, sold by subscription for $1,000 a copy.
Winslow Homer was a frequent visitor here between 1888 and 1903. Some of his Key West paintings include Hauling in Anchor, Taking on Provisions, Palms in the Storm, and Fishing Boat, Key West. Prominent among present-day artists are Anton Fischer, noted for his marine studies and magazine illustrations; Edward Bruce, Cyril Marshall, and F. Townsend Morgan, etcher, the latter director of the Key West WPA Community Art Center.
Artists employed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration were brought to Key West in 1934 for the purpose of making Key West's attractions known to the outside world. Much of the art work took the form of murals for restaurants and night clubs, advertising literature, guidebook illustrations, and post cards.
Writers as well as artists have found the island city and its environs a source of inspiration and an ideal vacation ground. Novelists, playwrights, sports writers, and newspaper and magazine feature writers have long used the island as a locale. Ernest Hemingway, while living here, has written a distinguished novel, several short stories, and many fishing , articles with Key West and Gulf Stream backgrounds. Maxwell Anderson used the Florida Keys as a setting for one act of his play Key Largo. A Key West historical novel, Reap the Wild Wind, by Thelma Strabel, ran serially in the Saturday Evening Post in 1940.
ON SUNDAY, THE DAY OF THE FEAST of the Holy Spirit, the 15th of May (1513) they ran along the coast of rocky islets ten leagues, as far as the two white rocky inlets. To all this line of islands and rocky islets they gave the name of Los Martires 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."
Thus the historian De Herrera describes Ponce de Leon's voyage past the Florida Keys. The romantic adventurer had failed to find the fabled fountain of youth at Saint Augustine where he had been on Easter Day, April 3, had claimed the land for Spain and had given it its name Florida from the Feast of Flowers, the Spanish name for Easter Day. It is unlikely that Ponce de Leon explored Key West as the Keys made so dismal an impression upon him.
In 1566 Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the Governor, or Adelantado, threaded the maze of the Florida Keys in an effort to find a channel for the Spanish treasure fleet. Possibly he visited Key West during the voyage, but his hazy geographical conceptions did not include utilization of Key West's potentialities.
Not until 1700 is there definite evidence of habitation on the little island. Invasions of the Indian allies of the British drove the tribe of Caloosa Indians, who formerly held the tip of the peninsula, down the line of keys to the Matecumbes, Key Vaca and Cayo Hueso. Even the settlement on the latter island disappeared when Florida came into English hands in 1763. War was made on the Caloosas, many were slaughtered, and the rest fled to Cuba.
This battle may account for the name Cayo Hueso. William A. Whitehead, an early settler, who surveyed and mapped Key West in 1829 writes:
"It is probable that, from the time of the first visit of Ponce de Leon until the cession of the Floridas to the United States, the islands or keys . . . were only resorted to by the aborigines of the country, the piratical crews with which the neighboring seas were infested, and fishermen. . . . The oldest settler in this part of the country, one whose residence in the neighborhood of Charlotte Harbor dated back to about 1775, used to say, that in his early years (probably about the commencement of the eighteenth century) the Indians inhabiting the islands along the coast and those on the mainland were of different tribes, and as the islanders frequently visited the mainland for the purpose of hunting, a feud arose between the two tribes, and those from the mainland having made an irruption into the islands, their inhabitants were driven from island to island, until they reached Key West. Here, as they could flee no farther, they were compelled to risk a final battle, which resulted in the almost entire extermination of the islanders.
"This sanguinary battle strewed the island with bones, as it is probable the conquerors tarried not to commit the bodies of the dead to the ground, hence the name of the island, Cayo Hueso, which the English, with the same facility which enabled them to transform the name of the wine Xeres Seco into 'Sherry Sack,' corrupted into Key West."
From another source comes a tale of archaeological remains on Key West:
"Relics of European occupation are found on Key West as well as on some of the neighboring keys—stone walls, remains of earthworks and the like, with indications that the island was well known to the pirates who frequented these waters during the Eighteenth Century and had not wholly disappeared when Florida passed into possession of the United States."
However, from a partial investigation by the Smithsonian Institution of similar structures on islands to the north of Key West, it is thought that such monuments are of aboriginal origin. Commander Carl Von Paulson, U. S. C. G., states that an archaeologist took him from Miami on a trip down the keys and showed him that about every 30 miles a monument or mound appears. This is thought to have been the work of Indians, 30 miles being a day's journey, at the end of which a village or camp was located. The remains found in Key West, long since disappeared, are locally spoken of as pirate monuments.
In 1783 Florida again became Spanish. On August 26, 1815, Juan Pablo Salas, a young officer was given the island of Cayo Hueso by Don Juan de Estrada, Governor of Florida "in consideration of the several services rendered by him at different times, much in the Royal Artillery Corps stationed at this fort, as well as services rendered voluntarily and without pay at the office of the secretary under your administration."
Although Salas evidently had information about Cayo Hueso, either from personal observation or from reports of explorers, he did nothing with the island until 1822, when he disposed of it to John W. Simonton, a Mobile, Alabama, merchant, for $2,000, the sale taking place in Havana.
Salas had already made a conditional sale to John B. Strong, who in turn sold out to John Geddes. The peace of the infant community was disturbed when a party sent by Geddes, and supported by Captain Hammersley of the U. S. schooner Revenge, arrived to take possession. After a prolonged lawsuit, Salas gave Geddes a schooner and four acres of land at "Big Spring, East Florida," in order to secure the island to the Simonton interests. When Florida was ceded to the United States by Spain in 1819 the territorial commissioners decided that title to all lands legally derived through Salas and Simonton was valid, a decision later confirmed by Congress.
In 1822 Lieutenant M. C. Perry, U. S. N., Commander of the United States Schooner Shark, visited Key West and hoisted the Stars and Stripes, proclaiming the sovereignty of the United States over this and the neighboring islands. Perry named the key Thompson's Island, in honor of Smith Thompson, Secretary of the Navy, and the harbor Port Rodgers for Commodore Rodgers, President of the Naval Board, but neither name endured. That same year Commodore David Porter, commanding a squadron charged with ridding the West Indies of the pirates, known as "Brethren of the Coast," established a naval depot at Key West, which in his letters he called Allenton and made it his base of operations.
Since former expeditions against pirates had been unsuccessful, Porter adopted a new plan. He sent away his large frigates and assembled a fleet of eight light-draft schooners and five 20-oared barges. An old New York ferry boat, the Sea Gull, towed the barges until they fell in with the buccaneers. This is said to have been the first use of a steam-propelled vessel in the United States Navy.
After he had captured and destroyed a number of their vessels, the pirates made their final rendezvous in the Isle of Pines. Here Porter destroyed all except a few ships which escaped to the Port of Fajardo, Porto Rico. The buccaneers paid tribute to the Spanish government, never attacked its vessels, and were in return protected by Spain. Porter demanded the surrender of the few who escaped and when the Spanish authorities refused, he sent a punitive expedition ashore. This ended piracy in the Caribbean Sea.
A diplomatic protest by Spain resulted in Porter's court-martial and suspension for six months. Thereupon he re-signed and took service in the Mexican Navy and later the Turkish. He was appointed Consular Agent of the United States in Turkey where he died in 1843.
Following Porter's successful campaign, families from St. Augustine, South Carolina, Virginia, and the New England States, settled here together with many Tories who had fled to the Bahamas during the American Revolution.
Key West was twice incorporated in 1828; first as a city and later in the year as the town of Key West. The government was vested in a board of seven town councilmen to be elected by the free white male persons over the age of 21 who had lived three months within the city limits. The charter authorized the levying of license taxes but carried no authority to tax real estate. The large landed proprietors were opposed to such a tax as the major part of their property was unproductive and they were donating lots to prospective settlers.
Much of the townsite was cleared of underbrush at this time and several new streets opened and named for pioneer residents. Settlers were joined in the undertaking by U. S. sailors from ships in the harbor. Early nondenominational services were held in the old courthouse in Jackson Square with transient clergymen officiating. St. Paul's Episcopal Church, pioneer religious organization, conducted its first services Christmas Day, 1832. Two years later a private school was established by the Reverend Alva Bennett. Others followed; teachers provided their own schoolrooms; and the town council contributed $1 a month toward the education of each pupil whose parents were unable to pay tuition fees. Free public schools for both white and Negro children did not come into existence until 1870.
Key West had the first newspaper south of St. Augustine when Thomas Eastin founded the Register in 1829 after the failure of his Argus in Pensacola. It lasted but a short time and was followed in 1831 by the Gazette, also short-lived, to be succeeded by the Inquirer, which appeared for two years. With its demise, Key West was without a newspaper until 1845 when the Light of the Reef and the Key of the Gulf appeared. Both had short careers.
The first postal service was established in 1829 when a small sloop brought mail here from Charleston, a service soon replaced by a shorter route from St. Marks. Later biweekly service was inaugurated between Charleston and the island that continued to the beginning of the War between the States. It was not until 1873 that Mallory & Company put on a line of freight and passenger steamers that touched at Key West en route between New York and Galveston, Texas.
In 1832, the Territorial Council replaced the town charter with an incorporated city charter. This provided for the election of a mayor and six councilmen; a twelve-months' residence was required for voters; and the charter authorized a tax on real estate and also a per capita tax on free Negroes, mulattos and slaves.
Negroes, whether free or not, were not permitted on the streets after nine-thirty at night, when the town bell was rung; neither were they permitted to "play the fiddle, beat a drum, or make any kind of noise after bell-ring without permission of the mayor or alderman, under penalty of being whipped or put to labor on public streets."
Indian massacres on the upper keys alarmed the little settlement which by 1835 claimed a population of 400. After the attack on Cape Florida Lighthouse and the death of a number of local citizens on Indian Key, about 200 fugitives sought refuge in Key West. Fearing the Indians would move southward, citizens organized a land and water patrol, and sent a boat to Havana to bring back arms and ammunition, as well as to ask help from American naval vessels stationed there. In response the frigate Constitution and the sloop-of-war St. Louis sailed to Key West to protect the community.
Shortly afterwards many families from the Bahamas settled in Key West and on the upper keys. Some had a romantic background. In 1649 there was founded in London a company known as the Eleutherian Adventurers. During the 1700's they migrated to the island of Cigatos, one of the Bahama group, which they renamed Eleutheria, where "every man might enjoy his own opinion or religion without control or question." They were joined by a number of malcontents from Bermuda, and engaged in agriculture and preying on passing ships. Their descendants formed one of the largest groups migrating to Key West.
One of the town's earliest industries was the salvaging of wrecked vessels. Although it has been said that some shipmasters lured ships to destruction on the Florida Reef, the greater part of the industry was legitimate. Congress established a territorial superior court at Key West in 1828, embracing admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, partly intended to prevent the practice of wrecking crews taking salvaged ships and goods to Nassau and Havana. From that date a wrecked ship and its cargo were sold in Key West under the court's direction, and the proceeds properly distributed.
Valuable cargoes of laces, silks, wines, liquors, and silverware were bid on by speculators and underwriters' agents from all parts of the country. In years of severe storms, receipts reached $1,500,000. Wrecked vessels not only provided rich cargoes, but often induced stranded shipmasters and passengers to remain on the island. Many prominent families owe their residence here to the fact that their ancestors were wrecked on the reefs.
Salvage vessels would sometimes lay at night in safe anchorage, cruising during the day on the lookout for craft in distress; in 1835 there were more than 20 Key West ships engaged in the business. The first to arrive on the scene by rules established by the United States Court became wrecking master, and had charge of salvage operations for which he received extra compensation.
Jefferson B. Browne, in his Key West—The Old and the New, gives a graphic picture of the fleet: "A more thrilling sight cannot be conceived than that of 20 or 30 sailing craft starting for a wreck. As if upon a preconcerted signal, sails would be hoisted, and as soon as jib and mainsail were up, moorings would be slipped and vessels got under way, crowding on all the sail they could carry. The sight of these, dashing out of the harbor, with a stiff northeast wind, bunched together in groups of threes and fours, jibing with everything standing as they swung around the bend in the harbor off the foot of Duval Street, was a scene never to be forgotten! No regatta could match it."
A story is told of Brother Egan, parson and owner-master of a wrecking vessel who, preaching one Sunday on the text, "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain," sighted a ship in distress. Aware that if he announced the news the congregation would rush out and possibly some one would reach the wreck ahead of him, he strode to the door still preaching. Then turning, he gave the well-known yell, "Wreck ashore! Now we will all run a race and see who re-ceiveth the prize."
A system of reef lights begun by the Government in 1852 marked the end of the wrecking industry. Twenty years later Congress passed a law requiring the master of a wrecking vessel to have a license from the judge of the United States Court in the Southern District of Florida, after he had satisfied the judge that his vessel was seaworthy and equipped for the business of saving ships in distress and their cargoes; and that he himself was trustworthy and innocent of any fraud in relation to property saved on ships wrecked on the coast.
A post of the United States Army was established in Key West in 1831, when Major James M. Glassel in command of two companies of infantry camped on North Beach, the site of the present army post. A tract of land was set aside for the military by the owners of the island and later additions were made to this grant. By the charter of 1836 all jurisdiction over this property was ceded to the United States. Various buildings were erected and replaced as they were damaged by fire and hurricane.
The construction of Fort Taylor was begun in 1845, but disaster came the following year when the completed work was destroyed by hurricane. Work was resumed, however, and in 1861 the unfurnished fortifications were occupied by Federal troops. The same year the Government began construction of two Martello towers as additional protection for the military establishment.
Early in 1839, Commodore Porter wrote the Secretary of the Navy that "The advantages of Key West's location as a military and naval station has no equal except Gibraltar. . . . It commands the outlets of all trade from Jamaica, the Caribbean Sea, the Bay of Honduras, and the Gulf of Mexico, and is a check to the naval forces of whatever nation may hold Cuba."
Despite the glowing report, it was not until 1856 that the Navy Department began the building of a depot and storehouse in Key West; and this remained incomplete until the outbreak of the War between the States. During the war, a large number of United States vessels were stationed here, and 299 captured blockade runners were brought into Key West and disposed of in the Admiralty Court.
Although citizens were strong Confederate sympathizers, the city, like other port towns of Florida, was held by Federal forces throughout the war. The fact that Key West, the most strategic point within the Southern States, was in Union hands during the conflict, was considered one of the determining factors in the result of the war.
Confederate flags were flown from several of the buildings here until orders were issued prohibiting them, and Federal authorities refused to permit judicial and magisterial functions to be exercised except by those swearing allegiance to the United States. Because the local newspaper the Key of the Gulf, that had been revived in 1857 under the editorship of William H. Ward, continued to publish strong secession arguments, it was suppressed in 1861. The New Era, a Union paper published for two years by R. B. Licke, an officer of the 90th New York Volunteers, replaced it.
General James M. Brannan, commanding the barracks here, had a rough road cut to connect with Fort Taylor, so that his troops would not have to pass through the town. Over this road at night, carrying four months' provisions and 70,000 gallons of water, the garrison marched to Fort Taylor and took possession. It was expected that the citizens would attack the fort, but this did not materialize. The fort was strengthened the same year by the arrival of the 5th United States Artillery in command of Major French. The latter had been stationed in Texas, but to avoid surrender had taken his command to Point Isabel on the Gulf, and embarked for Key West. His arrival destroyed all hope that the city would fall into the hands of the secessionists.
An order issued from the Headquarters of the Department of the South on January 29, 1863, directed that all Key Westers who had near relations in the Confederate Armies, and all who had declined to take the oath of allegiance to the Union or who had spoken a disloyal word be deported to Port Royal, South Carolina, to be placed within the rebel lines. Colonel Joseph S. Morgan who received the order prepared to carry out instructions. The town seethed with excitement and indignation; Union sympathizers as well as secessionists voiced their protests. Property was being sold, women and children crying at the thought of being sent away to join the rebels. The Union men sent a protest to Washington and Colonel T. H. Good, former commanding officer here, was ordered to return to Key West with authority to suspend the order if he saw fit. He returned to Key West the day the transport was about to leave with 600 of those selected for deportation aboard. Good immediately suspended the sailing.
Key West suffered little during the Reconstruction Period. For a time the Republican Party was dominant; a split in the Democratic ranks enabled the opposition to elect a Negro sheriff and county judge. The latter was removed by the governor for malfeasance, but the sheriff served out his term.
The Cuban population came to Key West in 1869, when Carlos Manuel de Cespedes began the movement for freedom from Spain, and leading Cuban cigar interests established factories here, bringing with them many workers and their families; the town soon became the hotbed of plots against the Spanish government.
No small part of Key West's political activity was played by Cubans, and at one time they held the balance of power in local elections. Their chief interest, however, was the liberation of Cuba. Political clubs were organized; several papers printed in Spanish began publication; and cigar makers contributed regularly to the cause, the Cuban Revolutionary junta in New York depending largely on Key West for funds. Many Americans contributed. The local Collector of Customs was removed from office because he donated $100 to the cause. Until 1898 Key West seethed with revolutionary activities. Visits of Cuban leaders, among them General Melchoir Aguerra, Maximo Gomez, and Jose Marti, kept enthusiasm at a high pitch. Filibustering expeditions, outfitted here, were sent to Cuba. The Three Friends, Dauntless, and Monarch, put out of the harbor at intervals, but were never "caught with the goods."
When trouble threatened with Spain in 1874, the North Atlantic Fleet, and most of the South Atlantic and European Fleets, totaling 26 vessels, were stationed in Key West, and 40,000 men were landed on South Beach for skirmish and battalion drill.
The first cigar factory in Key West, and among the first in the United States, was founded by William H. Wall in 1831, and employed 60 workers. It operated until destroyed by fire in 1857. Between 1831 and 1869 other small factories were built. During the latter year Vicente Martines Ybor moved his cigar business from Havana to the island city and founded El Principe de Gales factory. Many other prominent manufacturers followed him here and within a few years Key West was the largest clear-Havana cigar manufacturing center in the United States, producing as high as 100,000,000 cigars annually.
Fire destroyed many cigar factories in 1886. Instead of rebuilding, several owners moved their plants to Ybor City. Out of the low wage level and disagreeable working conditions, then prevailing in the cigar industry, grew labor troubles that became acute in 1894. Strikes flared and spread; in one factory 15 separate walkouts took place in one day. When owners attempted to replace Cuban-American labor with Spaniards, threats were made against the lives of all Spanish workers, for the cigar makers feared that the newcomers would be led to disrupt their unions.
A citizens' committee went to Havana to assure the Captain General that Spanish strikebreakers coming to Key West would be protected. This gave the Cuban junta (committee) in New York opportunity to protest to the United States Attorney General and the Secretary of State that the Key West committee had violated Federal contract labor laws. Court actions resulted and the committee was convicted. The majority of factories moved to Tampa, where the cigar makers had not yet organized unions.
Several manufacturers later returned to Key West, but the recovery was short-lived. The production of cheap machine-made cigars, air conditioning of northern factories, together with the large increase of cigarette consumption, curtailed the sale of handmade Havana cigars.
Key West's population of 10,000 in 1880, grew to 18,000 in the next decade, making it for a period the largest city in Florida. The fire of 1886, raging for 12 hours, destroyed half the city, principally because the fire department equipment at the time consisted only of a small hand engine. The steam engine which had been in use for 10 years had been shipped to New York for repairs. According to an account in the Key of the Gulf "lurid flames spread in serried lines along the housetops, streamed their lambent blazes wide from street to street, and rolled their smoky banners all along the sky. . . ." The property loss, including tobacco in the government warehouses, was estimated at $2,000,000.
The burned area was speedily rebuilt with many fireproof structures, which as a newspaper remarked. "gave the city an air of permanency and durability, and strongest assurance and the most confident promise of an advancing and growing future."
Aiding in the recovery, the following year the Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Company inaugurated biweekly sailings between Key West, Havana, and Port Tampa, and the island city began its first bid for tourists. Mule-drawn street cars appeared shortly afterward; gas and electricity were made available; an ice plant, manufacturing its product from distilled sea water, was in operation; and a French chef built a plant on the water front for the preparation and canning of green turtle soup.
During the Spanish-American War, Key West again became an important naval base, and at one time the entire Atlantic fleet was stationed here. It was from the city that the U. S. S. Maine steamed to Fort Jefferson in the Tortugas, and from there to Havana. When news of the explosion and sinking was received, the U. S. lighthouse tender Mangrove was one of the first boats to reach the scene, bringing back many of the dead and wounded.
The Government erected and began operation of a radio station here in 1906, an important link in the Navy's communication system. Meanwhile Henry M. Flagler was extending his railway down the keys to Key West, a tremendous engineering feat that, at the cost of $50,000,000 and more than 700 lives, brought the first train into the city in 1912. Passengers were able to step from the cars at the Trumbo Island onto Havana-bound boats for the 90-mile voyage across the straits, and later ferries transported loaded freight cars to and from the Cuban metropolis. Trade with Cuba thrived, tourist business increased and a year later Key West's population reached 22,000.
The World War added to Key West's prestige as a naval base. A naval training station was established and a submarine basin built. Patrol vessels and planes, dirigibles, and observation balloons were stationed here to block enemy attempts to obtain oil from Mexican ports. The city was crowded and its limited accommodations overtaxed. Sailors and soldiers mingled with the promenaders on Saturday nights, attended dances and entertainments. Stock companies from Cuba played to capacity audiences. Many officers and enlisted men married Key West girls.
During the prohibition era the island city was wide open; rumrunners who knew every channel, bayou, and sand bar, made life miserable for government officials, and exciting chases brought to mind filibustering activities of another century.
Meanwhile the city was leaning heavily on government money. Although Fort Taylor was reduced in 1899 to little more than a fair-sized battery, the reduction took the form of modernization and a system of supplementary coast defense batteries made the southwestern shore bristle with guns. The district Coast Guard Headquarters were here; the Naval Station buzzed with activity, and warships were Key West's skyscrapers.
Profitable business came from these allied sources. But the cigar industry which once employed more than 10,000 workers, had gone elsewhere, and only a few minor factories known as "buckeyes" operated. The sponge industry that had started in 1849 and which had risen during succeeding years to the point where the shallow-water beds yielded 90 per cent of North American catch, shifted to Tarpon Springs.
Unsettled conditions in Cuba plus competition in freight rates put a check on local business. Steamer lines dropped Key West as port of call; the increased tariff took the profit from a newly started pineapple canning industry; depression destroyed markets for fish products; and what little trade there was, vanished.
A reduction in governmental expenditure on the Key West defense stations followed. What was formerly a regimental post shrunk to a force of 40 officers and men; the Naval Station was put on the inactive list; and Coast Guard Headquarters were transferred to St. Petersburg.
As the demand for workers diminished, immigration was not in ratio. Key West was burdened with a population for which there was insufficient economic basis, and soon nearly half the 12,000 inhabitants found themselves dependent upon relief. Crowning these misfortunes was the fact that Key West had defaulted several times in the payment of both principal and interest on its bonded debt, and was unable to pay salaries of its officers and employees.
In July 1934 the city and county officials adopted resolutions placing the administration of affairs in the hands of the Governor, who in turn shifted the responsibility to the head of the Florida Emergency Relief Administration.
A program was originated whereby Key West was to be rehabilitated as a tourist resort of the American tropics, competing with Bermuda and Nassau. Hailed as one of the Nation's most interesting experiments in community planning, the city became a proving ground for Government-sponsored cultural projects. FERA artists covered walls of public buildings, cafes, and night clubs, with murals depicting the manifold life and attractions of the island community. Two restaurants, Delmonico's and Ramonin's, have become points of interest by reason of the murals, painted by leading government artists, which decorate their interior. Writers produced guide books and descriptive advertising literature. Glasses in handicraft were organized to teach relief clients new ways of livelihood through the use of native materials.
Pageants and operas were presented to entertain visitors; railroad and ferry tolls were reduced. The Pan American Airways inaugurated daily plane service between Miami and Key West. A housing service not only provided quarters for new arrivals, but hired servants and stocked pantries, and in some cases prepared and served newcomers their first meal.
Meanwhile citizens contributed more than 2,000,000 man hours of labor; streets and beaches were cleaned, recreational areas developed, adequate sanitation provided, houses renovated and redecorated. This unique experiment attracted nation-wide attention; during the winter of 1934-35 approximately 40,000 tourists visited Key West, and the city seemed definitely on the road to recovery.
Before the opening of the next season, the disastrous Labor Day hurricane swept over the middle keys, leaving Key West undamaged, but taking with it miles of railroad fill, much of the highway paralleling it, and the lives of hundreds of World War veterans who had been working on the Overseas Highway.
The railway company, already in receivers' hands, abandoned its overseas extension and transferred its car ferries to Port Everglades. With the purchase of the railroad right-of-way by the Monroe County Toll Bridge Commission for $3,600,000, loaned to the commission by the Public Works Administration, highway construction was expedited; water gaps covered by ferries were gradually eliminated as new stretches of road and numerous spans were completed. The highway, the longest overseas thoroughfare in the world, was opened to traffic in 1938.
EVEN BEFORE ITS SETTLEMENT, FISHing was one of Key West's principal industries. In early days of the nineteenth century, fishermen from St. Augustine came here and sold their catch to Havana markets. Many of the fishermen became permanent residents and carried on their trade for years.
Fishermen's equipment and their methods of fishing and disposing of their catches are practically the same today as they were 50 years ago. Many of the small boats now in use are at least 40 years old, the only change being the installation of gasoline engines. The greater part of the wholesale trade is carried on from November to April when about 90 per cent of the annual catch is taken. All wholesaling is done by one local fish house, the management providing boats to the fishermen who share profits with the company. A few fishermen own their own boats and equipment. They seldom travel far from land and make their catches chiefly on the numerous near-by reefs.
Boats are equipped with "wells" otherwise fish would spoil long before reaching market. Ice is used to preserve only those species which do not live in confinement, among them mullet, kingfish, and Spanish mackerel. The well is constructed of 2 to 4 inch lumber, according to the size of the boat, and the seams are calked with the same care given to the outer hull. At the base the four sides fit snugly with the contour of the boat and converge towards the top like the frustum of a pyramid, which the well diagrammatically resembles. The top of the well, fitting flush with the deck, is covered with a trapdoor, which is removed during actual fishing. The floor of the well, which is part of the hull, is pierced with numerous one-inch holes to permit a constant inflow and outflow of the water through which the boat is traveling. All the fishing is done with hand lines, and crawfish, mullet, and ballyhoo are used for bait.
Practically all smaller fish are kept alive in these wells. At the dock they are transferred to fish cars, and sold direct to the consumer. This method of marketing insures fresh fish at all times, and eliminates icing. A well-stocked "live car" is an interesting sight as many of the reef fish are beautifully colored.
From November to April, kingfish and mullet are shipped in large quantities to northern and western markets. The fishing fleet operates out of Key West, or Key Vacas, depending upon where fish are found. They are taken to the dock, cleaned, iced, and packed in barrels for shipment. The equipment consists of heavy cotton trolling lines, wire leaders, and metal squid hooks. At least two men are required to man a boat, one to attend exclusively to fishing and one to manage the boat and fish when opportunity offers. Two or more lines are trolled; slipknots are made in the lines, and when one of these pulls out it indicates that a fish has been taken. Strips of flesh are cut from the fish first taken, or squid are used for bait.
For Spanish mackerel gill nets are used. This type of net is made of fine thread, and its mesh varies according to the size of the fish to be caught. Fish push their heads through the net, but the apertures are too small to permit the passage of the body. When the fish attempt to back out, their gills catch in the fine net and the fish are quickly imprisoned. Most of the fishing is done between sunset and sunrise when the fish are more apt to gill themselves in the darkness.
A crew of two fishermen sometimes make large catches. A searchlight is employed to find the schools. They are surrounded as rapidly as possible and dories encircle the net, the men splashing the water to frighten the fish into gilling themselves.
The fishing industry suffered much during the 1930's. The destruction of a large section of the Florida East Coast Railway and its abandonment, limited transportation facilities until the completion of the Overseas Highway. The former trade with Havana ended with the completion of a highway across the island of Cuba, which enabled Cuban fishermen on the south shore to send their fish direct to Havana markets.
The Florida spiny lobster, commonly called crawfish, is found in abundance off the shores of Key West and boats seldom go more than a mile from shore to fish for them. The crawfish resembles the northern lobster, the chief difference being its very long legs, long whip-like antennae studded with spines, and absence of the great claws. It is used as food and also for bait.
Three methods are employed for taking crawfish—trapping, "bullying," and striking. The method of trapping is similar to that used for the northern lobster, where traps are baited with fish and emptied from time to time. On a small scale this method has been successful.
"Bully" fishing is done at night, two men working together. A small flatboat is used, with a bully net and lantern. The bully net resembles a dip net, but differs in having the iron hoop placed at right angles to the pole. The lantern is set in the bow of the boat. One man operates the boat, the other bullies the crawfish while standing in the boat's stern.
The third method is striking or spearing with what is locally known as "grains," a two-tined barbed spear, affixed to a pole often 15 feet in length. The crawfish caught by this method do not long survive and where fishermen remain out for any length of time there is danger of the catch spoiling. The man using the grains has in his left hand a water glass, a wooden bucket with its bottom replaced by glass. The operator holds in in the water, thrusts his head in the bucket and is enabled to see the crawfish when the water is choppy. This method of fishing is used in the daytime.
Stone crabs, once abundant, are rapidly disappearing from Key West waters. Few fishermen specialize in catching them, and they are mostly taken incidentally with crawfish. Only the large claws, sold by the dozen, are eaten. They are considered a great delicacy and command a high price.
Most of the turtles in the Key West market are brought in fishing schooners from Grand Cayman. These fly the British flag, and catch their turtles chiefly off the coast of Central America. Delivered in Key West they are transferred to turtle crawls and butchered as required.
Florida's sponge industry became commercially important in 1849, when the first cargo of sponges was sent to New York. Until 1891, Key West had a monopoly of the trade in the United States. At the time a small market was established at Tarpon Springs, where the method of taking sponge by divers in helmets and suits relegated Key West to a poor second. Key West spongers use a three-tined hook attached at right angles to a pole sometimes 30 feet long, and the bulk of the sponges are taken from water less than 20 feet in depth. A vessel carries a small dory for every two men; one operates the boat, the other, called a "hooker" gathers the sponges.
The sponges are cleaned, graded by size and variety, and strung in bunches. These are sold at auction to representatives of wholesale houses who prepare the sponges for market by further cleaning and clipping. During the early 1900's more than 100 vessels were operated, giving employment to about 1,200 workers. In peak years the market value of the catch often exceeded $750,000.
The conch is found in shallow waters near shore and readily captured with a sponge hook or by hand. The animal, encased in a hard shell- averages a nound in weight. The meat is removed and strung on small sticks. Made into chowder or salad, it is a popular local dish, but little is exported. Choice specimens of the shell are sold in curio shops.
Entirely obsolete is the attempt to manufacture salt by evaporation of sea water. As early as 1830, a part of the southeastern part of the island was leased. A large portion of the property was always under water, and all was subject to overflow at ordinary high tide. Compartments or "pans" one hundred feet by fifty feet were separated by coral walls, and a system of gates arranged to let in water. As this evaporated more water would be let in and salt precipitated would be gathered before the beginning of the rainy season.
Various companies acquired the business in turn, but hurricanes, lack of slave labor after the War between the States, and early rains ended all attempts to make salt by solar evaporation.
EARLY KEY WEST DWELLINGS AND BUSIness structures were entirely of wood, for the most part following the styles of New England and the British Colonials of the Bahamas. A few showed the Cuban influence. From the beginning, local builders have used what material was at hand, or could be obtained at small expense. Salvaged lumber, cedar and hardwoods from the upper keys, and Pensacola pine were usually employed.
Not until 1844 did masonry make its appearance on the island, when schooners brought great cargoes of cement and brick for construction of Fort Taylor. During the War between the States were raised the brick piles of the Martello Towers; a heavily buttressed coal shed, now converted into Lighthouse Department headquarters, was erected about the same time. These structures were governmental enterprises, however, and Key Westers did not abandon their anchor bolts and mortise and tenon joints for the more substantial masonry.
Even when the passing years brought measurable prosperity, few builders adopted masonry construction. When the fire of 1886 razed half the city, citizens lamented the fact that new structures, hastily thrown up, were less stable than the old, and certainly no less disreputable in appearance. Nevertheless, it was the fire that made Key Westers realize their need for a more permanent type of public building, and it was from that date that Key West architecture became a study in contrasts.
On an island of limited area where architectural style is determined by the medium of construction no less than climatic conditions, and where business and residence are often side by side, buildings which depart from domestic architectonics in both style and material are prominent. Such is the case in Key West; dwellings are practically all of wood, public buildings almost entirely of stone. Were it not for the fact that Key West architecture soon weathers, the contrast would be the more striking. Salt air has softened the effect and somehow the visitor feels that Island City architecture evolved as naturally as the island itself.
The fire opened opportunity's door for William Kerr, an Irishman from Ballybole, County Down, who found himself in Key West when the War between the States ended. Kerr built the Convent of Mary Immaculate, with its beautiful dormered mansard roofs and central tower, and the First Methodist Church, of distinctly old-world feeling under its spreading Spanish laurel. By the end of 1891 Kerr had completed Key West's three red brick public buildings: the Old Post Office, the City Hall and the Courthouse. He did them all in the currently popular Romanesque style—probably at the behest of local citizenry.
Of his public achievements, possibly the Old Post Office, now serving as Naval Administration building, is most imposing. Located at the entrance of the Key West Naval Station, the massive red brick edifice fits snugly into Key West's past. Completed in 1888, of that Romanesque revival style introduced by Architect Richardson in the last century, it seems a monument to Key West's glamorous history—her most hale and hearty, if not most beautiful days. The building has, perhaps by its long association with traders and shippers, a distinctly provincial flavor. Nowhere else would the peculiar lines of the structure blend into the surroundings as these do in Key West, and nowhere else would the wide eaves appear so casually at home as in the island city.
Pilings form the foundations, and seem paradoxical on a rock island where foundations usually are placed upon bedrock. But the structure was erected near the water where a most stable foundation was essential. What appears to be a basement is merely a shallow cellar housing necessary machinery. In common with other governmental architecture in Key West, the Old Post Office has fireplaces, which are somewhat of a curiosity in a community where chimneys are rare. The tile roof with its Japanese-like sloping eaves provides not only ample shade, but forms efficient conductors for the rainwater-saving system.
With a minimum of decoration the projecting facade possesses an appearance of ornateness that contrasts sharply with the squat, heavy portico columns. Symmetrically on either side of the facade appear the wings of the main plan, which by their long roof lines and the heavy shadow cast by the overhanging eaves, manage to attain an appearance of heaviness and subdued height incongruous to the prominent facade, where an impression of height, broken only by horizontal bands, is carried out in three progressively smaller tiers of semicircular arched openings. Above the three portico arches, and covering the area to the sills of the second story openings, are courses of terra cotta; every tile is moulded as a square, and in the center of each square is a depression which resembles the imprint of a concave bottle-bottom.
The two-story City Hall on Green Street is notable for its entrance tower with its segmental arch openings on the side elevation, round arches in the front, and pointed arches over the clocks in the attached tower, or campanile. At the entrance an outside concrete stairway leads from street to a double entrance midway between first and second stories. Wrought iron gates screen the rectangular opening, and bear medallions with the date 1891. Introduction of these gates appears as a concession to the Latin element in the city. From the halfway landing, the stairway continues directly to the main floor.
The exterior of the rectangular campanile is carried up an additional story in progressive heights marked by projecting, eave-like cordons, to terminate in Kerr's particular adaptation of a mansard roof. The four clock faces are set in projecting dormers, neatly designed with small attached pilasters supporting pointed arches. Corners of the roof curve upward to a lookout platform or "mirador" that is definitely Key Westian, and reminiscent of the island's history as a wrecking center. On the platform is the ancient fire bell.
In 1890 Kerr completed the Courthouse. Of red brick and in a traditional county courthouse style, the building is finely proportioned, symmetrical, and today the heavy portico shows to advantage through the shadows of waving coconut palms, while the 100-foot clock tower, surmounted by an observation platform, is conspicuous from any part of the city. The two-story structure, to which buttresses were added in 1934, is spacious in its symmetry.
The front elevation is perhaps a hundred feet long, two stories high with Romanesque openings. The sole ornament is graceful structural brackets connecting cornice with eaves, and a row of cube-like dentils separating heavy mouldings on the cornice; but under the shadow of the overhanging eaves, much of this decoration is lost in the wide wooden band of the gray-painted cornice. Spaced between the brackets are inconspicuous carved elements resembling winged balls.
The classic portico, covering a third of the front elevation, is kept in proportion by the simple device of making it two definite stories. Rising from a low concrete porch, four Doric columns support a heavy second story balcony, which is enclosed by an iron rail. From the balcony four more Doric columns reach to a massive pediment. The clock tower is similar to the City Hall campanile, although it is higher and the roof octagonal.
With its large Cuban population, naturally Key West architecture shows the Latin influence. San Carlos Instituto Patriotico y Docente, one of the few fireproof structures in Key West, is an excellent example, and from an historical point of view, perhaps the most monumental. In 1870 the Cubans in Key West founded the Club Ateneo, with the object in view of lending support to the revolutionary movement in their oppressed native land. The following year the organization had become the San Carlos Club, named for Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the patriot who in 1868 had raised the cry for freedom at the little town of Yara in the province of Camaguey. The little frame San Carlos building, then located in an alley off Fleming Street, was the scene of enthusiastic rallies. Destroyed by the fire, it was replaced by another frame structure, and in 1924 the present edifice was built.
Designed by Francisco Centurion, the two-story building is of steel, hollow tile, concrete and stucco; some of the flooring is Majolica tile imported from Spain. In the contemporary Spanish style, the edifice is noteworthy mainly for its ornate Spanish type facade, quite suitable for the monument that it is to Cuban patriotic activity.
The question has often been raised as to why more Key West buildings are not of the native rock. The answer is that the water table is close to the surface and excavations of any depth leave water holes. Furthermore, quarrying and transportation from the upper keys quarries are expensive, and it is expedient to utilize cheaper material for anything less than a structure of intended permanency.
Such a building is the monumental U. S. Customhouse and Post Office, occupying a major portion of the block at Simon-ton and Caroline Streets. Completed in 1930, the edifice combines beauty with utility. Coral reef limestone quarried on the keys was laid in ashlar course on a granite base, and proves its adaptability for formal architecture. The stone, white when excavated, weathers to ivory and commendable hardness.
The plan of the two-story building surrounds a patio. Opening frames are of aluminum alloy, and above the main entrance opening on Simonton Street is an area filled by a grille of the same metal. Openings are placed symmetrically and recessed to give the impression of unbroken verticality; between them are fluted pilasters with limestone capitals decorated in low relief, giving the effect of a many-columned Greek temple. A flowing floral decoration in the modern interpretation of classic forms a frieze; under the cornice runs a reeded band.
Of certain architectural significance is the Key West tropical aquarium. Its simple and efficient design, executed in poured concrete, depends for its effectiveness on the natural beauty of the surroundings—greensward under a shady palm grove—and the colorful tropical fish swarming in the tanks that surround the patio. The facade is a silhouette, with roof lines sweeping gracefully from center height of 30 feet to corner pilasters 10 feet lower. The arched central opening, screened with ornate wooden Spanish gates, is the most imposing feature of the building. On either side, and rivaling the entrance in width, is an arched window opening; in bold relief at the center of the facade are block letters spelling "AQUARIUM." Above, proportionately spaced over the three arches of the first story are two more, and with the possible exception of the gates, the sole decoration—a single modeled fish. Spandrels of all openings are bereft of ornament. Within the height of the front elevation are office and laboratory. Tanks and pumping machinery make up the remainder of the rectangular plan.
The patio, viewed from the entrance, is a kaleidoscope, with flowers and reflected sunlight from the sparkling waters of a dancing fountain between two oval pools. Around the patio is an arcade of graceful antique wooden columns to shade the promenade; rays of sunlight that make the finny specimens scintillate in all of their glorious coloring filter through the big surrounding tanks. On either side of the entrance, under the arcade, are Crimi frescoes portraying the industry of local fishermen.
Marine hardware has ever been a staple business in Key West. Curry Sons' Hardware store, rebuilt after the fire, stands as a monument to the ability of Thomas Russel, carpenter, who conceived the two-story frame building as a rectangular mass depending for beauty upon a facade embellished by porches, and surmounted by high cupolas. The structure is in excellent repair, and a good example of eighteenth century architecture, readily identified as such by the "foofooraw" of the facade. Curry Sons is an institution in Key West, and the building is a harbor landmark—as much a part of the water front as the docks themselves.
The First National Bank—El Primer Banco Nacional—is another building attributable to Latin influence. Built about 1900 at the corner of Duval and Front Streets, the two-story building is triangular in shape, its main entrance at the point of the northeastern angle. Above the doorway is a hexangular tower, simulating a lantern, pierced on each side with a long narrow opening, and covered by a pointed roof. The structure is built in alternate banks of red and yellow brick as high as the round-arched second-story windows; from there to the dentils of the cornice is an area covered with geometric design traced in yellow brick on the darker background. A decorative wooden balcony extends nearly the full length of the eastern facade. Heavy beams, cut into ornate brackets, support the thin balustrade and slender round columns that hold the sloping roof. The yellow-painted whole is silhouetted in detail against the dark red of the sustaining brick wall.
With exception of certain government buildings which derive their water supply from a common reservoir, almost every Key West structure has its own water distribution system. Rainwater is conducted into cisterns, usually built conveniently near, sometimes in the foundations, and each unit has its own sewerage system.
Wood still remains the most important building material in the Island City, despite the fact that the boom in the middle 1920's introduced a few stucco structures of so-called Florida Mediterranean design. The recent trend is toward poured concrete construction in modern style, dependent for its effect upon mass proportion and placement of openings rather than decorative elements. The present-day dwelling with large shuttered openings, a sun porch, and airy rooms, benefits fully from the salubrious Gulf breezes, and yet provides a heating system for cool days, a marked departure from pioneer times, when Key West was known as a chimneyless town.
FLORIDA HAS MORE KINDS OF FISH than any other part of the Nation, although authorities differ in their estimates. Barton W. Evermann, ichthyologist and author of the Fishes of North and Middle America, identifies 300 species along the Gulf coast, 174 along the east coast, and 290 in the Key West area—subtropical waters within a 25-mile radius of the island. Of this total approximately 100 are edible. Nowhere is a greater variety found within so short a distance from any Florida port.
Fishing at Key West depends on the angler's desires. Fish may be small, medium, or large; fighters or sulkers; taken in shallow water or deep sea; with light or heavy tackle; casting from pierhead or bridge; from a lowly rowboat or swivel chair of a luxurious cruiser. Although the real fishing is done far offshore, small fish are everywhere. Old timers claim "you can catch most anything you want to bait up for."
There is no "season" when fish bite best. Fishing here, barring storms, is good regardless of month, day or hour. As a rule the angler who drops a baited hook into the opalescent waters is never sure whether he will feel the tug of a one-pound panfish or a 500-pound jewfish. It is this uncertainty that provides thrills for the sportsman.
Those who want to test their skill and endurance against tarpon, amberjack, barracuda, and grouper, can cast from any one of the docks and bridges. The abundant smaller species accept almost any kind of bait on any sort of tackle, from a worm on a bent pin to the most expensive fly or plug.
The Gulf Stream, seven miles off shore, is the feeding ground for sailfish, marlin, dolphin, barracuda, bonito, and many others. It is not unusual to hook a 9-foot shark or a 2,000-pound stingray that frequently tows the boat for a joy-ride to sea.
Closer inshore and near the reefs, large grouper, mutton-fish, mackerel, and big kingfish reward the angler. Inland waters of the keys and Florida Bay are habitats of tarpon, redfish, grouper, yellowtail, red snapper, trout, Spanish hog-fish, and grunt. Bonefish, said to be the gamest fighter of all fish, although seldom weighing more than five pounds, are caught in shallow waters around the keys. Occasionally a permit (large pompano) is hooked.
A popular outing for the lazy fisherman is to hire a row-boat equipped with an outboard motor, provide mullet or crawfish for bait, and spend the day near the breakwater outside the harbor. Others drive a few miles east of the city to any of the bridges connecting the keys and try their luck for a jewfish. Tackle is usually a quarter-inch rope ending in a six-foot length of chain to which is attached a large shark hook. This is baited with a whole fish weighing up to four pounds. When the fish takes hold and the hook is set, it is simply a matter of lifting a dead weight off the bottom, sometimes an hour's task for several men.
For the sportsmen who consider anything except deep-sea fishing child's play, charter boats accommodating from two to six passengers are available at the docks. Captains and crews, most of whom have spent a lifetime in these waters, not only take the angler to the best grounds, but furnish the proper tackle, bait, and advice. The novice receives free instructions on the why, when, and wherefore of the art that enables him to snag and land his prize.
Key West tackle dealers carry complete stocks, distribute free pamphlets and bulletins relating to the sport, and act as a clearing house for the latest fishing information.